(This article first appeared in the May-June 2016 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
APWU member Nadia Assad was fatally struck by a van driven by a co-worker as she walked through the employee parking lot to the Dominick V. Daniels Processing and Distribution Center in Kearney, NJ, on March 23 – and the New York Metro Area Local is demanding action and accountability.
In an email to management the following day, New York Metro Area Local President Jonathan Smith expressed outrage that the union’s request for stop signs, speed bumps, and posted speed limits had been ignored. “Adherence to these simple suggestions could have gone a long way to possibly preventing this unfortunate incident from occurring,” he wrote.
Tiffany Foster, executive vice president of the local, said that there is no lighting at night and just one stop sign – mounted on a fence that leads nowhere. More than a week after Assad’s death, safety improvements had not been made. However, inside the facility lobby, prominently positioned on an easel, was a large poster that warns employees that their vehicles would be towed if they are parked in the lot reserved for managerial employees.
“How dare they have this up, but nothing about safety,” Foster said. “Safety should come first.”
‘If Methane’s Not Killing People, What is?’
After four workers at Michigan’s Metroplex Processing and Distribution Center died in a 10-month period, the 480-481 Area Local demanded answers. All of the workers were taken from the plant via Emergency Services between October 2014 and August 2015, and later passed away. A fifth employee died under similar circumstances in June 2011. They ranged in age from 38 to 64.
The mail processing facility, located in Pontiac, sits on the site of a toxic former car manufacturing plant. A gas-venting system was installed in the mail processing center to prevent the buildup of methane, an odorless, colorless gas that is highly flammable and can cause explosions when it accumulates in enclosed spaces. Inhaling too much can result in medical problems, including asphyxiation.
The uproar over the workers’ deaths prompted an investigation by the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG), which concluded that the methane detection system at the facility had not been functioning properly since March 2015.
While the OIG did not correlate the workers’ deaths with the malfunctioning methane detection system, the report urged management to act immediately to fix it. But 480-481 Area Local President Roscoe Woods is asking: “If methane’s not killing people, what is?” Metroplex employees work large amounts of overtime and many grievances have been filed over what he called “a hostile work environment,” Woods noted.
The local has been in contact with members of Congress. On March 29, Democratic Senators Debbie Stabenow, Gary C. Peters and Rep. Brenda L. Lawrence wrote to Postmaster General Megan Brennan to express “very serious concerns regarding employee safety” at the facility. “It is completely unacceptable that the USPS has known about the malfunctioning methane detector for several months, yet it still isn’t fixed,” they wrote.
Training Guide Available
A training guide for the APWU’s ongoing Stand Up for Safe Jobs campaign is available for use by locals and state organizations. The guide, which was developed by President Mark Dimondstein, is intended to promote active involvement by participants at multi-state conferences and state conventions. The guide reviews educational material and emphasizes steps union members can take to promote a safe work environment. It is designed to allow instructors and participants to share their experiences and discuss what steps are appropriate for their conditions.
“The best safety program is workers standing together in defense of a safe working environment,” Dimondstein said. “The goal of this training guide is to begin that process.”