Unions denounce poor condition of DNER building
By John McPhaul
The Environmental Quality Board Employees Union UAW Local 2337 and the Central Federation of Workers (FCT by its Spanish initials), which represents the employees of the Solid Waste Management Authority and the National Parks Program, denounced on Monday what they said are the poor, depressing and unsanitary conditions of the central building of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER), and called on Secretary Rafael Machargo Maldonado to establish a plan that guarantees the health and safety of the personnel working in the agency and its visitors.
“We [are alerting] the media so that the country can see the conditions [of] the central building of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, so that they see with their own eyes the unsanitary conditions in which hundreds of employees work in a sick building, full of fungus,” said Miguel Rivera, president of UAW Local 2337. “A building where, to top it all off, the administration does not follow anti-COVID protocols. We urge Secretary Rafael Machargo to take immediate action to resolve this situation, which threatens the health of employees, or we as employee representatives will take other actions to resolve it.”
Wilkin López, international representative of the UAW, said the conditions inside the building are alarming at a time when Puerto Rico is facing the COVID-19 pandemic and when employees have been called back to work in person in government offices.
“This is a health and safety issue. It is alarming given the time we are living in, with the COVID-19 pandemic attacking our members, families and visitors,” López said. “We have given Secretary Machargo several alternatives and so far no plan has been presented. We demand action, commitment and the guarantee of an environment in which the physical and mental health of our people is not affected.”
Meanwhile, Antonio Cabán, president of the Central Federation of Workers, noted that the health situation in the building is aggravated by the condition of the air conditioning system.
“During the month of August and so far in September, work has been interrupted 16 times due to the continuous failures and low cooling capacity of the air conditioning, which, in turn, increases the potential risk of infection from COVID-19 and other related viruses,” Cabán said. “We are not going to wait for a tragedy to happen to demand that action be taken.”
“The saddest thing about this is that the agency has the money to buy a new air conditioning system, because it was assigned the funds more than a year ago, and due to bureaucracy or incompetence today that money still sits in the bank account instead of being used for what it was assigned,” he added. “The practice of counting on money and not using it efficiently cannot continue.”
The union leaders said that on Aug. 20, Machargo informed them that the DNER had certified that the air system must be replaced with a new unit, that a bid had not yet been held to acquire it and that the work amounted to some $1.7 million.
“Machargo told us that he was going to issue an emergency administrative order … to discard the bidding and that he would ask the General Services Administration to make an exceptional purchase because it complies with the provisions of the internal memo regarding the health risk faced by employees and visitors,” Cabán said. “However, at the moment, we do not have any information on the procedures carried out or the response of the relevant agencies. We do not know what happened with the purchase of the air [conditioning] system, we do not know if the administrative order was made, we do not know anything. To this we add that the advanced deterioration of the building from the fungus that can be perceived with the naked eye on the walls and windows, the lack of protective and disinfection equipment, and the fact that the respective Health and Safety Committee has not been activated.”