Health & Safety Campaign Takes Off
(This article first appeared in the November/December 2015 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
Declaring that “there are far too many serious safety problems at post offices and facilities,” APWU President Mark Dimondstein and Industrial Relations Director Tony D. McKinnon Sr. called on union members across the country to launch a Safety Awareness and Enforcement Campaign in mid-October.
“Even the Postal Regulatory Commission recently reported that USPS management failed to meet its performance goal to ‘Ensure a Safe Workplace and Engaged Workforce,’” they wrote in a letter to local and state presidents.
Noting that the struggle for a new contract is continuing, they wrote, “We should not be waiting for a new agreement to actively enforce our rights to a safe and healthy work place.”
“Too often postal workers take their own health for granted or leave it to others to wage the needed fights. But together, through collective action, we can all make a difference.”
The Aug. 28 letter called on local unions, state organizations and Contract Action Teams (CATs) to enhance safety education among union members and take the necessary steps to ensure that unhealthy and unsafe conditions are corrected.
Highlights of the campaign include:
- Reinforcing an understanding of contractual safety rights;
- Mobilizing union members to correct safety issues;
- Using PS Form 1767 to report and document safety hazards;
- Calling for OSHA investigations to curtail unsafe conditions;
- Building safety committees, and
- Winning results from Labor-Management safety meetings.
“The Industrial Relations Department will be spearheading this work, but it is work that can only succeed if all of our local and state organizations are fully engaged and we empower the members to take up the fight for safety,” Dimondstein and McKinnon wrote.
“A safe workplace must be the right of every worker!”
Fire on Belt Spreads Through BMC
Health and safety crises occurred at two postal facilities over the summer – at a Bulk Mail Center in Texas and at the Bronx General Post Office in New York City.
In the late night hours of Aug. 28, a three-alarm fire was reported at the BMC in North Oak Cliff, near Dallas, TX.
The fire started on a large conveyor belt, and as the belt moved through the facility, pieces fell from it, starting several smaller fires.
All 115 workers were evacuated from the building safely, but one firefighter was taken to the hospital after he slipped and fell. Fire crews worked into the early morning hours, clearing smoke from the 750,000 square-foot building.
Deadly Bacteria Found
Employees at the Bronx General Post Office complained bitterly over the summer about management’s failure to inform them quickly of a potentially life-threatening hazard.
Workers at the facility – and their union officers – got their first inkling there was a problem after the air conditioning unit tested positive for the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. Management didn’t bother to notify them until Aug. 9, the day after the information was reported in the New York Daily News. The test had been performed on Aug. 6, without any notice to workers or the APWU.
Fortunately, no postal workers died as a result of the Legionnaires’ outbreak, which caused 12 deaths in New York City over the summer. The outbreak was linked to five infected cooling systems in the South Bronx.
“This is a risk that management did not have the right to take with the employees’ safety and health,” said New York Metro Area Local President Jonathan Smith. The local and Northeast Region Coordinator John Dirzius demanded documentation from management about the events.
“Management’s unacceptable handling of the Legionnaires’ incident highlights the importance of our Safety and Health campaign,” said President Mark Dimondstein. “I urge every member to get involved.”
‘Deplorable’ Conditions In New Mexico
Postal workers have been forced to work in “deplorable” conditions for years at a facility in New Mexico, according to a recent OIG report.
The Sept. 2 report, requested by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), says, “Postal Service personnel and customers at the [redacted] office were subject to poor lighting, exposed electrical connections, broken plumbing, and a deteriorating building.” The report also found cracked windows, water-damaged walls and ceiling tiles, and a cockroach infestation.
“These outrageous conditions are completely unacceptable,” Dimondstein said.