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AOC Pulls Crew Out of Tunnels

In response to mounting concerns over employees’ exposure to deadly levels of asbestos, the Architect of the Capitol’s office has informed the 10 members of its “tunnel shop” team that they will no longer be allowed to work in the miles-long underground system that supplies steam and chilled water to Capitol Hill.

“The Architect’s decision to take action is a welcome one, but does little to excuse the many years of negligence that have cost these workers their health,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in a release this afternoon.

Murray has pushed for the removal of the workers since the tunnel system’s asbestos problems were highlighted at a March 1 hearing that she chaired. Members first started raising concerns about the health and safety violations that existed in the tunnels since February 2006, when the Office of Compliance filed a formal complaint against the AOC for years of neglect in the tunnel system.

“My message to the AOC is that this needs to be the first step — not the last — in finally ensuring the safety of workers and protecting the Capitol Hill community,” Murray said. “The AOC still must apologize to workers, explain why it did not provide protective equipment for years, and take responsibility for the years of damage it has inflicted on these workers.”

The AOC’s office could not be reached immediately for comment Tuesday afternoon.

John Thayer, the supervisor of the tunnel shop who along with his team has filed a separate complaint against the AOC for retaliation, said the move to pull them out of the tunnels is not necessarily a welcome turn of events.

“This is something they’ve been waiting to do for a while now, to mix us up in the shops and break us up,” Thayer said. “They wanted to break up our solidarity. Without us sticking together they can say whatever they want.”

On Tuesday afternoon, he said, AOC officials “pulled our tunnel access and the safety officer gave me a wag of my finger and said if we were caught down in the tunnels they would call the police on us. It wasn’t a friendly conversation, it was the AOC’s arrogant attitude.”

He added that the only thing the AOC has done is “taken me out of my respirator and put me in a plant which has it’s own problems. My take is they need to compensate us for the injuries they’ve already caused us not just move us around and break us up.”

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