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Workers wilting without cool air

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Downtown Columbus post office workers sweated through another day of 90-plus degree temperatures without air conditioning Wednesday.

Working conditions in the building at 450 Jackson St. were “brutal,” said Sandy Smith, one of 27 employees who work inside the post office all day.

“Employees are using (cooling pads), but a couple of people (Tuesday), their faces were just beet red,” she said of the end of an eight-hour shift.

The 60 or so postal carriers who usually count on slipping inside the downtown branch to cool off during breaks from their outdoor routes on really hot days didn’t bother with it Tuesday and Wednesday.

The post office air conditioning system hasn’t worked for about a week, said Postmaster Terri Muir, who was among the employees working in the sweltering temperatures.

Contractors are working on the air conditioning system, but there are multiple problems with the water cooler and chilling towers, she said.

There is no timetable yet as to when the air conditioning will be back on.

“We have brought in temporary cooling units and fans and are working with (contractors) to bring in additional equipment as it becomes available. We are doing everything we can to keep the air moving,” Muir said.

The conditions were uncomfortable but not hazardous, Muir said.

In a written response to a postal employee complaint about the heat, Muir wrote, “There are no workplace standards regarding temperature in the building.”

The temporary cooling units, evaporation units called “swamp coolers,” were not bringing down temperatures inside the building, Smith said.

“When we left last night (Tuesday night) it was 89 degrees inside the building,” she said. “We have fans running, but they are just circulating the hot air.”

The post office doesn’t have windows that open, and employees are not allowed to open the automatic doors that lead into the parking lot, Smith said.

Employees have been told they could be without air conditioning for a month or longer if the system cannot be repaired, she said.

Temperatures are forecast for the high 80s into the low 90s this week.

Smith, who is a representative for the American Postal Workers Union, said she is concerned about the safety of employees if they have to go for an extended time in the building without air conditioning.

One of the first post office visitors to experience the sweltering conditions was state Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, who said he noticed how warm the building was after stopping in several days ago.

He called U.S. Rep. Luke Messer’s office to see if the congressman could intervene on behalf of the employees to get the air conditioning fixed.

“The more attention we bring to this, the sooner it can be fixed,” Milo Smith said. “It wouldn’t take that long for someone to collapse in those conditions, and I’m very concerned about the employees who have to work there all day.”

An unidentified post office worker filed a casework complaint about working conditions Tuesday with Messer’s office.

“Our caseworker who handles all of our postal worker and post office issues is working very hard to get to the bottom of what is going on there and get all of the facts straight,” said Liz Hill, Messer’s communications director. “Hopefully we can help them find a resolution as quickly as possible.”

David Carter of Columbus was in the post office early Wednesday morning and said he noticed it was warmer than usual for that time of day.

“I don’t come down here that often, but it surprises me that they don’t have air in there,” Carter said. “You would think there would be money available to fix something like that pretty quickly.”

Stewart Smith of Columbus said the conditions were a real cause for concern.

“It would seem the very old and the very young would be the most impacted — and those poor people who have to work in there, of course,” he said.

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