An interesting thing happened to me last night. I was visited by the ghost of Jimmy Hoffa… and you know what he told me? He said it is finally time for the employees of the Broward Courthouse to unionize. You see, until that day comes, none of you matter.
As far as the Broward County government is concerned, you can fall ill from a toxic slurry of asbestos, mold, and unknown chemicals. You can die of cancer by the dozen. You can bleed uncontrollably from your nose, have an itchy rash all over your body, and practically suffocate from middle-aged asthma (apparently thats a thing in the courthouse) and the response will always be the same: “We expressly deny liability.”
For a guy that likely died in a mob hit, Mr. Hoffa pointed out that theres no greater teflon don than the Government.
That is because Broward County has the insidious protection of sovereign immunity. That means Broward County could unleash a starving lion in a preschool for fat kids and the maximum that claim would be worth is $200,000.
And another thing – you cannot make a claim for punitive damages against Broward County, no matter what they knew, when they knew it, or how expressly they couldn’t care less.
So go ahead and die Broward Courthouse employees. No. One. Cares.
Broward Courthouse is a Toxic Place
For once I am not talking about the people. Even the internet trolls get a pass on this one. Instead, I am talking about the fact that we all work in a sick building. At least 12-20 people have died cancer related deaths. Others have been diagnosed, but are surviving. This doesn’t even include all the people who got cancer years after leaving the courthouse (cancer is known to be a delayed reaction illness).
It isn’t just cancer either. People are legitimately sick with respiratory illness, skin irritation, burning eyes, and allergies.
The bottom line is this – there are five common threads that prove the Broward Courthouse is making people sick and is taking lives:
- Large numbers of victims
- Proximity of victims
- Clusters of victims
- Common illnesses
- Presence of irritants, pathogens, and carcinogens
- Kick the can down the road
First, the claim that people are getting sick is not an isolated event. It isn’t one, two, or just 10 people. Dozens have fallen ill. In the extreme cases, at least one dozen have died. Put simply, this is not a mass hysteria or group psychosis – and it has been happening for decades.
Third, people are getting sick not only in close proximity to each other, but in definite clusters. Not just cancer, but respiratory, skin, and allergic illnesses as well. Go ask anyone that has to work on the 5th floor of the State Attorney’s Office or the seven people who got cancer in the Juvenile Unit (three died).
Fourth, people are sick with the same types of diseases that are known to be triggered by environmental causes: Cancer, Respiratory Illness, Skin Disease, and Allergies.
Fifth, there is no secret whatsoever that the Broward Courthouse is plagued with asbestos, bacterial mold, fungi, and chemical toxins. These substances are known to cause cancer, respiratory illness, skin irritations, and allergies… just imagine what the combination causes.
Sixth, and this is my favorite one – kick the can down the road. You see people, you are dealing with elected government where the concern for re-election comes first. All decisions are filtered through the prism of “will this hurt my re-election or will this help my re-election.”
Since the courthouse was built in 1954, there have only been minor repairs and remediations to address the asbestos, mold, and flooding situations (not to mention hurricane damage). That is because the public does not appreciate the desperate need for massive construction that has existed since the early 1980’s and only sees the bill.
Because spending money on costly courthouse reconstruction is a political liability, nothing but patchwork repairs have been done in the past 62 years. Only after multiple lawsuits brought the mold situation to light, did the County go forward with a new courthouse. Four years later, we are still waiting as people continue to get sick and die.
Meanwhile, private construction companies have literally completed four other condo buildings within a two block radius in less time. It is all a question of priorities.
The Benefit of Unionizing
Trust me – the government leaders reading this are staining their pants right about now. The last thing they need is a united employee front at the courthouse. The last thing they need is to complicate their lives with collective bargaining agreements, higher salaries, better benefits, or be forced to give you adequate sick leave and vacation.
They don’t want procedures in place that protect employees from unfair disciplinary practices or procedures that require management to explain themselves to union leaders. They definitely don’t want to worry about the weird rash on your stomach or why the lady sitting next you abruptly died of cancer.
You guys are their suckers and they want to keep it that way.
However, if the Broward Courthouse employees got smart – like every police department, fire department, and school district in this state, you would all unionize and speak with one voice. You would not let the powers that be continually step on your neck and take advantage of you. You would elect leadership and bring your captors to the negotiating table.
Broward State Attorneys – isn’t it bad enough that you earn less than the police witnesses you put on the stand? Do you also have to get sick, be covered in rashes, have breathing problems, and die of cancer too? I am pretty sure none of that was covered in the interview.
What happened to all the bravado I see in the courtroom on a daily basis? You guys need to band together, fight together, and stand up together for better working conditions. As prosecutors, you should lead the way and fight for all the people in the courthouse who have been victimized by this sick building.
Clerk’s Office – are you treated fairly? Do you get leave like the other members of your family who have union jobs? I doubt it. Aren’t you concerned about all the people in the courthouse who have mysteriously died or fallen ill? Don’t you deserve to breathe clean air?
Judicial Assistants – I know working for a big time judge is just so rewarding, but don’t you think your health is important too? Don’t you think you deserve a safe work environment, free of cancer causing carcinogens, irritants, and allergens?
Public Defenders – you guys work in the other side of the courthouse until 4:30pm and used to have a daiquiri machine. I have zero pity for you. Come do discovery on 250 cases at a time in a cancer mill and we’ll talk. That said, you may consider the other benefits of unionizing – especially for support staff who earn considerably less than attorneys.
Union Structure and Leadership
It isn’t my union, but I suggest you call it the “Broward Courthouse Employees Union” or “BCEU” for short.
Call your first meeting after Thanksgiving. Start talking about the idea of unionizing. Get the conversation moving.
Make a branch for each office that works in the courthouse. Start identifying leaders. Who will be the branch leaders, who will be on the executive committee? Talk to other unions and ask them for help and advice. Make a financial plan and budget. Discuss how much dues should be. Make a list of the top three things that need to be changed and then start tackling them. Assemble committees of concerned members to tackle each issue: Union Leadership and Elections, Union Finance and Budget, Union Goals, Union Bylaws, etc.
See this through. Get organized and don’t stop until the job is done.
Get Up! Stand Up! Unionize!
I don’t know how else to say this – because your oppressors cannot be sued, they act with impunity. Getting sick and dying in the courthouse is just one problem of many. Without the ability to kick them in the purse, you are left with only two options: 1) Band together and fight back; or 2) Sit down, shut up, and continue to take it.
The only chance you have at improving things and letting the powers that be know your lives are more important than their votes is to hit them where it hurts – the court of public opinion.
You can’t hurt them with lawsuits. They have sovereign immunity, they can’t be sued for punitive damages, and even if none of that was true, it isn’t their money anyway. But it is their reputations and their jobs. To win this fight, you need to call them out by name with one loud voice and start demanding changes.
Imagine how the County government will react when you all call in sick one day? Who will answer the phone? Who will carry the court files? Who will handwrite all those 1950’s era carbon paper court notices? Are you aware of any business in America that still uses carbon paper?
Have Some Chutzpah!
Ultimately, all people face choices about the kind of person they are and want to be. Working for 30 years in a sick building because the County isn’t afraid of getting sued is one such choice.
If you can’t win on one battlefront, create another.
This is a rule I live by in litigation. Except in your case, creating a new battle front means taking your fight to the public by unionizing. While you have little or no strength in litigation, you do have strength in numbers. All you have to do is have the audacity to act on it.
Best of luck whatever you choose.