- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

The boss made you work outside yesterday?
Man, that's cold.
Many workers in the Washington area had no choice.
Mailmen, highway repairmen and construction workers didn't have the luxury of toiling at a desk in a heated office building, insulated from some of the lowest temperatures to grip the region in decades.
"It's unbearable. We're not from Buffalo. We're not from Minnesota. We're not used to this," said Rick Lesko, a foreman overseeing construction of the new downtown Washington Convention Center.
Temperatures were in the teens yesterday. The high temperature is expected to be between 28 and 32 degrees today, the National Weather Service said.
As low as the temperatures were yesterday, they were well above the coldest Jan. 23 on record, in 1936, when the mercury dropped to zero. The record low for Jan. 24, three degrees above zero, was set in 1963, but forecasters predict that record will remain intact.
Mr. Lesko and his crew did most of their work outside yesterday, as they raced the clock to get the new convention center ready for its scheduled March opening.
Robert Sullivan, a journeyman glazer, installed glass and caulked window frames on the convention center's ground floor. He figured he had at least three layers of clothing beneath his coveralls, including long underwear and a heavy, hooded flannel shirt.
"The best thing you can do in weather like this is to keep working, to keep moving. If you keep the blood circulating, you don't mind the cold so much," he said.
Mr. Sullivan considered himself lucky because he worked on the ground floor on the side of the building that faces New York Avenue NW. By late afternoon, the sun shone brightly on his back, providing him with some warmth.
Less fortunate were the men who had to perform glasswork on the upper levels of the heavily shaded Ninth Avenue NW side of the building. These men did their work from an aerial lift that held them far above the ground.
"When you're up in that thing, you're standing on an open mesh grill [floor.] When the wind blows, it hits every part of your body. There's nothing you can do about it," Mr. Lesko said.
These are the kind of working conditions that give fainthearted workers cold feet.
Secretaries ate lunch at their desks. Homemakers put off their errands. Salesmen used the phone to contact potential clients, rather than making cold calls in person.
If you think bosses feel guilty about making employees work outdoors on days like this, think again.
Highway repairmen work in the cold all the time, said Valerie B. Edgar, spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.
"If they are filling a pothole or repairing a sign, they can get inside their vehicle to warm up and take a break," she said.
Ms. Edgar works in an office building near Baltimore. It is heated.
Potomac Electric Power Co. didn't bring its workers out of the cold, either.
The utility company decided yesterday not to perform any repairs if it meant a customer's power would be cut off, spokesman Robert Dobkin said. Otherwise, it was business as usual.
Pepco customers set a new record for power demand yesterday at 7:38 a.m., when it peaked at 5,125 megawatts, breaking the previous record of 5,010 megawatts set Jan. 18, 1994.
In the building industry, the number of employees who call in sick is higher on cold days, says Rick Mills, general superintendent at Scott-Long Construction in Chantilly.
But most workers soldier on, he said.
"There are certain trades that really can't work in these conditions: masonry, concrete, anyone who does work with materials that will freeze," he said.
A stocking cap-bedecked utility crew worked near the corner of 16th Street and Potomac Avenue SE from about 7:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. yesterday. One of them, a 65-year-old who identified himself only as "Smiley," said he probably won't thaw out until summer.
"I have three cars. I won't need to run the air conditioning in any of them," Smiley said.
He wasn't smiling.

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