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Oct
2015
22

Already Seeking Teamsters Representation, CA Plant Workers Hospitalized After Being Forced to Breathe Dangerous Chemicals

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Workers at a Taylor Farms plant in Tracy, California were exposed to a toxic mixture of acetic acid and chlorine which led to the hospitalization of 20 workers.  The incident is the latest in a string of grievances for the workers at the salad processing plant, who have been seeking to unionize like their peers at the nearby Salinas plant for over two years.  During that period, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has made merit-based determinations that Taylor Farms committed 57 unfair labor practices.  

According to a worker at the facility, Guadalupe Leon, the workers who complained about the powerful fumes were instructed to go back to work.  

“As soon as I walked into work, there was a strong smell of chlorine.  I spoke to my crew lead but was told to keep working and put on the mask. Suddenly I felt overcome by the fumes from the chemicals and me and some of my coworkers had to go to the hospital. I don’t think the company really cares about us or our safety.”

Among the recurring complaints that led the workers to seek unionization are improper safety training and exposure to powerful chemicals.  In 2012, CalOSHA inspected the facility after a similar incident hospitalized workers with eye and breathing irritation after they experienced overexposure to industrial cleaning chemicals.  The agency issued the company a number of serious citations and a $1,685 fine.

The latest incident came to a head when an employee, not a manager, called emergency services.  In the end, 20 workers were hospitalized with symptoms ranging from nosebleeds to vomiting to fainting.  Two of the workers hospitalized were pregnant women, one of whom experienced severe abdominal pains. Some of the hospitalized workers have reported that, although doctors told them to take additional days off to recover, a company doctor was then brought to clear everyone for return.  One worker, Premativo Torres, said that he was instructed to lie to emergency services: “A manager told us to keep the chemical spill a secret. They just didn’t seem to care at all about me or my coworkers when this happened yesterday.”

Ashley Alvarado, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 601 in Stockton, questioned the character of Taylor Farms’ management:

“Taylor Farms’ routine mistreatment of its workers in Tracy knows no bounds, and yesterday it nearly amounted to a death sentence for its employees.  What kind of company tells its employees to keep working amid a dangerous and potentially deadly hazard in the workplace?”

Rome Aloise, President of Teamsters Joint Council 7 in San Francisco, also weighed in:

“We are outraged not just because this was absolutely preventable – we have repeatedly raised concerns and filed complaints regarding worker safety issues involving chemicals and other problems – but because this event was also absolutely predictable given Taylor Farms’ years-long, million-dollar effort to deny its Tracy workers a voice on the job regarding their own safety and health. Accidents happen, but in Salinas, where Taylor Farms’ employees have a union, there are hazmat plans, there are drills, and if there were an accident, workers would never have been treated this way,”

The workers and the Teamsters are calling for an immediate investigation into the incident and the termination of the managers and supervisors responsible for the decision to have the employees return to work after they initially complained about the chemicals.  Several workers have also suggested that they may take legal action against the company.  

Doug Bloch of Teamsters Council 7 sits on Cal/OSHA’s advisory committee.  Speaking to The Californian, he suggested that safety agencies are crippled:

“Cal/OSHA has been very aggressive and knows that Taylor Farms is a bad actor in Tracy. But they don’t have enough enforcement ability.”

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