Capital Region

YMCA and 1,400 laid-off employees in limbo as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions continue

Capital District YMCA ready to reopen facilities safely when state allows it to
A swimmer in action earlier this year at the Southern Saratoga YMCA, which has been closed since mid-March.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
A swimmer in action earlier this year at the Southern Saratoga YMCA, which has been closed since mid-March.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

COLONIE — With hundreds of programs, more than a thousand employees and tens of thousands of members missing from its facilities, the Capital District YMCA is a shell of its normal self.

But it’s ready to rebound quickly when the state says it can go back to work.

President J. David Brown said Tuesday the organization has mapped out a full protocol to operate its athletic facilities safely in the COVID-19 era and been in frequent contact with the 18 school districts whose facilities house its after-school child-care programs. 

All it needs is state permission to operate its gyms, which remain on lockdown, and a blueprint for the schooling of children, neither of which has been forthcoming as the state studies how to do both without increasing risk of disease transmission.

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Brown said the Y also will need to call back the 1,424 employees it laid off.

YMCAs across New York filed mass layoff notices with the state Department of Labor shortly after Gov. Andrew Cuomo began to shut down the economy and gathering places such as gyms, pools and summer camps — 2,090 YMCA employees cut in Rochester, 173 in Nyack, 1,236 in Syracuse, 200 in Glens Falls, 149 in Watertown, 359 in Auburn.

The Capital District YMCA has a little more than 400 people working for it at this point, mainly in administrative, housing and day camp settings. Its two residential facilities — Mont Pleasant Commons and 845 Broadway, both in Schenectady — continue normal operations, with limitations on activity in common areas. The YMCA’s day camps are among the communal gathering settings that the state allowed to reopen.

Under normal circumstances, the bulk of its workforce is part-timers, due to the large number of hourly and seasonal programs it runs. There are only about 200 full-time employees.

What’s squeezing the YMCA is the lack of revenue from members who use the athletic facilities it offers.

“We’re much more than the gym and swim,” Brown said, but those are the programs that help pay for the YMCA’s mortgages, rent, supplies and payroll.

Brown hopes the members will stick with the Y until it reopens.

“We’re grateful to the people who’ve hung in with this,” he said.

He’s confident normalcy will return, but added: “Given the circumstances it’s probably going to be a while.”

When the doors do reopen, Brown said, members can feel safe walking in.

He said the staff has mapped out a series of safety measures at its gyms, including blocking every other exercise machine, moving group classes to the basketball court and spreading out participants, requiring masks for guests and fogging the entire building with disinfectant daily.

“We think we can be one of the safest places in terms of people not putting themselves at risk,” Brown said. 

Meanwhile, the Capital District YMCA is planning for resumption of after-school care, to the extent it can. The organization provides on-site care at 65 locations in 18 school districts, and YMCA employees are part of school reopening committees in some cases.

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But the planning is an exercise in hypothetical scenarios until the state provides detailed guidance on whether and how public schools will reopen, come September.

Brown sent out an email to members last week (subject line: “We Need Your Help”) advising them that the YMCA wouldn’t reopen July 1 as hoped and providing a link to the state’s “Send A Message To The Governor” webpage, urging them to let Cuomo know how they feel.

But he’s not critical of Cuomo.

“I certainly understand the governor’s reluctance right now, because other states are peaking,” Brown said. “I’m glad I’m not the guy who has to make these decisions.”

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