Updated at 6 p.m. June 24 with comments from a USDA local union president
More than 1,000 federal jobs will relocate to downtown St. Louis from a north city facility where workers for years have been exposed to asbestos and lead contamination.
On Tuesday, the General Services Administration, which contracts properties for federal agencies, signed a $72 million contract for over 160,000 square feet of office space at One Metropolitan Square. Payments will be made over the duration of the 20-year lease.
Workers are expected to move into the new offices by September 2021, according to an official familiar with the deal.
A federal environmental audit in 2019 found that workers at the Goodfellow Federal Complex had not been adequately warned or protected from cancer-causing hazards at the facility. The dangers were outlined in a 2016 notice from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
About 2,000 federal employees currently work in the complex, most for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Social Security Administration also has nearly 600 employees there.
Jennifer Major represents SSA workers in a local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees union. She said many employees are currently working remotely because of the pandemic. But Major said she wants to see her workers permanently moved out of the Goodfellow complex as soon as possible.
“I know people that have retired on disability,” she said. “I know people that have died, and you can’t tell me that everyone’s coming up with the same types of cancer just out of the air.”
Wil Grant, president of a local chapter of union workers at the USDA, echoed Major’s concerns. Now he’s focused on addressing his workers’ health issues, which include cancer and the loss of smell and taste.
Both Grant and Major have asked federal agencies if their workers can continue teleworking until a move-in date is set, but officials have not agreed to that yet.
The Department of Veterans Affairs moved out of the complex in October, after issuing a whistleblower complaint to Democratic Congressman Lacy Clay, whose district includes the facility.
“Since I became aware of the obvious unabated environmental hazards at this site and the terrible healthcare toll this has inflicted on so many federal employees, my goal was to first get these dedicated workers out of harm’s way, and then if possible, retain those good federal jobs for St. Louis,” Clay said in a statement Tuesday.
The move earned bipartisan praise, including from Republican Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said in a press conference Tuesday that she was happy the jobs stayed in St. Louis.
“We, as a region, and certainly St. Louis, had tremendous momentum, and COVID put a little cramp in that for a few months, but we know that from announcements like these that we are beginning to recover.”
She said the city did not offer the agencies tax incentives as part of the move downtown.
The relocation also had the support of Alderman Jeffery Boyd, whose 22nd Ward includes the Goodfellow complex. Boyd said he does not mind that federal agencies are moving out of north city, as long as people are moved to safer working conditions.
Job creation elsewhere in the St. Louis region
Accenture Federal Services announced Tuesday plans to bring 1,400 new jobs to the St. Louis region over the next five years. That includes hiring 200 people in the first year to work at a new Town and Country office.
Accenture Federal Services CEO John Goodman announced the move during a press conference at nearby Maryville University, which Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and other local politicians attended. Parent company Accenture, which is based in Ireland, currently has an office in the Cortex innovation district in St. Louis.
Goodman said the new office will open in December, and the company plans to start recruiting employees immediately with skills in artificial intelligence, automation processing, and cloud computing, among others.
Reporter Corinne Ruff contributed to this story.
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