PEF team effort saves workers from sweltering heat
By DEBORAH A. MILES
The dog days of summer hit workers at the state Department of Labor (DOL) and Information Technology Services (ITS) in Troy particularly hard. The temperatures in early August were in the 90s, and the high humidity level made even the most ardent sun lover escape to an air-conditioned building.
The intense heat on August 7 contributed to a power outage in Troy. When it was rectified, it caused a major mechanical problem with the cooling tower and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system at the Troy Atrium, where DOL and ITS are located.
“The conditions were horrendous,” said PEF Occupational Health and Safety Specialist Geraldine Stella. “PEF members were recording temperatures around the building throughout the morning. Many areas were in the 90-to-100 degree range. People with medical issues were mostly at risk for suffering negative health effects. No one should have to work under those conditions. Those readings were one of the most important tools we had to convince the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER) and the agencies to relocate people or close the building.”
PEF Executive Board member Robert Mahoney, who is also the PEF statewide health and safety chair, was on the scene. He said the DOL facility manager used an electronic gauge that would shoot a beam across the rooms to measure the temperatures.
“We had to go with one base gauge and this was a great tool to be consistent,” Mahoney said.
Frank Kasper, PEF council leader at DOL, and other PEF members worked with managers to keep people comfortable and informed, while other PEF leaders and staff communicated with the appropriate people to address the heat issue, and the health needs of the employees.
The PEF presence at the Atrium and those who worked behind-the-scenes made it possible to get the repair work started in a timely manner. GOER was alerted to the situation and urged to relocate employees or close the building.
PEF Region 8 Coordinator Michael Blue said, “During the last three years, PEF has built a strong relationship with our partners at GOER. Our calls to them about the temperature conditions in the Atrium resulted in swift action on the part of GOER.”
Both DOL and ITS employees were able to leave before 1 p.m. The HVAC unit was still down the next day, but employees came to work, only to be released again before noon.
On August 9, PEF President Wayne Spence was informed of the situation and was able to push the closing of the building for a third time.
“Everyone coordinated and cooperated with each other and PEF presented a united front,” Spence said. “No one wants to see a health and safety issue in any work environment. This situation showed the positive results of our health and safety training, and the power of working together. This was a tremendous union team effort.”
“We all were doing our best to contact upper management and assure the workers that PEF was there for them,” Mahoney added. “We were being acknowledged as the employees were leaving the building, thanking us for our efforts.”