OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents|
News Release USDL: 97-170
Monday, May 19, 1997
Contact: Stephen Gaskill, (202) 219-6091
OSHA And Wage And Hour Violations Settled
DeCoster Egg Farms Agrees To Sweeping Settlement With Labor Department
Austin J. DeCoster of DeCoster Egg Farms of Turner, Maine, one of the nation's leading egg producers, has agreed to a sweeping settlement of citations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for job safety and health violations, Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman announced today.
DeCoster also settled claims brought by the Wage and Hour Division for wage and hour law violations.
The agreement between DeCoster and OSHA settles one of the most notable cases in recent OSHA history involving management failure to protect workers' safety and health. As part of the settlement, DeCoster will make significant improvements in safety and health over a three-year period and pay $2 million out of $3,805,500 in penalties originally sought by OSHA, with the remainder to be paid if the company does not meet certain standards. Most of the improvements will be made much sooner than in three years. OSHA has taken steps to ensure that all aspects of the agreement are fully enforceable.
"The settlement is a giant milestone for the workers at DeCoster Egg Farms," said Secretary Herman. "It says: you should not have to risk serious injury or illness to earn a living and support your family; you should not be subjected to unsafe and unhealthful conditions just to pay the monthly bills.
"The Department of Labor will not tolerate mistreatment of the nation's workers. OSHA standards are the law, and DeCoster Egg Farms has agreed it will comply."
The secretary added that the settlement with the Wage and Hour Division includes full restitution of back wages owed to the workers, firm and verifiable commitments to future compliance, third-party monitoring and civil penalties paid to the government. "Wage and Hour brings the same vigor to eliminating sweatshop conditions in agriculture that it has successfully used in the garment industry," she said.
"OSHA has been able to accomplish much more than what would have resulted from continued litigation," said Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Gregory R. Watchman. "Not only has DeCoster certified that all the violations that were cited have been abated but the improvements in safety and health that will be made over the next three years will result in better living and working conditions."
A key feature of the agreement is that an independent consultant will conduct an unannounced, unscheduled inspection of DeCoster facilities within 12 months. If the consultant determines that less than 90 percent of the previously cited conditions are in compliance with safety and health standards, the remaining balance of $1,805,500 in penalties will become due.
"DeCoster will have very powerful incentives to live up to the agreement," Watchman noted.
DeCoster has certified that all cited violations have been abated. Under terms of the agreement with OSHA, the company will:
Hire a full-time safety director approved by OSHA to implement a safety and health program and all other aspects of the agreement that impact on workplace safety and health. The safety director also will conduct quarterly inspections and prepare reports on DeCoster's progress in correcting safety and health hazards.
Follow OSHA's 1989 voluntary guidelines for safety and health management, and develop a safety and health compliance plan to implement provisions of the settlement.
Provide employees with initial and annual refresher training in their native language in hazard recognition and hazard communication, safety and health policies, lockout/tagout requirements, fire exits, respirator use and maintenance, personal protective equipment, machine guarding, noise exposure, communicable diseases, and how to report injuries and illnesses.
Retain for three years the services of a bilingual employee liaison to provide employees an alternative means of expressing safety and health concerns to management.
Establish comprehensive employee participation and affirmatively solicit concerns and suggestions of employees on safety and health.
Provide appropriate medical management of workplace injuries and illnesses; a central locker and shower facility for cleanup after certain designated jobs; rooms for storing, dispensing and maintaining personal protective equipment; and a comprehensive plan to reduce employee exposure to dust and ammonia fumes.
Provide safe drinking water for all locations on the Turner, Maine, farm where employees work or live.
Hire a qualified, independent ergonomics consultant to conduct a comprehensive ergonomics survey at the farm, and develop an action plan to address ergonomic hazards.
DeCoster also will permit OSHA to have reasonable access to the farm to determine progress and compliance, without warrants or subpoenas.
The settlement agreement covers violations at the Turner egg farm, for which OSHA had proposed penalties totaling $3,660,500 on July 12, 1996, and additional penalties of $117,000 on Feb. 7, 1997, as well as violations cited at the North Leeds, Maine, feed mill on Feb. 2, 1996, for which penalties of $28,000 had been proposed.
The Wage and Hour settlement involves violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA). DeCoster was not paying for all the hours worked as required by FLSA, and was not paying the workers the wages they were promised or maintaining payroll records as required by MSPA.
DeCoster agreed to pay the workers all the unpaid FLSA and MSPA back wages, plus interest, totaling $21,000 for more than 100 workers. DeCoster also agreed to pay $33,000 in civil money penalties and to enter into a binding permanent injunction against future violations of FLSA and MSPA. DeCoster also will hire an independent monitor to ensure compliance with recordkeeping and payroll requirements.
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