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New SSA facility open to public

Union still seeking recovery of employee sick leave and medical costs

 

A little more than three months after the Social Security Administration shut its doors on Third Street, a new facility, under construction since September 2010, has opened to the public.

The new facility, a 5,800-square-foot space at 611 Vernon St., opened Nov. 7 and hit the ground running, according to SSA regional communications director Carmen Moreno.

“It’s always a good thing when we’re able upgrade our buildings or move them when funding permits,” Moreno said, “because the design is such so there is more privacy and a little bit more room and we can better use technology in a more appropriate manner, so we’re really happy with that.”

Moreno said no one lost jobs because of the transition.

The former office closed at the beginning of August, more than two years after union members started rallying to have the office shut down for mold problems.

Members of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3448 had been at odds with SSA and General Services Administration, which acts as the federal government’s real estate manager and leases space for the SSA, since employees in the office discovered mold in the summer of 2009.

Neither the SSA nor GSA denied that mold exists in the facility, but the debate was whether the mold was causing an unsafe work environment for employees and posing a danger to the public.

Both agencies claimed that various rounds of testing to determine if the mold posed a risk for employees or the public seeking services at the office were negative.

In August, Moreno said the closure came after the discovery of new mold found in the office and was an act of an “abundance of caution.” The best way to address the issue was to close the office until the new facility was completed, she said. Employees worked at other area offices in Portsmouth, Gallipolis, Huntington, W.Va. and Ashland, Ky. in the mean time.

President and vice president of the AFGE group, David Sheagley and Rock Hanna, said they were relieved to have the employees in a new space.

“The employees are more safe and comfortable in the new building and I am very happy for them,” Sheagley said. “I am also pleased that the public will no longer be exposed to toxic mold and that they will have a cleaner, safer building to conduct their business with SSA. It is a relief to (Hanna) and I that employees are in the new building; it should not have required the time and energy expended by the union and the employees to close a toxic office. We continue to seek recovery of employee sick leave and medical costs using every tool available to us under the law because SSA refused to protect employees and the public when the toxic mold was detected in September 2009.”

The office hours for the new facility are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., except for national holidays.

District manager Jeri Fields said almost all Social Security business can be handled online at www.socialsecurity.gov.

“From the convenience of their own homes, people can apply for benefits, sign up for direct deposit, replace a Medicare card, obtain a proof of income letter or inform us of a change of address or telephone number,” Fields said.

Assistance is also available through Social Security’s toll-free number at 800-772-1213, or TTY 800-325-0778, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.