Sep 21, 2015

NAGE Intervenes When AC Fails at DFS in Stow

Do you remember the heat-wave-like temperatures of the first week of September? A group of NAGE members at the Department of Fire Services in Stow won’t ever forget, because the air conditioning in their building failed to work and NAGE had to step in to help them.
 
“The employer has a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace for workers, and if they can’t do that in a timely manner, they need to release employees from the worksite in a timely manner,” said Theresa McGoldrick, NAGE national executive vice president. “The union and the agency had a difference of opinion about what that meant, but ultimately, we prevailed and our members protected.”
 
Soaring temperatures, stalled air conditioning
 
On Monday, August 31, workers arrived to the headquarters for the state’s Department of Fire Services in Stow to discover that the air conditioning wasn’t working. The building, which opened in 2011, houses the firefighting academy for fire cadets from municipalities across the Commonwealth, the state’s hazardous materials response unit, the Massachusetts State Police fire and explosives units, several training areas, and civilian administrative employees. 
 
A summer day in an office building with inoperative air conditioning is uncomfortable. But that weekend had seen temperatures peak in the high 80s, according to records for Stow from Weather.com, and Monday’s high was recorded at 89. Spending time in a building in those conditions can be unhealthy for many people.
 
After spending much of the day working in temperatures of 80+ degrees, NAGE members at the DFS notified NAGE representatives that the A/C still wasn’t working. NAGE contacted management, but learned early on Tuesday, September 1, NAGE that the A/C was still not working. Members were telling NAGE that the temperatures inside the building were “unbearable.” Vice President McGoldrick demanded the immediate release of employees, based on contractual obligations, state law, and the longstanding past practice of sending employees home when conditions in a building are intolerable after a reasonable period (typically considered two hours).
 
A member of management replied by email to McGoldrick. He denied the demand to release the employees, saying that the A/C system was now functioning.
 
Shortly after she received that message, McGoldrick learned that the A/C system went down again, right after it had started working on Tuesday (high temperature: 85 degrees). She made a second demand to release employees. DFS finally released employees for the day,  
 
As workers returned to the DFS on Wednesday, September 2 (high temperature 90 degrees), they were stunned to find the A/C system not working for a third day. They contacted NAGE immediately. McGoldrick demanded that the building be shut down again immediately. This time, DFS complied right away.
 
“I was stunned that the agency would push back,” said McGoldrick. “People can get terribly sick in those kinds of temperatures, but it was almost like it was an inconvenience that we were standing up for our members’ safety. Thankfully, they got the message, they finally did the right thing, and everybody was okay.”
 
Repairs to the A/C system were completed by Thursday, September 3. Workers reported back to the Stow DFS headquarters on the 3rd and were pleased to report that everything was working normally—and Mother Nature helped by cooling things off to the 70s by Friday.
 
All weather records from Weather.com. 


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Artist rendering of the Department of Fire Services headquarters in Stow.
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