(BALTIMORE – May 6, 2018) – For two straight days, water poured down on the carpet, while employees and customers had to endure the stench of what spelled like a mixture of urine and sewage. And with the weather reaching into the seventies with no working air conditioning unit, the sweltering temperature made the smell that much worst. However, employees state that this is about par for the course under the current administration, although the conditions have grown worst over the years.
And while you’d think this was the conditions of an outhouse or stable, it’s actually the working conditions that hundreds of state employees have to endure in downtown Baltimore at the city’s Circuit Courthouses. And on Monday, April 30, 2018, the leadership of the courthouse employees union, AFSCME 3674, revealed hazardous working conditions that the administration has tried covering up while courthouse employees suffer.
“We have continuously raised these lingering issues of flooding and sewage within this department and the harmful conditions this presents to the courthouse employees who have to suffer through these hazardous working conditions on a daily basis,” says union president, Pat Kelly. “Instead of addressing this issue, this administration tries covering it up with a band-aid approach and forcing the employees to endure this hardship while threatening them to remain quiet.”
On April 20th, the employees of the city’s Family Division within the Clarence Mitchell Circuit Courthouse arrived to their office to find the carpet soaked with a liquid that gave off a urine odor; along with ceiling tiles removed exposing the piping in the ceiling and fans blowing in a fruitless attempt at trying to dry the carpet. At that time, the ceiling was leaking inside Room 109, the Family Division, as well as in the hallway and the customer waiting area. There were plastic coverings trying to divert the leaking water into an awaiting trash can, which was filled with water that had a yellowish tint and smelled like sewer water.
Three days later, the employees returned to their offices facing the same conditions, only this time cardboard was placed in the hallway and office entrance in an effort to soak up the residue from the leak. These conditions continued to linger for the next few days, leaving employees complaining of headaches, watery eyes and fatigue, as they were forced to work in an already unnervingly hot office that now also had a lingering stench of urine, an exposed ceiling and chipped paint dropping on the carpet.
When they addressed these issues with the administration, they were told to return to their office and deal with the conditions as they were working on trying to resolve the issue, but were never told or seen how it was being addressed. These issues are on top of a persistent bed-bug crisis that employees have had to deal with several times over the past two years, without having any resolution to these lingering matters.
“This is the very reason we need a Court Clerk who isn’t going to be complacent and willing to risk the health of their employees, or the citizens who do business within these facilities, for the sake of remaining in the good graces of the Chief Judge,” says their vice-president Bishop Barry Chapman, who says that’s the reason the union has endorsed democratic candidate, Hassan Giordano who has called on addressing these issues of what he describes as a public health crisis, by looking to build a brand new courthouse complex.
“We need these issues to be exposed for what they are, a public health crisis that has grown out of control, and the city – who is the courthouse landlord – needs to either totally rehab these two aging courthouses or them and the state need to find a new facility to move these hardworking employees, in order for them to protect their health and well-being,” says Giordano. “We cannot tolerate these band-aid approaches that will continue to cost taxpayers more money in the long run, not to mention put hundreds of individuals at risk for possible contamination or long-term health problems.”
The union’s leadership, Mrs. Kelly and Mr. Chapman, attest that they have unsuccessfully tried working with the current administration over the past year to address these matters, but have continuously been turned away. “They’d rather act like it’s no big deal than address what we know to be a serious health hazard to our employees and the citizens of Baltimore,” says Chapman. “We cannot afford to sit by and remain silent as the courthouse keeps falling down around us. When you look at surrounding jurisdictions court facilities, their facilities look like the Taj Mahal, while the city’s looks like the war-torn city of Beirut.”
The group plans to protest and possibly even strike if the conditions don’t improve and get fixed immediately! “We can’t sit by and allow them to treat our employees like this, and we will have to resort to whatever methods necessary in order to defend the rights of our members and employees,” says Kelly.