Posted with permission from Confined Space, a newsletter of workplace safety and labor issues.

Aluminum Shapes, a New Jersey company, has the rare distinction of being the subject of one of only ten enforcement-related press releases issued during the first six months of the Trump administration. What did they do to earn this honor and the $1.9 million penalty that came with it? According to the rare OSHA Press Release,

Since 2011, the agency has inspected the facility eight times, cited the employer for 60 violations and assessed $516,753 in penalties.
During its 2017 inspection, OSHA inspectors learned that two employees were hospitalized as a result of separate workplace incidents. The first incident occurred when employees entered a tank to drain residual sludge containing dehydrated sodium hydroxidealuminum oxide and decomposed metal. After reporting to their supervisors that they were experiencing chemical burns to their skin and attempting to wash off the chemicals, employees were directed to re-enter the tank, where they suffered further chemical injuries, resulting in the hospitalization of one employee.
The second incident occurred when a machine operator suffered a broken pelvis after being caught between the unguarded moving parts of a metal fabrication machine.

The OSHA citation included eight willful and more than a dozen repeat violations. In addition to several inspections and citations in 2016, the company received over $300,000 in penalties in 2013, later reduced to $170,000.

But instead of admitting its errors and committing to cleaning up its act, Aluminum Shapes has announced that it is laying off 51 employees — or 13% of its staff — because of the “onerous” OSHA penalties. “The size of OSHA’s fine as it stands today has forced the company to take these extreme measures,” Aluminum Shapes said in a statement.

“We care deeply about the safety of our employees. As part of our ongoing facility improvements, we’ve invested time and money toward safer production processes and equipment,” the Tuesday statement said. “We devoted thousands of man hours toward training and installing guards and other essential safety measures.”

Aluminum Shapes’ blame shifting has about as much credibility as blaming the cops for the increase in your insurance rates after you ran a red light — for the 10th time.

This is a classic case of job blackmail: your job or your lives. Forget about the injuries you and your co-workers have suffered, forget about the constant threat to your lives, health and well being every day you come into work. If you want your jobs, you might want to call you local politicians, and OSHA and tell them that this out-of-control rogue agency has thrown you out of work.

Doesn’t matter that the company has contested the citation, and doesn’t have to pay it yet — until the legal process runs out — months or years in the future. We’re laying you off now.

The normal  practice for a case this size is for the company to enter into settlement negotiations with OSHA, trading off part of the penalty for (enforceable) actions that go way above and beyond the basic requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

This will be a major test for the Trump administration. How far is it willing to bend to this outlaw company that is in tune with the anti-regulatory philosophy of the President and Republicans in control of Congress. Will Secretary Acosta and Deputy Assistant Secretary Sweatt be able to stand up against the company’s blackmail?

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