News Release USDL: 96-286
Thursday, July 12, 1996
Contact: Scott Sutherland (202) 219-8211
Stephen Gaskill (202) 219-6091
Labor Secretary Proposes $3.6 Million In OSHA
Penalties Against Maine Egg Producer; Firm Also Cited
For Wage And Hour Violations
Reich Deplores Sweatshop Conditions at
Decoster Egg Farms
Calling the working conditions "atrocious" and
the housing conditions "deplorable," Labor
Secretary Robert B. Reich today proposed more
than $3.6 million in penalties against the
Decoster Egg Farms--one of the largest egg
producers in the country. The Turner, Maine,
worksite was cited for numerous alleged egregious
and willful violations of health and safety and
wage and hour laws. Decoster also owns farms in
Iowa, Ohio and Minnesota.
"The conditions at this migrant farm site are
as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we
have seen," said Reich. "Fear and intimidation
kept these workers in this unsafe, unhealthy
atmosphere and living in totally unsanitary
"Workers toiled 10 to 15 hours a day, with no
equipment to protect them from disease, picking
up dead chickens with their bare hands and handling
manure potentially infected with the Salmonella
virus. They were exposed to life-threatening
electrical hazards and workers injured on the job
often went untreated," said Reich.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) cited the company for violations of safety
and health regulations at its worksite and workers'
temporary housing and also cited it for failing
to correct conditions cited on previous
"This case is particularly abominable," said Reich,
"because Decoster had a chance to clean up its
act. Instead, the company misled OSHA officials
and made little or no effort to improve its
The Wage and Hour Division of Employment Standards
Administration cited Decoster for violations of
the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Migrant
and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act(MSPA).
Last June, an employee of Decoster lost three
fingers in the machinery he was using to scrape
chicken manure from the pits in chicken barns.
He was not the first company worker injured from
contact with unguarded machinery and machine parts
at the site.
Decoster's workers 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 filled up, causing
toilet contents to back up several inches into
shower tubs. Flushing toilet paper was not allowed,
so feces-covered toilet paper often overflowed from
waste baskets in the bathrooms. Without adequate
and operable shower or laundry facilities, workers
were often unable to clean themselves or their
Decoster was identified as a prospective participant
in OSHA's reinvention partnership program, Maine 200,
because of the number of workers' compensation
claims that were filed. (See attached report on
Maine 200). OSHA offered the company an opportunity
to work in partnership to provide good safety and
health for its workers. Based on reports submitted
to OSHA by Decoster, it appeared that the employer
was making appropriate efforts to improve safety and
health conditions for its 320 workers. The Maine
consultation service notified OSHA in December 1995
that Decoster was not cooperating to correct serious
hazards. OSHA then scheduled a monitoring visit for
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational
Safety and Health Joseph A. Dear said, "Decoster's
actions warrant stiff penalties. The company reneged
on its Maine 200 commitment and has subjected its
employees to extremely hazardous working conditions.
The unsanitary and unsafe conditions in the temporary
housing are abominable by any standard of decency."
Wage and Hour said Decoster owes 24 employees $6,806.74
in back wages under MSPA for failing to pay for
all hours worked when cleaning the processing plants
at night and 61 employees are due $8,865.64 in MSPA
back wages for illegal deductions for housing.
MSPA civil money penalties of $18,800 are computed
for failure to keep employer records and an
additional $24,000 for failure to pay wages
Also, nearly $5,700 are due in back wages under FLSA
to 23 employees for uncompensated hours. Civil money
penalties of $23,000 are computed for repeat violations
of the FLSA. The firm has been investigated five
times -- with significant violations disclosed in
four out of the five.
"The working conditions for four million farmworkers
in America are still far from what they should be.
The fact that these workers not only lived in, but
were forced to pay to live in such horrible housing,
is appalling," said Maria Echaveste, Administrator
of the Wage and Hour Division.
Wage and Hour's enforcement strategy calls for
increasing the proportion of investigations targeting
low-wage industries, such as agriculture, in order
to protect the nation's most vulnerable and
"We will continue to ferret out chronic violators
of labor laws," Echaveste continued. "Employers
must not be allowed to continue to flaunt the
law and require workers to work for no pay."
Austin J. Decoster, doing business as A. J.
Decoster, also known as Decoster Egg Farms,
is a sole proprietorship located in Turner,
Maine. The Turner facility's 3.5 million chickens
produce from 12 to 14 million eggs a week.
Estimated annual sales at Turner are more than
$40 million (based on Dunn & Bradstreet figures
for similar-size employers engaged in poultry
and agricultural operations).
The firm was cited by OSHA for three categories
of alleged egregious willful violations with
penalties totaling $3,120,000 and 11 alleged
willful violations with penalties totaling $355,000.
It also was cited for 26 alleged serious violations
with penalties of $72,500, a failure-to-abate
violation with a penalty of $80,000 and a repeat
violation with a penalty of $25,000 and five alleged
other-than-serious violations with penalties
totaling $8,000. (See attached listing of
Willful OSHA violations are those committed with
an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference
to, the requirements of the OSH Act and regulations.
A serious violation is defined as one in which
there is substantial probability that death or
serious physical harm could result, and the
employer knew or should have known of the hazard.
The company has 15 working days to contest the
citations and proposed penalties before the independent
Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission
and 30 days in which to appeal the FLSA and MSPA
OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION
SUMMARY OF CITATIONS AND PROPOSED PENALTIES
Decoster Egg Farms
Alleged Egregious Willful Violations
Unguarded machines (37 instances at $40,000 per instance),
total proposed penalty, $1,480,000.
Violations of housing requirements for temporary labor camps
(23 instances at $40,000 per instance), total proposed penalty,
Violations of electrical requirements for housing (18
instances at $40,000 per instance), total proposed penalty,
Total proposed penalty for alleged egregious willful violations,
Alleged Willful Violations
Unguarded augers and other unguarded machinery, grouped,
proposed penalty of $70,000.
Exposed live electrical parts and ungrounded electrical
equipment, grouped, total proposed penalty of $70,000.
Overexposures to air contaminants and lack of suitable
respiratory protection, grouped, total of $40,000.
Failure to provide personal protective equipment, $40,000.
Noise overexposures, $40,000.
Lack of prompt medical care and failure to adhere to work
No hazard communication training, $40,000.
Total proposed penalties for alleged willful violations,
Alleged Serious Violations
Failure to keep electrical equipment dust tight; fall
hazards; violations involving standards governing confined
spaces, pressure vessels, exits, compressed air, stairway
openings, floor holes, open-sided floors, platforms and fan
blades; unguarded shafts and shaft ends, unguarded belts and
pulleys, unguarded chains and sprockets, unguarded shaft
couplings, lack of an emergency action plan, no machinery
training, no lockout/tagout training and failure to lockout and
tag machinery, unsecured guards, unguarded power transmission,
failure to have guards in place while operating machinery; and
sanitation issues including contaminated drinking water and a
work environment that permits exposure to communicable diseases
and no emergency eyewash and shower.
Total proposed penalties for alleged serious violations, $72,500.
Alleged Failure-to-Abate and Repeat Violations
Notification of failure-to-abate for machine guarding
alleging that a pit scraper drive unit cited Dec. 1, 1995
remained unguarded for 16 days after a final order. Penalties of
$5,000 for each day, with total penalties of $80,000.
Repeat citation on lack of training and inadequate training
for safe operation of pit scraper drive units, with total penalty
Total proposed penalties for alleged failure-to-abate and repeat
Alleged Other-Than-Serious Violations
Violations involving recordkeeping, damaged ladder cage and
defective electrical equipment.
Total proposed penalties for alleged other-than-serious
GRAND TOTAL OF PROPOSED OSHA PENALTIES -- $3,660,500.