‘The village knows that what they are doing is wrong’
BABYLON — CSEA is fighting to protect the rights of our members in the Village of Babylon who are being exposed to hazardous materials, bullying and harassment, lack of training as well as unfair distribution of overtime hours.
CSEA contacted the Department of Labor’s Public Employee Safety and Health (PESH) Bureau, which investigated and cited the Village of Babylon with 28 safety and health violations as this edition went to press. Two of those citations stem from violations dating back to 2016, which were never corrected.
Violations include the employer exposing workers to potentially hazardous work conditions without proper training or appropriate medical care. The village was also cited for failing to provide safety data sheets for potentially hazardous chemicals.
Along with our Village of Babylon Unit, our union’s Occupational Safety and Health Department has been fighting hard to ensure village officials keep workers as safe as possible.
‘It would be like a space shuttle going off’
“I’ve worked for the village for over five years and they [village officials]have never approached employees about protective equipment or exercising proper safety precautions” said Village of Babylon Laborer Andre Middleton. “Another co-worker and I wound up getting sick because of the fumes that we were inhaling from the debris in the dump truck.”
Only after going to management and telling them that he wanted a mask was Middleton given the protective equipment. At that point, he had already been exposed to harmful chemical fumes for years.
Middleton is not alone. Other CSEA members who work in sanitation say village officials are directing them to dispose of hazardous materials in the back of village garbage trucks, that are not constructed to hold the waste, and dispose of the materials at the local dump.
“The people at the dump tell us that they don’t want us dumping anything flammable because they burn the garbage,” said Village of Babylon Laborer Elliott Fant. “It’s like the Fourth of July when they burn the waste from this village because it’s nothing but gas and oil.”
“There have been times when we’ve gone to the dumps and the back of the truck is filled with gas, kerosene and paint,” said Village of Babylon Unit President Jack Christ. “If someone were to drive by and flick a cigarette out of their car, it would be like a space shuttle going off.”
In addition to experiencing nausea and vertigo, some of our members say they have begun having a difficult time breathing, with all attributing their ailments to repeated exposure to hazardous waste.
“Our people should have never been handling any hazardous materials,” said Christ. “The village is supposed to contact an outside contractor to dispose of harmful debris like latex paint, oils and gas.”
“The village knows that what they’re doing is wrong; they just don’t care,” said Christ. “Every one of us who has handled harmful materials without the proper protection will have to wonder for the rest of our lives what kind of effect years of exposure will have on our health.”
When members bring their concerns to the village, they are callously told, “this is the job” or threatened with losing their jobs if CSEA members are not compliant.
“Sending us out to do this work is like sending us out on a suicide mission,” said Fant.
CSEA has called in the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the effects of the hazardous waste on the environment.
Specifically, the agencies were called in to perform an independent investigation of Argyle Lake, which is located on the E. Donald Conroy Golf Course.
The Village of Babylon was given a $5,000 grant to buy a shed to safely store chemicals on the grounds of the lake. Village officials instead opted to buy a Rubbermaid shed from a local retailer. The shed is now leaking hazardous fluids into the ground and the harmful fumes are emitting into the air.
Members say they are also being verbally abused by a co-worker who workers note is prone to becoming potentially physically aggressive when angered.
As this edition went to press, village officials have taken no disciplinary action against this employee because of what many workers believe is a personal connection to a village official.
Village employees also note that this employee has also received most of the village’s overtime hours, to the point where this individual’s salary was doubled last year.
This action is a direct violation of CSEA’s contract with the village, which states that overtime must be distributed according to seniority. The village’s salaried employees are not eligible for overtime hours due to their higher salary grade. CSEA has filed a grievance on behalf of our members regarding the issue.
Poorly maintained equipment
Our members are also concerned about the village’s lack of resources to properly maintain its vehicles.
Village vehicles are so poorly maintained that members using village trucks to take their CDL [Commercial Driver’s License] test were told by the state Department of Transportation that they cannot use the trucks for testing because the trucks are substandard.
Our members are all too familiar with the faulty equipment.
“Right now, there’s a freon leak in my truck’s air conditioner. Instead of repairing it, they [the village]just keep filling it up,” said Laborer Dennis C. Purcell. “I’m breathing in the fumes from that leak all day. When I write up problems about equipment issues and present it to the village, it goes ignored.”
When Laborer Joe Jenkins noticed that the Anti-Lock Braking System warning lights on his village truck would not shut off, he repeatedly informed management of the problem.
The issue was not addressed.
One day, the tires on the truck caught fire as a result of the malfunction. Instead of management responding to the issue, Jenkins was wrongfully suspended.
These accounts are just a few of the many issues that are concerning to workers. Despite it all, our members say they like their jobs.
“I can’t say that I don’t like my job or that I hate getting up and going to work every day because I like what I do,” said Fant. “The problem is management.”
— Wendi Bowie