National Worker Safety Council Names 12 Worst Corporate Violators

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

A Boston contractor whose indifference to safety led to a trench collapse where two workers drowned and a Lansing, Ill., tanker cleaning service which let fumes overcome three workers – one of whom died – in a tank car in New Orleans are among the “Dirty Dozen” companies endangering their workers, all cited in a new report by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. 

The COSH Council, a pro-worker group, released the report in advance of Workers Memorial Day, April 28, which honors the 4,836 workers who died on the job in 2015, the most recent year federal statistics are available, and the thousands more who are injured or become ill due to occupational hazards.

“The Dirty Dozen shows the need for more enforcement” by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and by federally approved state OSHAs, Jordan Barab, a former union safety and health director and the agency’s #2 official during the Democratic Obama administration, told an April 26 telephone press conference. 

“Lack of worker protections and lack of strong enforcement will not deter” firms that break safety and health laws, Barab added. “Particularly hurt would be day laborers, immigrant workers and those whose first language is not English.”

In New Orleans, 49-year-old Armond Stack died inside a rail tank car the workers were cleaning in October 2015. The three lacked harnesses, and the confined space lacked oxygen, the city coroner said. OSHA proposed fining the firm, Dedicated TCS, $226,310. TCS had prior repeated confined space violations in other locations, including in Lansing and Channahon, Ill. 

The Boston trench collapse occurred in October 2016 – a period yet to be covered by OSHA numbers or other reports. Robert Higgins and Kelvin Mattocks were digging the trench when a nearby water main broke, sending dirt, mud, gravel and water cascading down upon them, said Jeff Newton, communications director for Massachusetts COSH.

Mattocks and Higgins drowned when their employer, Atlantic Drain, did not follow basic safety rules, Newton said. OSHA probed the collapse, but Boston authorities have moved more quickly, he added: The district attorney indicted both the firm and its owner on two counts of manslaughter and other charges. 

And the city council passed an ordinance barring construction firms with a history of serious and repeated OSHA violations – like Atlantic Drain – from getting city permits.  The state senate is considering similar legislation. The city council is also considering amending a 200-year-old law that now limits fines in such cases to $1,000. It would raise fines to $250,000.

Besides Atlantic Drain and Dedicated TCS, others among the Dirty Dozen and their safety violations include:

• California Cartage of Long Beach: The report said driver William Vasquez died and OSHA found serious job safety violations in both Long Beach and at a coastal city in Georgia. They included lack of machine safeguards and faulty brakes on the trucks. 

 

Speakers at the COSH conference call noted the firm treats its drivers – one of several groups of port truckers whom the Teamsters are trying to organize in Los Angeles-Long Beach – as “independent contractors” unprotected by workplace laws, including labor laws. 

 

• Dollar General in Goodlettsville, Tenn. The report calls all the chain’s stores “a fire disaster waiting to happen” with blocked exits. OSHA cited the chain more than 100 times and fined it more than $1 million combined for that violation alone in its stores nationwide. 

 

• Environmental Enterprises, Inc., of Spring Grove, Ohio, where a chemical explosion killed Zachary Henzerling, 20. OSHA’s report describes a “complete disregard for employees’ safety.” The firm was indicted for involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide.

 

• Fuyao Glass America of Dayton, Ohio, the world’s largest auto glass plant – which doesn’t provide its workers with gloves. Workers were exposed to broken glass, and risked amputation. OSHA cited it for 23 serious violations and reported “extensive complaints from workers” about unsafe conditions.

 

• The Nissan USA auto plant in Franklin, Tenn., which the United Auto Workers have been trying to organize. Four workers died over a four-year period. Safety violations are rampant, one speaker on the press call said, because other workers fear losing their jobs if they complain – despite the OSHA act’s ban on retaliation against whistleblowers. OSHA has fined Nissan $99,000. The UAW is using the firm’s misdeeds to contend Nissan workers could get better protection if they vote union and get a contract. 

 

• The Pilgrim’s Pride poultry processing plant in Greeley, Colo. One worker died and another lost fingers in a machine “because management did nothing” to address amputation risk, the Dirty Dozen report says. Workers are also exposed to toxic ammonia.

 

• PrimeFlight of Nashville, Tenn., exposes its workers to blood-borne pathogens. OSHA said PrimeFlight has 22 violations in the last three years. Conditions there are “likely to cause death or serious harm.”

 

• TransAm Trucking of Olathe, Kansas: That’s the case of frozen trucker Alphonse Maddin in Illinois. OSHA and its appeals board ruled for him after TransAm fired him for protecting his own life by detaching his cab, in -37 weather, from a trailer with frozen brakes, and seeking help and heat, after reporting the problem. Maddin won $280,000 in back pay – and opposition from Appellate Judge Neil Gorsuch, the newest U.S. Supreme Court justice.

The report also names one foreign firm: The South Korean computer/phone chip maker Samsung. The Dirty Dozen report says more than 200 Samsung workers became seriously ill, and 76 died, from fumes released while making the chips. The firm also retaliates by a secret plan to “dominate employees” and “punish leaders,” the report says. Samsung’s CEO is now awaiting trial in South Korea’s wide-ranging presidential bribery scandal. 

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Failing Bridges Hold Public Hostage

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) gave the public just a few hours’ notice before closing a major bridge in March, citing significant safety concerns.

The West Seattle Bridge functioned as an essential component of  the city’s local and regional transportation network, carrying 125,000 travelers a day while serving Seattle’s critical maritime and freight industries. Closing it was a huge blow to the city and its citizens. 

Yet neither Seattle’s struggle with bridge maintenance nor the inconvenience now facing the city’s motorists is unusual. Decades of neglect left bridges across the country crumbling or near collapse, requiring a massive investment to keep traffic flowing safely.

When they opened it in 1984, officials predicted the West Seattle Bridge would last 75 years.

But in 2013, cracks started appearing in the center span’s box girders, the main horizontal support beams below the roadway. These cracks spread 2 feet in a little more than two weeks, prompting the bridge’s closure.

And it’s still at risk of falling.  

The city set up an emergency alert system so those in the “fall zone” could be quickly evacuated if the bridge deteriorates to the point of collapse.

More than one-third of U.S. bridges similarly need repair work or replacement, a reminder of America’s urgent need to invest in long-ignored infrastructure.

Fixing or replacing America’s bridges wouldn’t just keep Americans moving. It would also provide millions of family-supporting jobs for steel and cement workers, while also boosting the building trades and other industries.

With bridges across the country close to failure and millions unemployed, America needs a major infrastructure campaign now more than ever.

 

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work