PSC wins safety at BCC
Mold on the ceiling and walls at BCC’s Nichols Hall
Thanks to the dogged work of PSC activists, the Bronx Community College (BCC) administration has closed a building with ventilation and mold problems.
A PSC safety walk-through at BCC’s Nichols Hall – one of dozens of COVID compliance safety walk-through inspections conducted by the PSC across the university this fall – found that there was inadequate ventilation and mold in the building.
“The college administration has decided to postpone the occupancy of Nichols Hall until further notice,” F. Javier Legasa, assistant dean for academic affairs, said in an October 25 email to HEOs who worked in the building. “Please continue to work remotely.”
“The BCC administration had resisted previous requests to address several safety concerns expressed by the HEO advisors who work in the building,” Yasmin Edwards, the PSC chapter chair at BCC, told Clarion. “There were several issues, obvious mold being one of them. The college decided to remove the mold using a chemical that required proper ventilation following use. However, one of the problems with Nichols Hall is that many of the windows do not open or cannot be easily opened and this resulted in the space not being properly ventilated.”
Edwards continued, “Several HEOs who were then told their office was safe for use returned after the chemical was used to clean the mold and experienced irritated and swollen eyes and respiratory irritation. I requested the safety data sheet for the chemical used to remove the mold and it revealed that the symptoms the advisors experienced were described as a result of ‘improper use of the chemical‘ most likely, due to insufficient ventilation. Ultimately, the administration only closed the building after HEOs became ill.”
Christina Randall, an ASAP student advisor who works at Nichols Hall, said of the administration’s attempt to remediate the mold problem, “They had supposedly cleaned it and they used a chemical and left the windows closed. They didn’t ventilate the office, so people came back and their eyes were burning. It was like a chemical reaction.”
Five days before the administration shut down Nichols Hall, Randall sent an email to HEOs at BCC saying, “From the start of the semester on August 16, staff returned to filthy offices. We returned to work in offices that had mouse feces, dust, bugs and in some cases both mold and water damage. We did not have soap or paper towels in Nichols Hall at the beginning of the semester. The bathrooms were not clean, and the date of the last cleaning of the facilities was before the pandemic started. We still, to this day, do not have hot water in the building or an HVAC system.”
The deterioration of buildings has been a long-standing problem for the members at BCC. In February 2020, Clarion reported the Faculty Council “passed a vote of ‘no confidence’ against Kay Ellis, vice president of administration and finance, at the end of the Fall semester…[for] allowing gross physical deterioration throughout campus, including a lack of proper lighting and inadequate indoor heating under her watch.” The report continued, “Maintenance issues at the college led to chaos early in the Spring 2019 semester after pipes burst at Colston Hall, one of the BCC’s main classroom buildings, which caused a weeks-long disruption, severe flooding and forced 500 classes – as well as faculty offices – to relocate.”
For Randall, even though her building has been shut down due to safety concerns, the fact that it took union action and workers getting sick to get results is proof of the administration’s lackadaisical attitude when it comes to safety. “I realized that the college doesn’t care about us, period,” she said.
Andrea Vásquez, the PSC first vice president, told Clarion that the shutdown of Nichols Hall is another example of how the union can win safety victories when members organize together. She said, “As a union and as individual members, we have made it clear to our college administrations and CUNY that we will not accept unsafe working conditions. In 18 months, we have become better organizers and better defenders of our rights. This will serve us well in the months and years to come.”
Sign a ‘Got Air’ petition, urging the release of the vital health and safety data at several CUNY campuses. Since mid-September, the PSC has been demanding data be released that was used to create campus ventilation reports. Several CUNY colleges, including Bronx Community College, have not complied.