Admin says it’s fixed, but union not convinced
City Tech has had a mold problem this year. Worse, PSC members there think the administration is not addressing it properly.
The PSC chapter suspects that mold is responsible for more than two dozen workers in admissions, registrar and financial aid reporting in sick during the Spring 2019 semester. The union chapter leaders contacted the PSC Health and Safety Watchdogs, and they arranged for the PSC to contract with Microecologies, a leading indoor environmental testing firm in the city, to conduct an independent inspection of City Tech. Microecologies found black mold (stachybotrys) in the pipe-and-ceiling tiles of the registrar’s office file room and evidence of water intrusion in both the registrar’s and admissions offices. The inspection, which took place this summer, also found rodent droppings in the admissions office.
In its report, Microecologies made several recommendations, including having the registrar’s office file room cleaned by a licensed mold-removal contractor. The report recommended thorough inspections of other offices and noted that such work could be disruptive to the day-to-day flow of life on campus: the cleaning work would require the removal or covering of all furniture in the area, isolating the work area, the use of protective gear for the workers involved and other precautions.
The campus administration has not appeared to take the report seriously or remediate the problem in the appropriate fashion. HEO Chapter Chair Cindy Bink, who works at City Tech, said in an email to members, “Our efforts seem to have spurred efforts to remove the mold, but the administration has failed to truthfully disclose the nature of their actions [in response to the findings]. This is of concern because removing mold by law must be done by a licensed mold remover. Done incorrectly additional mold spores can be released into the area causing even more problems.”
Bink added that there was another problem: the college was contesting Microecologies’ findings. “The college administration reported that they were not agreeing with the union’s mold assessment for a couple of reasons,” Bink said. “First [the administration] said Microecologies was not authorized to test for mold at City Tech… They also stated that they were not required to do their own mold tests because New York State law did not require them to do so. Basically they were saying, ‘We cleaned up the room, we did not test for mold because we are not required to by law. And because we did not test mold, we can clean the area using our own in-house maintenance staff.’”
PSC members said that the union did not receive “permission” to bring Microecologies on campus.
The situation leaves some members worrying that mold problems will return. “We discussed this in three labor-management meetings with the administration,” City Tech PSC Chapter Chair Ben Shepard told Clarion in November. “To date, the administration does not acknowledge that the mold ever existed. They cleaned some of the areas where mold was found without acknowledging there was mold. I hope it does not come back. We still see rat feces in the building. I wish the administration took a little more pride in the building’s upkeep.”
Jacqueline Elliot, a PSC Executive Council member and a senior college laboratory technician who is based at City Tech, recalled that the chapter started taking action in the Spring.
“People were getting sick,” said Elliot, who is cochair of the union’s health and safety team. “We got everybody’s names and symptoms and we brought it to the administration’s attention. They looked at it and they talked to their environmental safety officer, who called PESH (Public Employee Safety and Health). And PESH came in and gave an inspection, but they weren’t going to dig as deep as we would.”
The inspection by PESH, the statewide government agency that oversees workplace environmental and occupation safety at state and city government employers, appeared to underplay what workers were experiencing, she said. A PESH report from the summer concluded, “Air monitoring conducted during this consultation visit did not indicate any exposures which would constitute violation of any applicable PESH standards.”
Elliot noted that the administration has done some work on the affected areas since the Microecologies inspection, but it has not informed the chapter what kind of work has been done. She said, “The bottom line is: Who came in? Were they licensed or did they just have someone from facilities do the job? That’s a big issue, because it needs to be done right.”
She added, “People are pissed off and people are scared.”
City Tech administration maintains that it has cleaned the affected areas. Miguel Cairol, City Tech’s vice president for administration and finance, stood by the PESH report, noting that PESH inspectors took samples from the affected areas and conducted interviews with workers.
“With respect to the Microecologies report, the college was not informed of their visit, and did not participate in any way in the sampling or any other of their activities. Nevertheless, we reviewed the report, investigated the issues they raised and took action whenever we found it was needed,” he told Clarion. “The college has responded to the concerns expressed by the local PSC leadership, investigated every issue raised and taken appropriate action.
“We also took the members of the leadership on a tour of the areas they had brought to our attention and showed what had been done to correct any problem found. Our health and safety officer continues to monitor any of the previously identified areas and any new concerns brought to our attention.”
The problem with the administration’s response, according to Jean Grassman, cochair of the union’s health and safety team, is that while PESH does work to protect general occupation safety and health, Microecologies is a mold expert. Specifically, she said, the college is not in compliance with New York City Local Law 61, which states, “Mold assessment, abatement or remediation for a project for such building shall be performed by a person licensed to perform such work…”
The chapter is continuing to press City Tech administration to take the union’s inspection report and its recommendations more seriously. In the meantime, chapter leaders have told members that if they see a potential mold problem they should inform Buildings and Grounds as well as the PSC’s Health and Safety Watchdogs. The chapter leaders were not aware of people currently sick from environmental issues, but said any members who do get sick should seek help immediately.
Shepard told Clarion that if members get sick or see mold they should document it.
“If the administration didn’t do a proper clean-up, people are going to get sick again,” he said. “The administration knows they’re on watch. They know that we have our eyes on it.”