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UN Admits Defects in Fire Escape of Albano Building, Inspector on Way, Cafeterias Out

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 20, updated – The UN admits that at its rented Albano Building on 46 Street, a combination of ongoing vibrations from demolition next door and “defective conditions” resulted in UN staff being banned from the fire tower stair last week.

  As Inner City Press exclusively reported yesterday based on complaints to it by UN staff, that would violate New York City laws. The UN on Wednesday afternoon told Inner City Press, “a building inspector from the City will visit the site accordingly.”

  As whistleblowers told Inner City Press, “on Friday, February 15 vibrations from the demolition of a building next to the Albano were so bad that they were told that the emergency stairs on that side would not be used for any purpose.

"UN staff were made to keep working on the building on Friday. And even after the three day weekend, on Tuesday February 19, they were told that that stairway should only be used in case of a 'serious emergency.'”

   Inner City Press published that account on February 19, and at the noon briefing on February 20 asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky about it. He said he would look into it; his office Wednesday afternoon provided the following:

Subject: Your question on the Albano building
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at]
Date: Wed, Feb 20, 2013 at 4:03 PM
To: Matthew.Lee [at]

On 13 February the United Nations Facilities Management Service (FMS) and the Albano building management and owner, REIT, instructed structural engineer URS to inspect the fire tower stair landing inside the building. This followed reports of falling concrete from the underside edge on the 4th floor that appears to have occurred during demolition activities in an adjacent building.

All landings were examined by REIT and URS, and any defective conditions found, such as concrete patches which could become loose, were addressed by REIT maintenance staff. No other safety concerns were noted. At this point in time, the stairway is safe and open for use.

In light of the tenant concerns, REIT will inspect the stairway on a weekly basis going forward, and if any changed conditions are noted, REIT will contact URS for re-inspection and appropriate action.

Vibrations from the demolition and construction activity in the adjacent building are continually being monitored. The vibration data for the day of the incident were sent to URS for review and were found to be within acceptable parameters. It is noted that REIT will undertake a project to renovate the building façade planning to start in spring and be completed this year. This project will include renovation of the stairway.

The demolition contractor performing the work in the adjacent building has also agreed to provide documentation on the safety of their ongoing operation to REIT.

It is also noted that the United Nations Albano Building staff representative placed a complaint with the New York City 311 Office. A building inspector from the City will visit the site accordingly.

  Watch this site.

Update: after publication of the above, past 7 pm the following arrived:

Subject: More on Albano building
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at]
Date: Wed, Feb 20, 2013 at 7:12 PM
To: Matthew.Lee [at]

Further to our earlier email on the Albano building, we have this to add:
The Albano building, like some other office premises leased by the UN in New York City, is part of the UN "Headquarters District" within the meaning of the 1947 Agreement between the United Nations and the United States of America Regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations ("Headquarters Agreement"). Specifically, the Albano Building was incorporated into the "Headquarters District" under a Supplemental Agreement to the Headquarters Agreement.  Thus, the Albano Building is part of the Headquarters District of the UN.  It is not "international territory," because that term is not used in the Headquarters Agreement or other basic agreements concerning the UN's premises, whether in New York or elsewhere.

Even office premises leased by the UN that are not subject to the Headquarters Agreement enjoy certain privileges and immunities deriving from Article 105 of the Charter and the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN.  That means that the UN is not subject to sanctions and governmental authority or interference with respect to its property interests.  It, however, does not mean that the UN is not responsible for "applying" fire protection regulations in substance to premises it owns.  Indeed, the HQ Agreement makes clear that the reasonable "application" of fire protection regulations of the appropriate American authorities shall not be undermined by the UN's authority over the Headquarters District of the United Nations.  And in the case of the Albano Building, which involves leased premises, the UN requires all its landlords under leases to ensure that the leased premises are safe and adhere to fire and other building safety standards and regulations, which would always be applicable to the landlord.

  It's a complicated legal distinction on which we'll have more. But what about UN staff safety and working conditions?

Footnote: in other working conditions news, not only has the UN closed its Coffee Shop under the General Assembly, long before the GA building closes down for renovation.

 Now the cafeterias in both UNICEF and UNDC in the DC-1 building will close tomorrow “Thursday 21 February 2013 and will reopen at 8:30 a.m. on Friday 15 March 2013. The Main Cafeteria at the Secretariat Building will remain open to provide food service to staff” -- but only from 8:30 to 3 pm, much shorter hours than before the UN was “fixed.”

  What is happening to the UN? And how it treats its staff and those who work here? Watch this site.

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