Critters have once again paid a visit to the Arizona Department of Economic Security — this time, they are bedbugs.
On Thursday evening, Phoenix New Times received a voicemail from an anonymous caller, alleging that the DES office on 115th Avenue and Bell Road had been hit with a bedbug infestation.
“I’m not giving my name because I’m afraid,” said the caller, who allegedly works at the building. “But I thought it would interest you to know that the building has been infested with bedbugs — and they’re not doing anything. We have employees that are getting bitten, and they’re out [working with clients] during the day.”
The employee said that the blood-sucking bugs are all over the building — including staff cubicles and offices — and that management is failing to sufficiently address the problem.
“They come in, and they bring the dogs and they spray like four cubicles, and that’s all — they won’t do everything,” the staffer said. “And we keep asking and begging for help.”
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Tasya Peterson, public information officer for DES, confirmed on Friday that the building, which is located in Surprise, had been found to have bedbugs in “an area not routinely frequented by clients.” The landlord from whom DES leases has contracted with a pest control company, she said, and is doing regular inspection of the office, treating any positive detections, “as needed.”
“We have discussed the situation with our staff and addressed ways to reduce the potential spread of the bugs by reducing clutter, keeping bags off the floors, etc,” Peterson said in an emailed statement. “We hope to eliminate this issue as soon as possible."
Other employees at the office could not be reached for comment immediately, and the original caller used a restricted number. The majority of DES workers are “at-will” employees, meaning they can be fired at any time. Following mass layoffs in the department in the last few years, New Times has spoken to dozens of current employees in the last two months about DES working conditions. Almost all insisted they remain anonymous, citing a culture of fear that prevents workers from speaking out about problems within the department, including overburdened caseloads, wage theft, and pay discrepancies between new and old employees.
The DES has also come under fire for conditions in its workspaces that are quite literally – and not just emotionally – hazardous. In 2017, employees at its child support office at 51st Avenue in Phoenix reported working amid a mice and rat infestation for at least six months, and a lawsuit filed earlier this year alleges that "mold and gas-related problems" in a satellite office nearly killed an employee, who eventually learned that she would never be able to work again.