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Heating problems leave Global Affairs staff out in the cold, working from home

By Emily Haws      

Office temperatures dropped to 16 C in the Lester B. Pearson Building, sending employees home twice in January, and at least twice more in the last 15 months, the union says.

The Lester B. Pearson building, located at 125 Sussex Dr., has had a multitude of heating issues over the last 15 months. The building is part of Global Affairs Canada's headquarters.
The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Global Affairs Canada employees at the Lester B. Pearson Building were sent home twice in January after problems with the building’s heating system, a problem the union says employees have been grappling with for more than a year.

The temperatures were too low on Jan. 8 and Jan. 15 for employees to work, the government has confirmed. However, the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) president Pamela Isfeld said there have been heating problems at the building for the last 15 months. The union has about 450 members in the building.

When The Hill Times asked about additional closures within the last 15 months, Global Affairs Canada media relations refused to confirm or deny that the problem is more long-term.

Temperatures in the Lester B. Pearson Building, a part of the Global Affairs Canada headquarters at 125 Sussex Dr., dropped throughout the morning of Jan. 15 before the heating system was restored around noon, said Nicolas Boucher, a spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC).

“In some locations, the floor temperatures in the building” ranged between 16 C and 17 C at approximately 9:45 a.m., he said in an emailed statement. By 11:10 a.m., the temperature in those same areas had increased by one degree Celsius. By noon, the heating system was functioning at capacity and the building increased to normal temperatures within a few hours. Approximately 3,000 employees work in the building. Global Affairs did not provide any information about the conditions that led to the Jan. 8 closure.

If a building is less than 17 C, it must be shut down, according to National Joint Council (NJC) guidelines. The NJC includes 18 public service bargaining agents, Treasury Board, and others who work together to resolve employment issues. On Jan. 15, the heating problem was “due to the loss of water from a broken pipe in the system,” said Mr. Boucher, adding “This pipe has been repaired and the system has returned to operational condition.” It’s unclear if broken pipes were the source of the Jan. 8 closure.

Mr. Boucher didn’t indicate whether the pipe broke due to cold temperatures, but there was a cold weather warning in effect the previous weekend. Jan. 15, a Monday, had a high of -15 C and a low of -24 C, according to Environment Canada. The previous day saw a high of -16 C and a low of -27 C.

Mr. Boucher said management directed employees to “work from alternate locations” while the building was closed. The heating system is original to the Lester B. Pearson Building, he added, which was constructed in 1973. Replacement of the heating system is scheduled during the Lester B. Pearson (LBP) Major Renovation Project expected to begin this year.

PAFSO will continue to remind the government of its responsibility to provide a safe and healthy work environment, Ms. Isfeld said. The union represents 1,544 active and retired Foreign Service employees. Despite PAFSO being aware of the problem, a union spokesperson said there had not been any complaints.

“These problems may be linked to the overall condition of the building, which is badly overdue for renovation and repair,” Ms. Isfeld said in an emailed statement. “We’re pleased that the employer is beginning to address those issues over the longer term, and that, in these instances of heating issues, they took steps to fix the problem while allowing flexibility for employees to work from home on the days in question.”

Renovations to start soon

The Lester B. Pearson Building is owned by PSPC but managed by contractor Brookfield Properties. Heating the building costs about $700,000, annually, according to WaterToday, and it’s a part of an experimental retrofitting project to make the building more energy efficient.

The Hill Times asked for exact details on the renovation, but PSPC did not respond to questions by deadline. However, it did say an alternate working space is being established across the bridge in the John G. Diefenbaker Building at 111 Sussex Dr., so that employees can work there during the renovations. Mr. Boucher said the construction contract has just been awarded for the work to outfit the workspace, which opens this summer and will house 222 full-time employees at a time.

ehaws@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

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