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CA state staff say lifeless rodents at DMV threatened well being

A rat trap holding a peanut butter cup was placed near one of the entryways inside the DMV call center office in Manchester Mall in Fresno on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023.

A rat lure holding a peanut butter cup was positioned close to one of many entryways contained in the DMV name heart workplace in Manchester Mall in Fresno on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023.


Good Wednesday morning, and welcome to the Oct. 18 edition of the State Worker Newsletter.

Programming note: We’re still accepting title suggestions for the newsletter. If you’ve got one, send it to The Bee’s State Worker reporter Maya Miller at mmiller@sacbee.com.


Ah, rats! Rodents invade DMV call center

The stench of dead rodents took over a Department of Motor Vehicles call center in Fresno for the last three weeks, say employees who work at the facility.

The nondescript office sits sandwiched between a luggage store and a candy shop at the end of Manchester Mall on Blackstone Avenue. The building, which has struggled to keep retailers and has several vacant suites, has struggled with rodent infestations for at least 10 years, said Abel Pedregon, a motor vehicle representative.

“It’s disgusting,” Pedregon said. “No one should be breathing that air in.”

But in the last three weeks, employees say, the reek of rodent death became unbearable.

“It’s like they let the poisoned, dead rodents fester in the ceiling, and it’s making everybody sick,” said Tami Tana, a motor vehicle representative who’s worked for the department since 2012.

Tana said she was called in to work in the office from Oct. 9-13, even though a DMV spokesperson told The Bee that the department paused its in-person requirement on Oct. 2 due to the infestation. She said she filed a claim with worker’s compensation and went to see a doctor on Thursday for nausea, pain in her left nostril, headache, sore throat and dizziness. A manager erroneously told her she had to return to the office after her doctor’s appointment but later said she could go home.

“Putting our well-being and our safety in jeopardy like that, it pisses me off,” Tana said. “This has been going on for years, but I’ve never had symptoms like I did last week.”

One of Tana’s colleagues also said the stench was worse than it had ever been.

“It was awful. I’ve never smelled anything that bad in my life,” said Valerie Hurdt, another DMV employee. “It smelled like a dead person that had been sitting in the 110-degree heat for 10 days.”

DMV employees answer calls in the call center in Manchester Mall in Fresno on Tuesday.
DMV workers reply calls within the name heart in Manchester Mall in Fresno on Tuesday. THADDEUS MILLER tmiller@fresnobee.com

DMV confirmed that the office had reported a rodent infestation to building management on Sept. 26. The source of the foul smell came from dead rodents stuck to glue traps that hadn’t been properly disposed of, a department spokesperson said. The management company previously used baited traps rather than glue traps.

Most of the call center’s 200 employees have worked remotely since the COVID-19 pandemic, although a handful who can’t remote work come in every day. Also, teams of about 10 to 12 workers rotate in for a week of in-person work once every six weeks. On average, about 56 people work from the office each day, DMV spokesperson Anita Gore told The Bee.

Due to the stench, DMV said the department halted the in-person six-week rotations on Oct. 2.

In contrast to the employees’ complaints, the department insists that the smell was mild and that the department acted swiftly to remedy the issue. The department chose not to send a staff-wide email to all employees at the facility about the rodent problem “because the smell by that time was faint and most employees were teleworking,” Gore wrote. “Employees who could not telework were offered to relocate or use an N95 mask.”

Scent bags hung from the ceiling throughout the office when a Bee reporter visited the site on Tuesday afternoon. The deodorizers were meant to extinguish any smell that came from glue traps that the property managers deployed to catch rodents, according to Sonia Huestis, a deputy director of the DMV’s customer services division. Rectangular rodent traps flanked each of the office’s three exits, and each trap was equipped with peanut butter cups to lure in and catch rats.

Huestis told The Bee that a team from the Fresno County Department of Public Health had visited the office earlier in the day Tuesday.

The carpets were recently shampooed to rid them of the stench, Huestis said, and pest management suggested that “decluttering” the office could help guard against future rodent infestations.

One hallway on Tuesday was lined with a handful of office chairs bearing a piece of paper that read, “TRASH.” Huestis explained that those chairs were going to be moved out of the building. Other workers used dollies to ferry filing cabinets and additional furniture into a separate room, which led out to a junk removal truck.

A scent bag for catching rats hangs from the ceiling inside the DMV office at Manchester Mall in Fresno on Tuesday.
A scent bag for catching rats hangs from the ceiling contained in the DMV workplace at Manchester Mall in Fresno on Tuesday. THADDEUS MILLER tmiller@fresnobee.com

The northeast corner of the office, which is known for its persistent dead rat odor, smelled lightly of perfume on Tuesday afternoon. Huestis attributed the more pleasant smell to the scent bags. An industrial fan was still sitting on the carpet in the “rat corner,” though it was not running as people worked.

The DMV said it leases the space in Manchester Center from the property owner, Omninet Properties. Even though the state’s Department of General Services negotiates leases for departments, the departments themselves bear the responsibility for coordinating any maintenance needs directly with the lessor.

“DMV and the lessor bear responsibility for the upkeep of the building, each from a different perspective,” Gore said. “DMV has a responsibility to report issues of concern and the lessor holds responsibility for working with DMV to address issues of concern.”

An Omninet representative confirmed that the company owns the mall property and blamed the rodent problem on “certain construction that is going on in the neighborhood.” The Bee reporter who visited the site saw the suite next door was under construction.

“We have never had this problem before and we will do everything possible to remedy the situation,” wrote spokesperson Bahaur Sepehr. “We are using the best professional company to deal with it.”

The City of Fresno’s Code Enforcement Division, which would oversee the DMV facility and enforce health and safety codes, did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Bee. The Fresno County Department of Public Health deferred questions about the facility to the city’s code enforcement team.

“The DMV is not a facility we regulate and currently there is only one active food facility operating towards the Northeast entrance of the mall,” wrote Amber Ng of the city’s environmental health team. “This facility has been inspected and during the last routine inspection which occurred earlier this year, there were no violations noted that dealt with observing rodents or evidence of their presence.”

The Fresno Bee’s Thaddeus Miller contributed to this report.

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So much for solidarity: Three CSU unions settle for deals while other press on

Three unions representing workers at California State University campuses reached tentative agreements with administrators last week. In accepting those agreements, the unions have fractured the once-united front known as the “CSU Labor Coalition.”

The California State University Employees Union, United Auto Workers Local 4123 and the Statewide University Police System all reached deals that would give members raises of about 5% each year.

That leaves the Academic Professionals of California, the California Faculty Association and Teamsters 2010 still at the table. The latter two unions have reached impasse, are conducting strike authorization votes and will likely move to mediation in the next few weeks.

The disconnect between the unions and the university primarily revolves around salaries and merit-based “pay steps,” which workers say they need in order to keep progressing through their pay ranges.

Each union’s leadership knew at some point they’d each have to look out for their own members, said Dagoberto Argueta, president of APC. That might look like one union accepting a deal that the other unions weren’t ready to take.

“I’m happy for our sister unions,” Argueta said, “But we’re still not there yet.”

The deal that CSUEU accepted provides 5% raises in 2023 and 2024 with a transition in 2025 to a 20-step merit raise system with 2% raises at each step. Their deal also included language that would help reclassify thousands of support workers who are performing tasks that exceed or don’t match their job descriptions (and are therefore being mispaid).

The raises are contingent upon Gov. Gavin Newsom renewing the five-year funding compact between the state and CSU, which was penned in 2022. The compact ensures a 5% increase in General Fund money for the university system each year, presuming the school reaches targets that it agreed to hitting by 2025. Those goals include increasing the affordability of a CSU education and enrolling more California students.

Ultimately, CSUEU felt confident that the compact money would come through. But leaders from APC and Teamsters 2010 said they didn’t want their raises to be tied to the compact. In the event that the compact doesn’t get renewed, they’d be out of luck.

“We’re not going to make our decision about what’s a fair contract based on what others have done,” said Jason Rabinowitz, treasurer for Teamsters Local 2010, which represents maintenance and craft workers. “We’re going to make our decision based on what’s fair for our members.”


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What do you want to see in the next edition of the newsletter? Do you have a question that you want answered, or a juicy tip you want to see investigated? Drop a line using the form below or by clicking here. You can also email mmiller@sacbee.com.

Associated tales from Sacramento Bee

Maya Miller is The Sacramento Bee’s state employee reporter. Her tales take readers contained in the companies and departments that hold California functioning. She beforehand wrote about financial mobility for The Bee’s Fairness Lab and holds a level in public coverage from Duke College.

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