$1 Million in Penalties for Employers: A step in the right direction — but still a long way to go

On July 23, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued dozens of citations, including six willful violations, and proposed $998,637 in penalties against four companies associated with the deadly nitrogen leak that took place earlier this year at Foundation Food Group (FFG), a poultry-processing plant in Georgia. In part, the citations allege that the four companies failed to implement safety protocols that could have prevented the deaths of six workers and injuries of at least a dozen more. This marks a momentous victory for the courageous immigrant workers who came forward to hold their employers accountable for undermining their right to health and safety.

Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc (CDM) and Sur Legal Collaborative (Sur Legal) were honored to support affected workers throughout their path to justice by combining our legal and worker outreach expertise, along with the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and many other local and grassroots organizations.

In January, our teams drove to Gainesville, Georgia to meet with survivors days after the incident. In addition to telling us about the traumatic event, the dangerous working conditions they had been enduring, and their fear of retaliation, workers conveyed a powerful commitment to find justice. CDM facilitated workers’ participation in OSHA’s large-scale investigation by interviewing workers and representing one of them in an interview with OSHA. Sur Legal educated the workers about their legal rights, especially during OSHA inspections and investigations. They also conducted interviews, represented several of the workers during their OSHA interviews, and has advocated for deferred action for impacted immigrant workers.

The penalties OSHA levied against Foundation Food Group, Messer LLC, Packers Sanitation Services Inc, and FS Food Inc. — at or near the statutory maximum — are a much-needed step in holding these employers accountable. We commend the Agency for issuing 26 separate citations that publicly shed light on the dangers workers at FFG face daily –– such as blocked emergency exits, lack of emergency alarms, and overall lack of safety protocols and training. The six willful citations, which carry the highest level of fines OSHA can bring against an employer, were for exposing workers to thermal injuries and suffocation hazards.

The success of OSHA’s investigation is due to the bravery of workers who exercised their rights by speaking up about the incident and their safety and health concerns despite repeatedly experiencing intimidation tactics from their employer. But this decision also sheds light on the limits of a system that fails to effectively protect workers — one that favors business interests at the expense of workers’ rights.

A step in the right direction would be for OSHA to enforce its standards by increasing workplace inspections before tragic incidents occur, instead of after-the-fact inspections and citations, which are little comfort to the families of those who lost their lives. OSHA must hire new compliance officers to expand the Agency’s enforcement footprint.

Because the poultry processing industry is rife with labor abuses, OSHA should also issue a National Emphasis Program (NEP), which covers all meat and seafood processing facilities under OSHA’s jurisdiction.

OSHA should also, in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security, grant deferred action and other forms of immigration relief to undocumented workers who participate in OSHA investigations. Employers often weaponize workers’ immigration status to intimidate and deter them from reporting workplace violations. Threat of reprisal creates a chilling effect for workers who would otherwise speak out against abuse.

Moreover, to ensure that every worker enjoys their right to a safe and healthy workplace, Congress must amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) to address systemic imbalances of power between workers and employers by:

Moreover, to ensure that every worker enjoys their right to a safe and healthy workplace, Congress must amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) to address systemic imbalances of power between workers and employers by:

  1. Significantly increasing caps on OSH Act penalties, so they can serve as a compliance tool. As they are set today, they are too low to put a stop to preventable workplace tragedies;
  2. Including provisions to make sure that companies are subject to criminal investigations in all fatal investigations;
  3. Extending OSHA’s 30 day statute of limitations period for filing a retaliation complaint to 180 days, which is more comparable to other whistleblower statutes;
  4. Creating a private right of action for workers, thus guaranteeing that workers have a right to bring their own safety and health and retaliation cases in court with counsel of their own choosing;
  5. Ensuring that companies are not able to push off critical and necessary health and safety fixes by tying up OSHA’s citations in lengthy and complicated litigation.
  6. Giving OSHA the authority to shut down hazardous workplaces that present an imminent danger without having to petition a district court; and
  7. Allowing for temporary reinstatement of workers who claim retaliation while OSHA investigates their claim.

OSHA’s citations and penalties against Foundation Food Group and the other companies implicated in January’s tragedy only bolsters our joint fight for justice. CDM and Sur Legal will continue to advocate for policies that reflect the voices and experiences of immigrant workers, their families, and communities.

The post $1 Million in Penalties for Employers: A step in the right direction — but still a long way to go appeared first on Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc..

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» $1 Million in Penalties for Employers: A step in the right direction — but still a long way to go | EvyPena | Refugee Watch | https://www.refugee.watch/2021/07/30/1-million-in-penalties-for-employers-a-step-in-the-right-direction-but-still-a-long-way-to-go/ | 2022-10-03T19:00:19+00:00
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