February 16, 2018

Week 13: Feb. 5-11, 2018 in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Potter and Sharpe are remaining in the Virgin Islands this week to continue outreach initiatives on behalf of the USW SERTs. The team kicked off the week by attending a meeting at the USW Local Union 9-8713 hall with President Orville Crossley. They were given the opportunity to speak to members in regards to training. Some issues identified by the members include mold hazards, the need for training on which chemicals to use to clean the mold, the concern that recovery organizations are leaving the island and more.

On Tuesday the SERTs took the opportunity to visit the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religious organization containing over 100 volunteers who are providing remediation and rebuilding for church members. They directly connected with the organization’s contractor/coordinator and a health and safety representative who shared with them the steps they take to ensure volunteers’ safety. The steps include holding an orientation for all new worker volunteers, reviewing the job hazard analysis (JHA) every morning, providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and respiratory fit testing, and connecting doctors and nurses with the volunteers to provide psychological/emotional assessments and some physicals. When needed, they call in mold remediation crews. Members of the organization accepted National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) booklets to help ensure their safety and health, and were interested in potential training from the USW Tony Mazzocchi Center.

Following their visit, Potter and Sharp took the ferry to the island of Saint John to assess the damage there and possibly connect with more disaster response workers. The SERTs spoke to a few residents whose houses suffered from water damage. They also reported that linesmen were busy restoring lines and replacing poles with much sturdier ones.

The SERTs reported on Wednesday that Saint Thomas is still in disarray; tarps are covering rooftops of homes and many businesses are still closed.

“[Even] food is very expensive,” Potter said. “[For] example, a pound of grapes is around $9.”

Potter and Sharpe attended a USW Local Union 9-8249 meeting led by President Sheryl Parris and Vice President Carl Joseph on Thursday. Local 8249 members work at government offices on the island. The SERTs were able to connect with the members who identified significant health issues resulting from exposure to mold in office buildings where they work. In response to the discussion, they compiled a list of agenda items to better protect the health of these exposed workers including providing a questionnaire for all workers, requesting a Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) via the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), holding a goal-charting session, making formal requests for air quality sampling results and offering training from the USWTMC.

On Friday the SERTs met with Gary Simon, USW health and safety representative, to tour the Virgin Islands Department of Human Services where USW-represented government employees work. Potter, Sharpe and Simon spoke with multiple USW members who shared that they contracted illnesses and allergic reactions due to being exposed to mold in the workplace. Many of the workers expressed that they feared being retaliated against if they spoke up about their illnesses. The team even spoke to a couple supervisors, some who admitted to coming down with similar illnesses and allergies, and who also feared retaliation from upper management. The USW team was still able to offer some help and start plans to protect these workers against further health and safety issues.

Next they drove to the Department of Taxation where they were asked to leave and escorted off the premises. Potter reported that they are working together with the union and management to obtain access back into the building and to speak with workers.

“Upon arrival there were several workers wearing dust masks,” Potter said.

Potter reported that they were able to approach a few workers before having to leave, who provided information about having contracted allergy-like symptoms and even making trips to the emergency.

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