The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

No one should work in bad air!

Jan 22, 2001

Officials from Baltimore County and the State of Maryland finally announced in December that state and county workers would be moved out of the Investment Building in Towson, Maryland –but not for another six months.

In total, almost a thousand people work in the building. Dozens of them have experienced illnesses that are connected to the quality of the air in the building. One woman has already won a worker's compensation case in the matter. Another quit her job after three years in the building left her with asthma. Another worker has developed lung and heart problems tied to the lack of good air. But the worst case was that of a worker who contracted Legionnaire's disease in 1999. This disease, which can be deadly, is contracted in buildings with poor ventilation. And, although they have not yet developed Legionnaire's disease, several other workers are carrying the bacteria which caused it.

Four years ago, the building's owners had agreed to replace aging ventilation units. But they didn't begin any work until the past year. Nonetheless, county and state officials continued to pay rent for the offices until just three months ago. Even now the rent, $90,000 per month, is being set aside and held for the company in an escrow fund until the work is completed.

Workers have been complaining for years. But it was not until the summer of 2000 that state and county officials finally called in Occupational Safety and Health inspectors.

Even after the inspectors' reports confirmed a problem, government officials still delayed and may never have done anything if it hadn't been for a lively demonstration in front of the building in early December. About 100 workers rallied, holding aloft a banner demanding, "All we want for Christmas is our health." The rally drew a lot of attention –and to the governor's consternation, unfavorable to him.

The government's announcement may have been a ploy to put an end to embarrassing publicity, but it was also an indirect admission of the problem. But it certainly wasn't a serious answer to the problem. Workers remain in a building which has made some of them sick. The landlord's rent accumulates in a bank account, ensuring his profits.

Let the workers be sent home until the problems are solved. Let them be paid for every day they miss. If governments can pay the landlord who is responsible for the problem, they can certainly pay the workers who were victimized by it. And it's what they would have done long ago if they really represented the population.