AFGE locals demand action
By TIM ROWDEN
For the third time in the last two months, members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Locals 1336 (Social Security), 3354 (USDA) and 2192 and 96 (Veterans Affairs) rallied outside the contaminated Federal Center at 4300 Goodfellow Blvd. July 27 to demand the government immediately remove all employees from the dangerous facility either through telework arrangements or procuring another work location.
Some workers, such as pregnant women have been transferred out of certain areas and contractors wearing protective equipment are moving equipment from other work zones. But some 2,000 workers remain in the facility.
“The contractors that they have here working are in hazmat suits,” said Keena Smith, acting president of AFGE Local 2192 (Veterans Affairs). “If there’s no concern, why are your contractors in hazmat suits while they’re moving equipment out of the building? If it’s serious enough for your contractors to have hazmat suits, why are our employees still required to come in and work in that type of environment?”
The Goodfellow complex was constructed by the Department of Defense 1941 and was used as an Army Small Arms Munitions Plant during World War II. It contains lead, asbestos and traces of 83 hazardous substances potentially harmful to the health of employees who come in contact with them.
Previous testing revealed high lead levels in the cafeteria and former child care center at the site.
The government’s General Services Administration (GSA) has known about the contamination at the Goodfellow center for decades. The complex was added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Federal Facility Hazardous Waste Compliance Docket in 1988.
An Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) report from July 2016 cited the Public Building Service for seven violations at the site after receiving an employee complaint.
And a 2018 report from the General Services Administration’s Office of Inspector General which inspectors documented several “serious” instances of unsafe working conditions.
Congressman William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) has demanded a federal probe into conditions in the facility.
WITHERING ATTACKS FROM TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
While Saturday’s rally sought to keep the heat on the federal government regarding conditions at the Federal Center, it also kicked off AFGE’s expanded campaign for dignity, fairness and respect for federal workers under withering attack from the Trump Administration.
Last year, President Donald Trump issued a series of executive orders aimed at making it easier to fire employees and weaken their representation by:
- Restricting the use of “official time” that union officials can spend representing their members in grievances and other issues while at work.
- Limiting the issues that can be bargained over.
- Rolling back the rights of workers to appeal disciplinary actions against them.
AFGE challenged the orders and won in the U.S. District Court in Columbia. The Administration appealed that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals where a three-judge panel on July 16 ruled that the lower court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case.
AFGE is pursuing other legal options but the Administrations stacking of the Federal Labor Relations Authority and related avenues of review with people who hate the working class and unions has prompted the union to believe the Administration will order agencies to implement the Executive Orders, ignoring the collective bargaining rights of federal workers, despite the fact that the orders contradict current law.
BUILDING A MOVEMENT
“We need to build a movement, coordination and discipline among federal workers at the Goodfellow Center to enable us to prepare for and win reasonable accommodations for 100 percent telework or other accommodations while our Workers’ Comp claims are pending” and “coordinate people taking sick leave because the unhealth conditions in this workplace are making us sick and we have a right to take sick leave when we are sick,” said Steve Hollis, president emeritus of AFGE Local 3354.
JOIN THE FIGHT
“Our St. Louis area AFGE locals are banding together stronger than ever through AFGE St. Louis Area Council 245,” said Wil Grant, president of AFGE Local 3354 (USDA), adding that the area Council is asking all AFGE locals and all federal workers to join them every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the SWIU Local 1 building, 5585 Pershing Ave. in St. Louis for discussions, planning and training on how to build the movement strong enough to end these attacks on working people and our democracy.
“Out movement must be strong enough to not only win health and justice for Goodfellow workers, but to turn back this entire attack by this Administration on the working class,” Grant said. “We must replace their hate with our love, their dictatorship with our democratic peaceful direct action in the streets and the ballot boxes.”