Thursday, July 21, 2005

Public Employees Steamed By Privatization

Usually, it's the highway and pubic works employees laboring on the hot asphalt that have a problem during hot weather, while their administrative co-workers work in air-conditioned luxury back in the home office.

Not this week in Long Island, however. While the mercury was hitting 85 outdoors, in the headquarters building of Nassau County's Department of Public Works Highway and Bridge Maintenance Division, it was 94. The air conditioning has been out for the past eleven days.
"It's hot as hell in here," says Barbara Wagner, a laborer in the fleet management division who has worked there for six years on and off. "Do we have to be taken out by ambulance before somebody does something about it? People are getting sick." Sal Scalafani, the auto-parts storekeeper supervisor and one of just three workers still in the building at 4 p.m. on July 18, agreed. "It's intolerable," he says. "Even just working on keyboards you're soaking wet."

In one nearly empty room, more than a dozen fans were cranked up to top speed, blowing stagnant hot air back and forth. The metal ventilation ducts were old and worn, with brown paint chipping off. Some were missing grates or damaged.
So what's the problem? Old equipment, and the nemesis of public employees (and citizens) everywhere: privatization of government services:
Jerry Laricchiuta, the newly elected president of Civil Service Employees Association Local 830, calls the situation "unacceptable." He says Dena Miller, deputy commissioner of the department of public works, credits the AC-repair holdup at the Cantiague building to a missing part and a problem with an outside contractor.

"That's what happens when you don't have county workers doing your work," says Laricchiuta, noting that when a compressor at the Department of Social Services broke down on July 19, a county worker fixed the system in a day. "When you contract to outside agencies, they own you."
Anyway, not to worry. The problem has been resolved. The air conditioning should be working again -- in a week.