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American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)

AFGE Urges Locals to Monitor Temperature, File Heat Hazard Complaint if Necessary

By Staff - AFGE, September 5, 2023

AFGE is urging locals to monitor temperatures in their facilities after receiving several complaints from members that their agencies have refused to provide air-conditioning or fans during the summer months where several states saw record-high temperatures. 

So far, we’ve heard from members working at the Defense Department, Veterans Affairs, Transportation Security Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

“Many agencies' officials are refusing to purchase air-conditioning or fans. Locals that face this type of behavior from the agency should file a complaint with OSHA,” said AFGE Workers Compensation Specialist Joe Mansour. “We need the locals to be educated and become aware that they can file a complaint on their agencies over heat hazards.”

OSHA has recently issued a heat hazard alert as it’s working on a heat standard. The hazard alert tells employers they have to do something to address heat exposure, like giving workers time to get acclimated to the heat conditions, providing rest breaks in the shade, providing cool water, and the right protective equipment. To address heat exposure, employers should do an assessment and use engineering controls, like fans, and administrative controls, like modifying schedules to work in cooler temperatures or provide breaks in cooler environments. 

Here are the steps locals should take:

  1. Take the temperature at the problem locations and take pictures of how hot it is. 
  2. Document any circumstances that contribute to the heat hazard, such as lack of cool or shaded areas to rest, lack of water and other aggravating factors like working in direct sunlight or the level of work activity. If employees are experiencing any health effects, that should be documented as well. Medical assistance should be provided immediately if anyone needs it. 
  3. Ask the agency to fix the problem in writing. If the agency refuses, then use the tool below to locate your OSHA office and file a complaint.
  4. OSHA can respond to the complaint you file in two ways:
  • They can send a letter to the agency and request a response within 30 days.
  • They can do a site visit.

OSHA: Employers Are Responsible for Protecting Workers from Heat Illness

By staff - AFGE, August 14, 2023

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a heat hazard alert and announced more enforcement as a reminder to employers that they have the duty to protect workers. 

OSHA’s heat hazard alert comes as most states are experiencing record-breaking heat that puts workers at risk.

“It’s the law! Employers have a duty to protect workers against heat,” OSHA said in the alert. “Employers have a legal and moral responsibility not to assign work in high heat conditions without protections in place for workers, where they could be literally worked to death.” 

“The department [of Labor] also announced that OSHA will intensify its enforcement where workers are exposed to heat hazards, with increased inspections in high-risk industries like construction and agriculture,” the Department of Labor said. “These actions will fully implement the agency’s National Emphasis Program on heat, announced in April 2022, to focus enforcement efforts in geographic areas and industries with the most vulnerable workers.

OSHA’s alert applies to both workers in the public and private sectors. AFGE members are voicing concerns on the heat issue as well. To date, we heard from locals representing TSA, EPA, and Ft. Belvoir employees. 

“They talked about TSA workers passing out. They filed an OSHA complaint, and TSA did the right things for about three days. Then it went back to the same old -- meaning no heat protections for workers,” said AFGE Health and Safety Specialist Milly Rodriguez. 

According to OSHA, employers should provide cool water, breaks, and a cool rest area for employees. They should train employees on heat illness prevention and what to do if they see another employee suffering from heat illness. They should also allow employees to become used to working in hot temperatures.

Under the OSHA Act, if workers don’t feel their working conditions are safe, they can file a confidential complaint with OSHA online or call OSHA at 800- 321-OSHA. It’s illegal for an employer to retaliate against a workers who exercises their legal rights and file a complaint with OSHA.

EPA union urges Minnesota Supreme Court to take up PolyMet case

By staff - Duluth News Tribune, March 10, 2022

DULUTH — The union representing many midwest employees of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to take up a PolyMet case challenging the proposed copper-nickel mine's water permit.

The American Federation of Government Employees Local 704 and other groups filed briefs urging the court to reconsider a January decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirming a 2020 decision by a State District Court judge who said the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency broke no laws or procedures by asking the EPA to keep comments on the permit private. It acknowledged such a move was made to prevent comments from reaching the public and leading to "bad press."

In 2019, AFGE Local 704 said it learned from a whistleblower that comments by the EPA Region 5 office in Chicago on a draft of PolyMet's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, were left out of the public record.

“Simply put, when a government agency acts in secret — or deliberately obscures its motives or reasoning — it becomes difficult to tell whether the agency’s actions were lawful or fair," the union wrote in its brief.

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