NTEU learned yesterday through one of its members that EPA planned to turn off the water in the Potomac Yard building for four hours on Friday depriving all employees of bathroom facilities, drinking water, and dish-washing capability. While no formal notice was provided to EPA's headquarters unions, employees at Potomac Yard received the following cursory notice from the building manager:
No sinks to wash out dirty dishes and cups. No water dispensing units for drinking water. And no toilets. Hundreds of employees were instructed to walk next door to an adjacent building to use two small lobby toilets, requiring them to exit security, stand in line, and likely waste at least 30 minutes just to use the toilet. This hardly seems efficient and in keeping with the President's goals to improve federal agency productivity.
In addition to the lack of efficiency, it's also a sanitation problem. All the dirty plates and dishes from lunch will sit around all weekend, growing mold and attracting vermin like roaches and mice because there's no place to properly wash dishes.
Thanks to an eagle-eyed NTEU member, we were forwarded Ms. Smith's email and immediately encouraged management to perform the work over the weekend, or, if the work must be done during the work day, to grant telework to all employees or administrative leave since the building would not meet health and safety standards during that time. Unfortunately the response we received indicated a complete lack of understanding of employee needs or federal rules.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires one toilet fixture for about every 20 people up to 150 employees, then the agency requires one additional fixture for each 40 people. Assuming there are 800 employees in the building, OSHA rules require at least 23 operational toilets to ensure the health and safety of EPA employees in the building. See 29 C.F.R. § 1910.141(c)(1)(i). The NTEU-EPA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) guarantees that EPA "will provide a safe and healthy work environment for employees” and “will comply with all applicable provisions of the General Standards of the Occupational and Safety Health Administration as well as with all other appropriate relevant health and safety codes and standards.” OSHA also requires certain additional accessible facilities for people with mobility limitations. The water shut off will cause EPA to violate these various OSHA requirements.
The EPA Facilities and Management Division clearly did not consider the health and safety of its employees in its decision and instead argues that it would cost too much to do the work over the weekend. Cost over following the rules and ensuring the health and safety of its employees. NTEU Chapter 280 and AFGE Local 3331 continue to press management to grant telework or administrative leave to all headquarters employees or to conduct the work over the weekend.
Check NTEU Chapter 280's Twitter feed at @NTEU280 for additional updates.