NTEU 73 has filed a grievance over the working conditions in the Fourth Street building. The grievance, written by NTEU Vice President Karen Walsh and Chief Steward William Dreier, charges that IRS failed to comply with Article 27 of the IRS-NTEU National Agreement which states, “The Employer will…provide and maintain safe and healthful working conditions for all employees and will provide places of employment free from recognized health hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” The union grievance alleges that “waste water backed up in the drain pipes, in the water fountains, sink and floor drains and toilets. Management failed to prevent this from happening despite the fact there was a similar flood less than three years ago.” Management claims there was no human waste in the water, but employees say they witnessed toilet paper and fecal matter in the water. Further, the sewage traveled up the sewage waste pipes. In addition, the union claims that management did not properly clean the areas and take steps to prevent future flooding. Further, they did not ensure the affected area was decontaminated by removing porous materials, including carpets and walls. They also did not take steps to prevent mold growth, including testing to insure the areas were dry including areas below the raised floors. The rain also caused water to leak through the roof, causing part of one area’s roof tiles to collapse, slightly injuring an employee. Nothing has been done to address that problem either. In checking when OSHA would arrive to inspect, a union official called them.
The OSHA employee we talked to said he had seen the story on the local news and was expecting a call, but no one had called him as of a couple days after the event. The following week, a person certified by OSHA did inspect parts of the building. OSHA responded to a complaint today (August 9) to inspect the flooded areas and to interview three employees who complained of being sick. The union, as redress, is seeking administrative leave for any employee who used leave, LWOP or AWOL due to the unhealthful conditions as well as hazardous duty pay for anyone working at 4th street during the event and/or prior to “proper clean-up.” NTEU 73 is also seeking in the grievance for management to do a “proper and full cleanup of affected areas including removal of carpet, drywall and any other porous substances or materials and furniture that was exposed to the waste water; drying and cleaning all affected areas, including subfloors, periodically inspecting to ensure no mold growth; install back flow prevention valves or similar devices to prevent future backups of water and to take any other steps to prevent future unhealthful conditions due to backflow. The grievance also seeks to have the roof repaired to prevent future leaks. “Certainly, management could not control the rain,” said NTEU 73 President Rick Riley. “But this is not the first time this has happened in the Fourth Street building and it certainly will not be the last. Steps need to be taken to prevent the building from backing up like that, such as the back flow prevention valves. All that should have been done before now.”
According to management they have are taking several steps to resolve the problems resulting from the flood. Initially the water was evacuated from all areas, including under the raised floor. They cleaned and sanitized all areas and removed furniture from affected offices and a contractor came in and extracted the water, cleaned and sanitized all carpet. They say there are still several issues that are still being worked, including: mold and indoor air quality testing and moisture testing of walls of all affected areas (awaiting results from a contractor); a contractor has tested the water in the drinking fountains (awaiting results); as a precaution, contractors have given pricing for replacing carpet in affected offices and replace with a vinyl composite flooring; precautionary pricing for the replacement of drywall that tests high in moisture. In addition, management says in order to prevent future flooding, check valves on water fountains will be installed to prevent back-up from drains; A flood response plan will be developed in the event of future floods; they are looking into rerouting roof drains to reduce amount of water in interior pipes; installation of flow restrictors on roof drains to reduce water going into interior pipes; obtaining pricing to water jet all main plumbing lines to ensure water has a clear path to exit the building. NTEU 73 will follow up on all of these things to make sure the problems are resolved and that it never happens again. If you know of any unaddressed issues or areas, please stop by or call the flat top union office at 5370.