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In UN, Adlerstein Demands Departure of Staff Union, CMP Won't Disclose Luggage Building Lease Length

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 26 -- As the UN surrounds its iconic skyscraper with a blue plywood construction fence, inside a battle is brewing. The UN Staff Union, with its longtime offices on the fifth floor, has yet to be moved out. Capital Master Plan chieftain Michael Adlerstein ordered them to leave on May 21 and again on May 24, but they did not. He rejected their reasons, and has commanded that they will move, like it or not.

A visit to the fifth floor on May 26 found moving boxes sitting empty. Construction workers with hardhats passed through the hall, from working out on the roof. Staff Union officials described their back and forth with Adlerstein's envoy Ken Champion, who they say was reasonable.

  But finally, when they asked how their staffer would be put in harm's way, Champion returned to say that Adlerstein said no, it didn't matter, they would move. He argued that they are costing the UN money, to continue services to the floor.

  The elevators to the 5th floor still works, but will not stop at 3, 4, 6, 8-12, 14 and 15. The information technology workers further upstairs will remain for the foreseeable future, until their functions can be "migrated" to the basement of the new North Lawn building. Great planning.

As UN empties, Union and IT workers remaining not shown

  Meanwhile, in the wake of Inner City Press' report that the Capital Master Plan's lease on the Albano "swing space" building on 46th Street runs for a full ten years, the CMP has declined to disclose the length of the UN's lease of the 42nd Street "Innovation Luggage" building.

  CMP's genial spokesman says this is because it was the UN "Facilities Management Service" that rented the Luggage Building, and not the CMP. Why?

  Inner City Press is told by a well placed UN official that the CMP was only authorized to lease a certain number of square feet of swing space. Due to bad planning, much more is necessary. And so the additional lease is run through FMS. But how? Where does this money suddenly appear (and disappear) from? Watch this site.

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In UN Renovation, Stealth Long Leases and No Right to Return, Adlerstein's Rules

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 20 -- When the UN began its Capital Master Plan renovation, it rented office space into which staff from its Secretariat building would be temporarily relocated for the three years of construction. An entire structure on 46th Street, the Albano Building, was rented. Since then, as exclusively reported by Inner City Press, bedbugs have been found in the building, the elevators and often heating and air conditioning don't work.

  On May 20, Inner City Press asked CMP chief Michael Adlerstein about these problems, about a leaked memo, and to confirm that the UN has in fact rented the Albano Building for at least ten years, much longer than the construction project at the Secretariat.

  Did this mean that the UN staff in Albano, from the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management, would not have a "right to return" to their offices in the Secretariat? By implication, would the press corps not return to the third and fourth floor, but perhaps remain in the "whistleblower free zone" in the cubicles over the UN library? Video here, from Minute 32:05.

  Adlerstein confirmed that the lease the UN signed on the Albano Building is for at least ten years, and that it is not certain that DGACM staff will return to the Secretariat. There are discussions, he said, with every Under Secretary General, which will be resolved in thirty to sixty days.

  As to the press corp, Adlerstein first said that there would be a right to return, somewhere between the first and seventh floors. Video here, from Minute 48:39. After more questioning, he said the press would return to the third and fourth floors. Video here, from Minute 55:35.

Adlerstein said that most equipment in the Albano building is new, and therefore should work. He said the elevators might have to be replaced. While he did not address the bedbugs, he alluded to a town hall meeting that Inner City Press has asked UN spokesman Martin Nesirky about. (Transcript is below.)

Inner City Press learned, not from the UN spokesperon's office but meeting participants, that during the session it was admitted that the UN signed a contract with cleaners that had no provision for recycling. Staff asked for bike racks, including under a New York City law. In fact, the question of inadequate bike racks at the Secretariat building has been raised of late to Spokesman Nesirky, who says he has spoken with USG Kane. We'll see.

  Inner City Press has asked Adlerstein's CMP office how long the leases at the Teachers and Innovation Luggage swing space buildings are, and will report the answers later. An official of the UN Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions approached Inner City Press later on Thursday and expressed concern about the "stealth" long lease on the Albano Building, adding that he's heard the CMP is over budget. Adlerstein says he'll report in the Fall. Again, we'll see.

   Adlerstein on Thursday mentioned the creation of a CMP Advisory Committee. While little has been said of this new body, a UN photo (below) shows its leader, Kent Barwick. What do he and the other undepicted members think of the long leases and the right to return?

UN's Ban, Kane and Adlerstein and Kent Barwick, advise on right to return not shown

Footnote: after his press conference, Adlerstein accompanied four reporters including Inner City Press to the space outside the Security Council, which in April was contested regarding where the press could and could not go.

Adlerstein apparently never heard how it was resolved. He said to Inner City Press, not joking, that "I don't want to be giving prerogatives for you to be wandering around just because I'm here. It's an abuse of the invitation to come here and understand your needs...not to give you an opportunity to wander around. I do feel it's abusive."

But where Inner City Press was walking is an area permitted to the Press. Apparently Adlerstein thinks or wishes it were not so -- for the three, or five, or is it ten years, it's Adlerstein's UN. Given what Robert Moses did with unaccountable public authorities, one wag could only imagine what will be done with an immune international body.

   Adlerstein was asked to "take down this wall" to allow greater transparency as to who is entering the Security Council. I can't promise anything, he responded. Why are we not surprised? We will continue to follow the CMP -- watch this site.

From the UN's May 19 transcript:

Inner City Press: you never got back to me on the Albano building. I understand there was a town hall meeting yesterday about not only bedbugs but various construction problems within the building. There was some criticism of Skanska’s performance and Ms. [Angela] Kane and a number of them participated. And they also had said that the Albano building has been leased for 10 years, even though the rehab here is supposed to only take five. I am just wondering, I mean, I can break this down into questions, or I am wondering if, following the memo that came out of Mr.Shaaban Shaaban, do you have anything on this? Is there a UN description of why these staff concerns are misplaced?

Spokesman Nesirky: Actually, to the contrary, staff concerns are taken extremely seriously. I know that there was indeed a staff meeting, a town hall meeting — however you would like to describe it. I do not have a readout from that and I am sure that we can get something on that.

Inner City Press: Some people working there, they said that when they moved to Albano they thought they would be returning to the Secretariat building where they always worked, and that they have now essentially been told that they will stay in Albano even after the building is fixed. So this is obviously, and I know in the press corps not to get too… there are some concerns that the press will remain above the library and never return to the third or fourth floor. Who is actually making the decisions of how space will be allocated in the building when it is fixed?

Spokesman Nesirky: Let’s find out. I do not know the specific answer to that. Some of these matters could indeed be raised with Mr. Alderstein tomorrow, although, obviously, he has a mandate to fix the building rather than to allocate space after that.

Inner City Press: To the degree that he can’t answer about this, what they are calling restacking or how space will be allocated, maybe Ms. Kane could come or give another briefing.

Spokesperson: Let’s find out what we can do. I fully appreciate the interest that there is in the building and the virtual headquarters that is across different parts of Manhattan at the moment.

* * *

Leaked UN Memo Shows Shaaban Protest of Bedbugs and No Right to Return by Adlerstein

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 17 -- A rift has emerged among senior UN officials about inaction on the bedbug infestation and the "right to return" to UN Headquarters once it is renovated. In a memo leaked to Inner City Press by a whistleblower, Under Secretary General Shaaban Shaaban on May 11 told USG Angela Kane that his staff won't long stay in the "uninhabitable" Albano Building.

The memo reveals that Shaaban has been told that his staff, of the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management, may not as promised be allowed to return to their offices in UN headquarters.

The UN press corps has been told this as well. Their spots on the third and fourth floor, it now appears, may be given for another use. This would leave the press corp in the "whistleblower free zone" above the Library, where all conversations can be heard. Complaints have been made, but thus far with as little effect of the UN's fumigation on the bed bugs.

  The press has been given until the end of May to argue against losing the spots they had for fifty years, and against the imposition of rent, which is again being threatened.

  The effect would be to drive smaller and more independent press out of the UN, even as the UN gets less and less press coverage, and fewer and fewer reporters attend the UN noon briefing.

  At the noon briefing of May 12, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press Press: It’s come to my attention, Inner City Press has received a copy of an intra-UN e-mail indicating that in the Albano Building swing space, that up to 90 per cent of the building is infected by bed bugs; that this problem that began earlier during the move there has not been fixed and has in fact gotten worse. I’m wondering: what steps is the UN taking? Why is it that, months after they were first discovered, the bed bugs remain in the UN swing space and what steps are being taken to protect the people that work there?

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: Let me find out about that. Clearly, if there are any concerns about staff health or safety they need to be taken very seriously and looked into. So, let me find out.

 The next day, Nesirky's office replied

Subject: your question on bedbugs in the Albano building
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply
Date: Thu, May 13, 2010 at 12:02 PM
To: matthew.lee [at]

Six months after the fumigation of the whole Albano building, as is standard practice, the bug sniffing dog returned to examine the building on 6 May. The dog found evidence of bugs on a number of floors. However, the dog is not able to distinguish between alive and dead bugs that may remain from the previous infestation. As a precautionary measure the whole building was fumigated again on the weekend of 8-9 May.

This Monday 10 May a staff member reported a bug found in their office. This was examined in the lab and found not to be a bedbug, further analysis to determine what the bug is continues. Preliminary advice indicates that the insect found is a clover mite which does not bite or sting.

We note that since the fumigation in November last year one staff member reported a suspicious bite but this turned out not to be from a bedbug.

We continue to monitor the situation very closely and urge any staff member who experience suspicious insect bites to seek medical confirmation whether a bedbug was the cause and to advise us, and to advise us if any bugs are found in the building and we will investigate. For the moment though there have been no more confirmed cases of active bedbugs in the Albano building since the fumigation in November 2009.

  Shaaban's memo, a copy of which Inner City Press is putting online here, complains of the failure to deal with the bedbugs on which Inner City Press first reported, on problems with the elevators and heating and air conditioning in the Albano Building.

"Each one of these issues represents a serious lapse on the part of the organization's responsibility," Shaaban wrote, "but all three together border on a situation making the building uninhabitable."

UN's Ban and Shaaban, Nambiar, bed bugs and right to return not shown

He continued, "In my meeting with Mr. Adlerstein five weeks ago, I never agreed that the Albano staff will be stacked there... So, in the stacking proposal you sent to Mr. Nambiar on 4 May 2010... I read in the appendix twice that 'based on initial consultations with DGACM, agreement has been made to retain the use of the Albano Building,' which does not reflect my discussion with Mr. Adlerstein."

Angela Kane is organizing a congratulatory cocktail reception for Capital Master Plan chief Michael Adlerstein. One images that the bedbugs and disputed right to return will be raised there, and at a press conference with Adlerstein scheduled for May 20. Watch this site.

Footnote: Shaaban himself is the subject a damning UN Dispute Tribunal ruling, that his behavior in denying promotion to an underlying was so outrageous as to militatate for him personally paying damages of $20,000. Ban Ki-moon has filed what some call a knee-jerk appeal. Now what?

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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