Thanks to a quick-footed reaction by the York College PSC chapter, the union’s Environmental Health and Safety Watchdogs and the central PSC office, rats are no longer invading York College.
The April 2016 issue of Clarion reported on the rat and rodent infestation on the campus that PSC’s health and safety watchdogs described as “out of control” and “extremely unhealthy and dangerous.” In the Spring semester, York College’s faculty caucus unanimously passed a resolution declaring the campus a “non-functional teaching environment,” because of the rat infestation.
Scott Sheidlower, the PSC chapter chair at York College who had pressed York’s administration to take action, said the pest problem is now “under control.”
“[We] brought proof in the forms of video and pictures and asked for a resolution to the problem,” said Anthony Andrews, a PSC HEO representative who attended the meetings. Andrews said the campus administration took action and looked into getting a new exterminator. Andrews said that there still may be “occasional sightings” of rats, but the situation is vastly improved. “The rat pack no longer performs nightly shows in the cafeteria and the occasional sighting of a rat on campus is now little more than a cameo appearance.”
“Basically, you can walk in the building and not expect for a rat to run over your feet and not expect to see a rat running in the cafeteria,” Sheidlower told Clarion.
Sheidlower and PSC officials pressed the president for union-wide meetings and did constant walk-throughs of York facilities. He credited the progress in part to organizing by all the unions on the campus, including units in District Council 37 and leaders in the PSC’s HEO and CLT chapters.
“Everyone was affected by this: students, faculty; it didn’t matter who you were. You showed up at York, you were affected by the rats,” Sheidlower said. “That’s why it was important that we work together.”
Due to intense pressure from Sheidlower and other activists, the union stewards began to meet monthly with York College President Marcia Keizs.
The PSC’s health and safety watchdogs were also monitoring progress. They conducted inspections of the campus, once when the issue was at its peak and another a year later when it was under control. The PSC health and safety team also contacted the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Bureau of Veterinary and Pest Control Services, which did its own assessment of the campus with the PSC experts. Jean Grassman, co-chair of PSC’s Environmental Health and Safety Watchdogs, said that a key to prevention was to make sure rodents didn’t have access to food.
“This happens at a lot of campuses, because garbage sits around,” Grassman told Clarion. “If rats have access to the dumpsters, that’s like a buffet.”
Grassman said the main culprit is not food waste brought by students, but major food waste in cafeterias, dining halls and dumpsters that aren’t “isolated and protected.”
York College officials have put in place preventive measures, including keeping food waste in sealed containers, moving trash cans away from desks and encouraging faculty, staff and students to practice proper trash control methods. The administration also began moving on fixing the problem last spring.
A central PSC demand was that a more aggressive exterminator be hired, and this demand ended in victory for the union: York terminated its contract with its previous pest control vendor at the end of May 2016 and it signed up with a new pest control company that uses integrated pest management, which takes a proactive approach to dealing with rodent problems. After two months of aggressively trapping the rats in their habitats and conducting campus visits five times a week, York saw progress and reduced their visits.
College officials said that they first began to notice progress in September of 2016, when calls to buildings and grounds fell significantly from an excessively high three to five calls per day to about one to two per week.
James Minto, the executive director of facilities at York College, said in an email, “To date, we continue to utilize a monthly routine [integrated pest management] approach that consists of weekly visits of two to three each and can state confidently that the rodent infestation problem of last Spring has been reduced substantially to an occasional sighting.”