More Unity is Always a Win!

Brookdale Library has a pre-pandemic history of ventilation/HVAC issues. At this juncture, the problem does not appear to be mechanical, but rather one of facilities management choice and/or routinely not being in the loop when Brookdale’s building schedule changes. Workers frequently complain (sometimes patrons do), but are routinely told: “The system is working fine” or that some unstated mystery problem has been resolved.

The CDC, among others, cites increased air exchange along with mask-wearing and social-distancing to be the most critical of COVID-19 precautions. Any public-facing worker knows that much time is spent asking people to cover their nose with a mask, so we depend on facilities management even more so for solid ventilation protocols.

The first egregious instance of HVAC problems occurred September 19 and September 26, 2020 when Brookdale Library first opened for Saturday service. The building was hot and stuffy. On the second Saturday of this discomfort, a worker figured out that the system wasn’t on, sent out a group email at 4:15PM notifying workers and managers, and asked Associate Librarian, Loretta Dakin to send a supportive email. Dakin replied-all expressing how appalled she was at the lack of concern for safety this omission represented. The following week, her supervisor requested a “check-in.” Dakin immediately called for union representation, and Local 2822 president Ali Fuhrman showed up, of course. No disciplinary action occurred.

On April 7, 2021, a strong natural gas odor permeated the library, which prompted Dakin to immediately notify security and evacuate the public floor. Afterwards, as all employees were gathered outside, the facilities manager told the library supervisors that he had turned the ventilation up to 100. Overhearing this, Dakin asked what the air had been set on originally. He said “30.” Upset by this news, Dakin expressed outrage and disbelief about yet another demonstration of disregard of workplace safety for her and her co-workers. Of course it was requested that she step away from this discussion, so Dakin walked over to where her co-workers were gathered and took a quick hand-raising poll: “How many of you were uncomfortable in the building today BEFORE the gas smell?” “How many were uncomfortable yesterday?” “How many were getting headaches on Saturday?” Numerous co-workers raised their hands each time.

Dakin correctly calculated what would happen next. Some sort of retaliation toward her and, yet again, no action on the HVAC issue. She called Ali, who attended an “investigatory meeting” of Dakin with service managers. At the International Workers’ Day March, we gathered over 100 signatures demanding an end to retaliation and a correction of the HVAC issue!

Although Dakin ended up with a verbal reprimand, she sees some great unity wins in this situation:

  1. Dakin became a very active member of Local 2822 right after her first call to Ali in September. Now she is a steward-in-training ready to help others.
  2. At the International Workers’ Day March, over 100 signatures were gathered from union members and library patrons demanding an end to retaliation and a correction of the HVAC issue.
  3. Local 2844 (which includes our librarians) joined with Clerical Local 2822 to achieve 100% solidarity against this retaliation and continuing disregard for workplace safety.
  4. More workers at Brookdale have become active in Local 2822.

Dakin is in conversation with OSHA concerning next steps. She is thankful these poor working conditions have inspired so many people to become more involved with our union, especially during a contract year. More Unity is Always a Win.

The saga continues, on Saturday May 8, 2021, just a week after collecting the 100 signatures requesting the air issues be addressed, the air was not on at 9:00AM when the library opened. (Air quality was normal and fresh again by 10:00AM.)