A New Jersey union has been angered by the actions of the city of Paterson involving a local government building where their employees were likely exposed to dangerous asbestos materials.
An article in the Paterson Press notes that Department of Public Works Union officials have begun to speak out about the situation, which occurred at a city office on Ellison Street. Their members, they say, worked amid asbestos for two months before an inspector finally pulled the plug on the renovation project. This was despite the fact that they had no training in the handling of the carcinogenic material.
“They put people’s lives in danger,’’ said James Parker, president of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Local 2272. “We pulled them out and the director sent them back in.’’ Parker said the Public Works director, Christopher Coke, threatened the men with insubordination charges if they refused to go back into the renovation site.
The city is also being accused of given the workers substandard masks to protect them from dust and with failure to provide the employees with protective suits. In addition, Coke used a fan to air out the area where the asbestos floor tiles were being removed in an attempt to alter the results of the asbestos testing that was to follow. The fan may have also aggravated the situation, further spreading the toxic fibers and increasing the chance that they could be inhaled by those working in the room. Inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause a variety of serious diseases, including pleural mesothelioma and other cancers.
Michael Jackson, who’s in charge of the union’s grievance committee, says workers raised questions about conditions back in October, two months before the project was halted. They were adamantly told that they shouldn’t be worried; there was no danger present.
Jackson confirms that the men were using scrapers to chip tiles off the floor, a method that was likely to create large amounts of toxic asbestos dust. “None of these guys had ever been trained in how to deal with asbestos,’’ said Jackson. “They should have never been there.’’
It is expected that the labor union will file a formal grievance shortly.