ST. LOUIS – After workers and union reps rallied Friday across the street from the Goodfellow Federal Center to draw attention to long-documented chemical work hazards, Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo., 1st District) is calling for a federal congressional hearing, they learned.
Clay, a member of the U.S. Oversight and Reform Committee, which has major investigative responsibilities for the operation of the federal government, penned a letter to the chairman of the ORC.
In the letter to ORC Chairman Elijah Cummings, Clay asked that an investigation commence immediately into the General Services Administration’s Public Building Services management at the complex, at 4300 Goodfellow Boulevard.
According to an audit released in March by the inspector general of the U.S. GSA, the local GSA failed to take actions that would keep workers from being sickened by more than 80 hazardous substances that the center tested positive for more than a decade ago.
Subsequent tests in 2016 by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed the findings and put the GSA on notice to address the concerns.
However, the audit by the inspector general found that the GSA hadn’t taken adequate actions to protect tenants, contractors and visitors from the hazards at the federal center.
“To date there has been constant exposure and little effort to remediate the hazardous contamination,” Clay wrote, continuing that “it appears the deficiencies of PBS’s environment program are systemic and cultural at both the regional and national levels, based on continued employee contentions and previous audits.”
In conclusion, Clay wrote that he had serious questions as to whether OSHA’s recommendations were being properly and expeditiously implemented and expressed concern about the dissemination of relevant information to former and current workers regarding contaminant exposure.
Shelia Stovall-Harrison, a union rep for AFGE (American Federation of Government Employees) Local 3354, expressed appreciation for Clay’s letter.
“We are proud that he sent a letter, and we feel like we are making some progress and moving toward resolutions instead of our work being in vain,” Stovall-Harrison said.
Stovall-Harrison, her union and about 30 other workers rallied Friday across the street from the center to help draw attention to their workplace concerns.
In addition to a congressional hearing, they want to be moved out of the building or be able to work remotely. They also want hazard pay, and many plan to file workers’ compensation cases.
“We demand to move; federal lives matter,” they chanted at the rally. Some hoisted signs reading, “Help! We are not working in safe conditions,” “This is not right” and “Putting People First is Priority.”
According to union members and workers, only a few of the more than 80 hazardous substances have been removed from the center.
“I feel like they’re very deceptive and they’re not being very forthcoming even after the things have come out,” said Rosie Smith, a USDA contractor who said she became very ill in 2017.
Another worker, Michelle Hammond, said that she had also become ill but that it outraged her when her newborn baby became ill after spending time at an onsite daycare, which is currently closed.
“It’s one thing for me to get sick, but my baby is a different story,” Hammond said.