Erie County office workers return to Rath Building

Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - A majority of Social Services Department employees returned to the Rath Building Monday after working from home for the past fourteen weeks.

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, who is an independently elected official, and not a county department head, is allowing his employees on the 11th floor to continue to work remotely. "I'm concerned about many of them being immunocompromised. And Covid is still a serious concern in Erie County," he told Susan Rose and Brian Mazurowski on WBEN.

In addition, Mychajliw says county employees are doing phenomenal work remotely. "They're saving on gas, it's better for the environment and less people in the workplace is better. That should be the new normal."

The Rath building has a history of incidents.  In 2017, the county was battling bed bugs in the building.  Last August there was an electrical fire on the 9th floor that closed the 9th, 10th and 11th floors for a period of time.

The comptroller takes issue with a 15 page policy manual that Erie County sent to employees the day before the building reopened.  He issued his own report, Rath Building: Not Ready for Workforce to Return.

"Rather than having nurses or screeners taking temperature checks at the entrance to the Rath Building, the county is asking employees and visitors to self-check. That doesn't go far enough," according to Mychajliw.  

Four employees are allowed in an elevator according to the manual. "When you look at the dimensions of our elevators, 6 ft by 7 ft by 9.5 ft corner to corner, it's physically impossible to have six feet of distance between four people on an elevator. I do not believe the Rath Building is ready for this. And I firmly believe the bigger conversation should be, if a private company like Twitter and the city of Buffalo can have employees working remotely, so too should the County of Erie."

There are also no markings in the lobby elevator waiting area to indicate a safe six foot distance. Mychajliw said this is standard for stores, businesses and other buildings where people congregate. "Based on measurements by my office, only eight people can safely social distance in front of the elevator banks. This is another reason to keep employees working remotely and away from the Rath Building."

Mychajliw was asked if the building was ready for workers to return on any scale. "No," he answered. "The Rath building was not designed for proper social distancing. The county is needlessly putting the workforce at risk. God forbid if a visitor or employee contracts COVID-19. Because they were forced back into government buildings, the county runs the risk of those people spreading a dangerous and deadly disease to their children, spouses, parents, grandparents and the elderly. It is not worth the risk," he said.

The comptroller added, "it makes about as much sense as sending seniors stricken with Coronavirus back into nursing homes."