News Release USDL: 96-370
Monday, September 9, 1996
Contact: Scott Sutherland (202) 219-8211
Stephen Gaskill (202) 219-6091
Labor Department Takes Steps in OSHA Case
Against Maine Egg Producer
"We have seen some encouraging signs that DeCoster
intends to fix problems at the farms. I am hopeful
that the company's new team, hired to oversee
improvements, and the purchase of new trailers
to house workers, will make a difference," said
Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich. "But it's my
duty to guarantee that DeCoster pays the appropriate
penalty for violating the law, and to make sure that
any positive changes made in DeCoster's working
conditions become permanent."
"When Congress passed the Occupational Safety
and Health Act, it made clear that monetary
penalties are needed to create the right incentives
for employers to comply with safety and health
standards from the beginning," said Reich. "It's
not enough just to fix violations after workers
already have been exposed to dangers."
Attorneys for the Labor Department today took
steps in the department's case against DeCoster
Egg Farms, by formally asking DeCoster for
information related to its position in the case.
Department attorneys also asked the Occupational
Safety and Health Review Commission for permission
to take testimony from DeCoster managers. The
steps are designed to help prepare the case for
trial before a Review Commission judge.
DeCoster Egg Farms, one of the nation's largest
egg producers, was cited July 12 for numerous
alleged egregious and willful violations of
health and safety and wage and hour laws.
Since the mid-1970s, DeCoster Egg Farms has been
inspected 15 times by OSHA inspectors for safety
and health violations and by Wage and Hour
investigators for failure to pay wages when due.
Most recently, OSHA cited the company for violations
of safety and health regulations at its worksite
and workers' temporary housing and failing to
correct conditions cited on previous inspections.
Workers at the Maine migrant farm lived with
exposure to live electrical parts and inoperable
smoke alarms. Often 12 people lived in one
10-foot by 60-foot trailer. Overused septic
tanks overflowed, causing toilet contents to
back up several inches into shower tubs. Without
adequate and operable shower or laundry facilities,
workers were often unable to clean themselves or
their soiled clothes. Although they were required
to clean the processing plant for as many as 10
hours per night, they were paid for only 3-1/2 hours.
"Although we have met with DeCoster's
representatives, we have no assurances that
the company will bring this matter to an end,"
said Reich. "Today's motion will expedite the
resolution of this case, ensure justice is served
and that workers are protected."
"We are ready to meet with DeCoster representatives
at any time, and look forward to a speedy resolution
of this matter," said Reich.