Temporary Work, Lasting Harm
Almost immediately, the finger-pointing began over who was responsible for the accident. Bacardi insisted to OSHA that it was Remedy’s job to train temp workers. In fact, Bacardi didn’t even provide them with any safety gear. It was the temp agency that supplied the orange vests, gloves and safety glasses. Remedy told OSHA it only showed temp workers a brief safety video and insisted that it was Bacardi’s job to train them.
“The company appears to have attempted to shift blame to its temporary agencies,” investigators wrote. “They have taken the position that the employee does not belong to them; therefore they are not responsible for their safety.”
Such disputes are common when temp workers get hurt, a review of accident files shows.
After an employee was crushed to death by three 800-pound bales of cardboard at Sonoco Recycling in North Carolina in 2010, a company representative told an OSHA inspector, “We don’t train temps.”
Soex West Textile Recycling had a novel defense when California OSHA fined it after two workers lost part of their fingers in the same machine doing the same task within a span of a month in 2009. It told regulators it didn’t have any employees; it leased them all from a company called Strategic Outsourcing.
Sonoco spokesman Brian Risinger said the company takes responsibility for training all employees, including temps. Soex and Strategic Outsourcing did not return calls.
Such confusion over who is responsible can even delay urgent medical care.
Josimar Rojas, 27, was working as a temp at Metal Impact, a Chicago-area factory, in 2011 when his supervisor asked him to hold a piece of metal he was working on and then accidentally drilled through Rojas’ finger. Rojas said in an interview that he held his finger with paper towels for an hour and a half while the factory and the temp agency debated whose clinic he would go to. “The company said they couldn’t look at me, because I didn’t work for them,” he said.
But before he could go to the temp agency’s clinic, he said, he had to go back to the agency’s office to fill out paperwork.
“When a lot of our guys have accidents, there’s this delay of at least a half-hour of where is he going to go,” said Jose Rivero, Rojas’ workers’ comp attorney. “Are we sending him to our doctor or their doctor, and whose paperwork do you fill out?”
Scott Radwan, a human resources consultant for Metal Impact, disagreed with that assessment. “There’s never any confusion,” he said, adding that the office has signs with the name of the temp agency’s clinic in case of emergency.
After Davis’ death, Bacardi officials walked through the plant with OSHA inspectors. The plant’s health and safety manager, Lesley Toke, seemed more intent on protecting the brand than protecting workers, according to notes the OSHA inspectors took during their visit to the company.
“Lesley Toke made a comment,”one inspector scribbled in his notes. “She stated we (Bacardi) had managed to stay out of the media for a long time until just now.”
Toke predicted that the effect of the stories would not be long-lasting, according to the notes, which quote her as saying the bad publicity was “only for a day.”
“Plain indifference,” the inspector wrote. “This is not the first comment of this type she has made concerning protecting product and [the] Bacardi name.”
After the accident, the company released a statement, saying that “Bacardi prides itself as having safety as its number one priority.”
Privately, OSHA investigators wrote a scathing response.
“They have submitted into evidence several PowerPoint trainings, totaling over 200 slides,” the investigators wrote in a memo. “There is not one single mention of safety being their number one priority. What is mentioned in the PowerPoints and programs as their most important goal is ‘customer satisfaction’ and under security, ‘protect company assets.’ ”
Bacardi said it disagreed with how OSHA characterized the company in its report.
“Throughout its history, Bacardi has been steadfast in its commitment to provide employees with a safe environment,” Bacardi spokeswoman Patricia Neal said in a statement.
“Bacardi immediately addressed all of the safety and health concerns raised by OSHA during the inspection to enhance the facility’s safety program and to ensure that such a tragic accident could not happen again,” she said.
OSHA fined Bacardi $192,000 for numerous violations, including failing to shut down machines properly and not training temp workers. The agency settled earlier this year for $110,000. Remedy, the temp agency, wasn’t cited for any violations, because OSHA determined it was not supervising employees, nor was it in charge of the work site.
OSHA said Bacardi now includes temp workers in its training and has installed a cage around the palletizer area, which only certain employees can enter with a swipe card.
* * *
Tonya Washington pulls out a cream-colored bag from the funeral home containing her son’s possessions. It’s been a year since the accident, but, she says, she still wakes up some mornings wanting to scream.
She takes out A’lisa’s baby footprint, which was found in Davis’ wallet, then his white puka shell necklace, his yellow Livestrong bracelet, his Job Corps wristwatch and, finally, the change he had in his pocket at the time of his death – a quarter, a dime and two pennies.
She doesn’t say anything.
The next day, the anniversary of her son’s death, she drives to the memorial garden that Bacardi built on the grounds of its bottling plant. An 8-foot weeping willow stands at the center, surrounded by yellow flowers, flocked by bees and butterflies. In front is a granite marker bearing a plaque with his picture and a poem. She kneels to plant a bouquet of flowers beside it. She then ties three silver balloons spelling his name – D-A-Y – and a light blue one reading, “Gone But Not Forgotten.”
It’s one of those late summer afternoons in Jacksonville when the humidity gets the better of the thick clouds lit from above. The crickets chirp. The sky begins to rumble. She pauses before his plaque and briefly touches the image of his face.
As she turns to wade back through the tall grass, the wind picks up, knocking over one of the bouquets.
She goes back to fix it. It’s drizzling now. She rubs a few raindrops off the plaque with her thumb and kneels down one more time. In her mind, she tells her son she was proud of him.