OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents|
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 conditions."
"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 inspections.
"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 shameful conditions."
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 soiled clothes.
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 January 1996.
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 when due.
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 exploited workers.
"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 violations.)
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 assessments.
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, $920,000.
Violations of electrical requirements for housing (18 instances at $40,000 per instance), total proposed penalty, $720,000.
Total proposed penalty for alleged egregious willful violations, $3,120,00.
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 restrictions, $55,000.
No hazard communication training, $40,000.
Total proposed penalties for alleged willful violations, $355,000.
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 of $25,000.
Total proposed penalties for alleged failure-to-abate and repeat violations, $105,000.
Alleged Other-Than-Serious Violations
Violations involving recordkeeping, damaged ladder cage and defective electrical equipment.
Total proposed penalties for alleged other-than-serious violations, $8,000.
GRAND TOTAL OF PROPOSED OSHA PENALTIES -- $3,660,500.
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