DOL Employees Say Their Working Conditions Are Unsafe

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By Jacquie Lee

Some employees of the federal agency in charge of worker safety say they’re functioning in unsafe conditions at a satellite location in Washington.

The conditions include rat traps, demolition work, electrical outages, lack of security, and possible building instability, Alex Bastani, president of Local 12 of the American Federation of Government Employees, told Bloomberg BNA June 26.

Management met with workers April 28 to brief them on building renovations. Bastani said employees told him the DOL was going to provide workers with whistles “so that in case of a building collapse we could be found.”

A senior DOL official told Bloomberg BNA that the department had no report of someone mentioning whistles at the meeting.

Bastani also said workers were told to arm themselves with mace if they had concerns about safety or being attacked outside the building. “Whether there is an actual risk of building collapse or attack, I don’t know, but I do know this—if management feels this is an appropriate instruction to give employees, they have absolutely no concern for our safety or well-being and they have no idea how to handle this exceedingly embarrassing situation,” Bastani said one worker told him.

Homeland Security Approved Site

Representatives from the Department of Homeland Security visited the building and determined that government security guards weren’t necessary because it’s a commercial building, the DOL official told Bloomberg BNA. “We feel there are appropriate safeguards in place,” he said.

Leadership is committed to the safety of the employees and “to date, the Department has not found any health or safety issues, or uncontrolled hazardous conditions, that would require the relocation of employees,” another DOL official said in an email.

The DOL’s Worker Safety and Health team also conducts “daily visual inspections” of the office suite on K Street, the officials said.

The team will start collecting dust samples daily to ensure that the office space is safe for employees beginning June 30, they said. Additionally, the rehabilitation work is now scheduled to take place at night starting June 29, so workers will no longer be subject to “vibration and uncomfortable noise levels,” they added.

Frances Perkins Showing Age

Bastani’s statement involves employees working at 800 K St. NW, in the downtown area of the city, who wanted to be transferred to a different building. The department has been looking for a new headquarters for years because of limitations at the aging Frances Perkins Building, its headquarters near the National Mall.

In April, officials announced that the search, which had been going on for four months, would be canceled because of budgetary restrictions.

“After reviewing the preliminary phases of the project, GSA determined that the exchange mechanism was not the optimal means to maximize the government’s return on the Perkins building,” the agency said in a statement April 5. “GSA remains committed to creating a modern work environment for DOL employees and reducing taxpayer costs for building operations.”

Workers at the K Street location include employees of the Office of Administrative Law Judges and the Emergency Management Center. The OALJ staff includes law clerks, administrative law judges, senior attorneys, paralegals, and support staff. The OALJ office has worked in the K Street building since 1991, the DOL official said, and the EMC has been there since 2002. Renovations began a few months ago.

Bastani called it a “national embarrassment” that the department isn’t protecting the safety of its employees. “The fact is that we’re part of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but we have rat droppings and don’t know where the fire exit is,” he said.

The building is owned by the Meridian Group, a real-estate developer. “The Meridian Group has received no reports of safety concerns at 800 K Street. The building is undergoing major renovations, and we meet with the tenant regularly to address any concerns. The safety and comfort of those who work in our buildings is our top priority,” the company said in a statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacquie Lee at jlee1@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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