Bush’s OSHA Sells Out Workers: A “Despicable Pardon” to Cintas in Worker Death and Injuries

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You may remember that I wrote a few times over the last two years about Eleazar Torres Gomez and Cintas.  Here’s one diary that gives you some background: Did Eleazar Torres-Gomez Lose his Life for Company Profits?

Eleazar Torres-Gomez was pronounced dead on the scene after apparently being dragged by a conveyor into an industrial dryer. Torres-Gomez was trapped in the dryer-which can reportedly reach temperatures of 300 degrees-for at least 20 minutes.

Burned to death in March 2007, and it was preventable.  Now with Bush riding off into the sunset, he couldn’t resist harming working people for Christmas.  The Bush OSHA has entered into a sellout settlement with Cintas over six OSHA cases regarding safety hazards at its facilities, including hazards that led to the March 2007 death of Eleazar Torres Gomez.  

Congressman Phil Hare called this settlement a “a despicable pardon” for a “serial offender,” and asked:

How many lives will be lost before this company is required to gets its act together?  

How many more?

Eric Frumin, Health and Safety Director of UNITE HERE said about this the settlement this week in which Bush’s DOL rolled over for a corporate criminal:

“It comes as no surprise that the Bush Administration squeezed this in during the final weeks of its tenure.”

No surprise at all.  

Congressman Hare explains:

On its way out the door, the Bush Labor Department has granted serial offender Cintas a despicable pardon for their failure to protect its workers from hazardous machinery,” Hare said.

How many lives will be lost before this company is required to gets its act together? Cintas and the Labor Department may have settled, but I will not rest until justice is served for Mr. Torres-Gomez and every other worker endangered by this company’s lackluster working conditions.

Woolsey, Hare Assail Cintas Settlement

Let’s first go back to 2007:

Mr. Torres-Gomez’ son Emmanuel Torres-Gomez, came to Capitol Hill to endorse the Protecting America’s Workers Act, and spoke eloquently about his father’s preventable death:

On March 6, 2007, my father was killed while working at a Cintas laundry in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was reportedly dragged into an industrial dryer by a conveyor belt. This has been devastating for us. In 2005, the Occupational Safety and Health  Administration fined Cintas for not putting guards on a dryer at a laundry in New York. The equipment that was unguarded in that case was similar to the  equipment involved in my father’s death. If the company had added the guards, which it knew was required by OSHA, my father would be alive today

My father’s death was preventable.

Did Eleazar Torres-Gomez Lose his Life for Company Profits?, quoting testimony by Mr. Torres-Gomez’ son Emmanuel Torres-Gomez before a congressional committee

In August 2007, OSHA found Cintas to be clearly at fault and called for a $2.78 million penalty against Cintas for the violations at its plant, the largest ever for a service company:

OSHA found 46 violations at the plant, among them failing to protect employees from being pinned by the conveyer belt, failing to have a proper procedure to shut down equipment when clearing jammed clothing and failing to train workers on how to clear jams.

Plant management at the Cintas Tulsa laundry facility ignored safety and health rules that could have prevented the death of this employee,” said Edwin G. Foulke Jr., the assistant secretary of labor in charge of OSHA.

New York Times, Aug. 8, 2007

Congressman Hare called out the company at the time for its attempt to blame Mr. Torres-Gomez for his own death, when it clearly was Contas’ responsibility to follow the regulations that could have prevented the death:

Representative Phil Hare, Democrat of Illinois, said yesterday, “OSHA’s findings prove that Cintas inaction led to the death of Mr. Torres Gomez despite the company’s ridiculous allegations that he tried to commit suicide or was too stupid to operate the machinery.”

New York Times, Aug. 8, 2007

Now let’s move forward a year later and to this week’s event: the “nearly toothless” settlement that Bush’s Department of Labor reached with Cintas.  They had to get it done fast, because soon we will have a real Department of Labor under Hilda Solis.  UNITE HERE sees the “settlement” for what it is:

Unfortunately, the agreement not only downgrades the severity of the 43 “willful” violations issued against Cintas since last spring, but also allows for a two-year delay in many plants across the country in guarding the kind of machines which caused the death of Eleazar Torres Gomez.

snip

The settlement agreement also does not provide any OSHA schedule for oversight and inspections. Cintas workers will be deciding whether to file formal objections to the settlement in early 2009.  

“Cintas has been cited for these problems time and time again, and has acknowledged these problems internally for years. That’s why OSHA should be strictly monitoring the company, but there are no plans for follow-up inspections in the agreement.  The remedies in this settlement are no substitute for strict enforcement of our nation’s workplace safety laws,” said Eric Frumin, Health and Safety Director of UNITE HERE.  

UNITE HERE: OSHA’s Cintas Settlement Falls Short

Similar violations were found just four months ago at a Cintas plant, but the Department of Labor is giving Cintas plenty of time to fix them.  No hurry, right.  How many more workers must die?  

“Cintas has known about these dangers for at least four years,” said Juan Arroyo, a twenty-year employee who works in the wash alley at the company’s laundry in Bedford Park, Illinois, where Cintas was cited just four months ago for similar hazards. “I’m deeply disappointed that the agreement gives the company so much time to fix them permanently.”  

UNITE/HERE

Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), chairwoman of the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections and Congressman Phil Hare (D-IL), a Subcommittee memberare very angry about this settelmemt and are doing all they can to protrect workers from companies that kill:  

“We are also upset that the Department of Labor has changed all of the willful citations to ‘unclassified citations,’ despite the fact that Cintas knew about these hazards and OSHA originally found the company to be negligent,” the members added. “There is nothing in the law that even allows unclassified citations and we are determined to take legislative action to prohibit the declassification of willful citations.”

Woolsey, Hare Assail Cintas Settlement

Congressman Hare recognizes that safety violations of the sort that led to Mr. Torres-Gomez’s death have been continuing at Cintas.  Yet, “this settlement gives Cintas an unacceptably long window to make the necessary improvements, with many plants having up to 2 years.”  He asks:  

How many lives will be lost before this company is required to gets its act together?

Woolsey, Hare Assail Cintas Settlement

“I am deeply disturbed that the settlement does not specifically hold Cintas responsible and does not go far enough to prevent future accidents,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey.

Me, too.  All decent folks are.

Congressman Hare pledges not to let this go:

Cintas and the Labor Department may have settled, but I will not rest until justice is served for Mr. Torres-Gomez and every other worker endangered by this company’s lackluster working conditions.

I plan to bring this case to the attention of the incoming Labor Secretary and will work with my colleagues on the Workforce Protections Subcommittee to further investigate this matter and achieve a more appropriate resolution.

It’s not over.  The new Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis will be looking at this settlement and at Cintas.  No more will the Department of Labor collaborate with companies that kill and maim workers.

UNITE HERE is thrilled to have a proven advocate for working Americans named our new Secretary of Labor.

ship

Rep. Solis has championed workers right to organize for family sustaining jobs. With a strong Secretary of Labor we will finally be able to address the crisis in labor law enforcement that has plagued our country for the past 8 years and build and create an economy that rewards work.

UNITE HERE

Change is coming.

To learn more about the worklers’ struggles at Cintas, please visit Uniform Justice

Cintas workers are standing with UNITE HERE and the Teamsters to change these conditions and make our jobs better

Also on Daily Kos: http://www.dailykos.com/story/…

2 comments

    • TomP on December 20, 2008 at 6:31 pm
      Author

    worker safety.

    • TomP on December 21, 2008 at 1:46 am
      Author

    Solidarity.

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