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News & Events

Union Actions and Guidance Regarding Air Quality

Jun 08, 2023

June 7, 2023

Dear colleagues,

The sudden and shocking collapse in air quality today in NYC has many of us alarmed for our health, and the health of our loved ones. The union reached out to CUNY today to express our concern, and to ask that all employees be released to work remotely immediately if they wished. CUNY subsequently sent the following guidance to all Presidents and Deans:

  • “Please endeavor to reduce the percentage of outdoor air in your HVAC systems where possible and make sure face masks are available to campus community members and visitors who may want or need one.
  • Any scheduled outdoor activities on your campuses can be moved to an indoor venue, postponed or rescheduled, at your discretion.
    There are currently no plans to close CUNY facilities early. However, employees should be advised to consult with their direct supervisors if they prefer to work remotely due to health concerns for the rest of the day or for tomorrow, Thursday, June 8th.
  • For those campuses with classes in session, you may consider switching on-site sessions to a remote modality.”

We are beginning to see messages from some colleges informing employees that non-essential employees are permitted to work remotely. Please watch for communications from your college administration.

The union has further urged CUNY that they require supervisors to release staff who express that they are experiencing respiratory or other adverse responses to the poor air quality to work from home if they do not need sick leave. Please contact the union at [email protected] if you are being required to report to an unsafe working environment, or have asked for remote work due to the poor air quality and have had it denied.

We additionally shared with CUNY, and share with you here, guidance that our Health and Safety Watchdogs have given us to help keep us safer during this emergency. Thank you Watchdogs! For offices and schools, CUNY should:

  • Make HEPA air purifiers available and use actively throughout buildings
  • Increase level of filtration to MERV 13
  • Run HVAC systems at full capacity
  • Consider closing buildings early today and tomorrow

And guidance from our experts for the entire University community:

  • Stay indoors as much as possible and avoid strenuous activity when outdoors.
  • Wearing an N95 or a KN94 respirator can provide some protection from the smoke particulate in contrast to surgical masks and other face coverings which provide very little protection.
  • Keep windows closed in your home and office.
  • If you have a HEPA air filtration unit in your home or office, run it continuously.
  • Air conditioner units will cool indoor air but won’t provide adequate filtration of smoke particles. While most air conditioners don’t provide ventilation, some have a “fresh air” setting which should be closed to prevent bringing in outside air. Here’s how.
  • Many CUNY campuses have HVAC systems with MERV 13 filters, which can filter out particles of wildfire smoke, so air supplied by those systems should be acceptable.
  • Ask to be allowed to work from home especially (but not only) if you have a health condition that could be aggravated by smoke (asthma, COPD, heart disease).

Unfortunately, warmer and drier conditions and other problems caused by climate change will mean that outdoor air quality disasters like this one will not be the last. We urge you to get involved with our health and safety committees, our environmental justice working group, your campus action teams, and our contract campaign–so that we win better health, safety, and environmental standards at CUNY, and collectively engage the broader struggle to give our city and planet a healthier and more sustainable future.

In the meantime, wishing us all safety and good health, and a fast return to a breathable city.

James Davis, PSC President

Andrea Vásquez, PSC First Vice President

Felicia Wharton, PSC Treasurer

Penny Lewis, PSC Secretary


Published: June 8, 2023

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