AFGE Exploring Workers’ Compensation for St. Louis Workers Exposed to Cancer-Causing Chemicals

Categories: The Insider

Our union is looking into all possible remedies, including workers’ compensation, for current and former workers who have been exposed to 81 different hazardous substances including lead, cadmium, arsenic, asbestos, and other potentially cancer-causing chemicals at the Goodfellow Federal Center in St. Louis, Mo.

The years-long failure by managers at the General Services Administration (GSA) to properly clean up the buildings contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals has prompted our union to file a whistleblower disclosure with the Office of Special Counsel, call for a congressional investigation, and demand the immediate transfer of affected workers from the location. Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) has championed this issue as the Goodfellow building is in his district.

GSA is reportedly under pressure to urgently address the problem after our union shined a spotlight on the issue.

We are still concerned about how the administration is handling the situation. Employees have been notified that some contractors in hazmat suits will be coming into portions of buildings where Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees are still working to remove contaminated filing cabinets. Unlike the cabinets, employees are not getting moved.

In addition, vendors have refused to go in the building to service an ATM because it’s hazardous, but federal employees are expected to show up to work there. AFGE officials have notified the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Office of Special Counsel (OSC) about the situation.

The federal complex is comprised of 23 buildings and houses, 2,000 employees from the VA, Department of Agriculture (USDA), Social Security Administration (SSA), and General Services Administration (GSA). For decades, employees working in this complex have raised concerns with GSA, only to be ignored.

The toxic contamination was confirmed in 2016 following an investigation by OSHA. GSA, however, continued to misrepresent the dangers of the contamination even after the OSHA investigation, acknowledging only 2 of the 83 hazardous substances. While tests performed since 2016 show that asbestos and lead are no longer in the air, employees have no information on the other 81 contaminants because GSA has not tested them.

In a March 15 report, the agency’s Inspector General cited GSA’s Public Buildings Service for failing to adequately protect tenants, contractors, and visitors from known hazards, despite having spent more than $1.9 million between 2002 and 2016 on at least 33 studies that identified “numerous environmental hazards.”

AFGE has three locals in the area that are demanding to bargain with the agencies over employees’ temporary duty stations to get everyone out as soon as possible. The locals are also seeking information on several issues, including the number of bargaining unit employees who have worked at the facility, the chemicals that have exposed to them, the period of exposure, workers’ compensation cases, and other critical information.

The locals are also planning meetings and townhalls to discuss the issue with employees and discuss steps they could take.

“The continued failure of GSA to mitigate all of the issues is at best a systemic failure or at worst a reckless disregard for safety by management, who were told over and over of the problems for years,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr.

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