We’ve had a great reaction to our most recent recurring segment on The Valley Labor Report, so we’re going to be sending this out as a newsletter every week. It’s important that people understand how often bosses break the law - with working people as their victims - because of how skewed our media structure is regarding “crime.” If you have any reports of boss - on - worker crime, send them our way! We’ll do what we can to tell folks about their misdeed.
NORTH CAROLINA THIEF
A Durham, North Carolina construction services contractor – R&R Construction Maintenance of North Carolina – stole more than $800,000 from its employees. The contractor was forced to pay back the stolen wages along with an equal amount in damages to the 188 affected workers by the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina in 2022.
The US Department of Labor announced last week that they had finally recovered the back wages and damages from the contractor.
The theft occurred because the company denied the workers minimum wage and overtime wages and were misclassified as independent contractors. This was a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The EEOC alleges Simply Slims - a fast casual restaurant chain operating over 200 locations - in Hot Springs, Arkansas, violated federal law when it subjected a class of teens and young adults to sexual harassment and a sexually hostile work environment.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, a shift manager made inappropriate sexual comments to a young female. The young female immediately reported the comments to the general manager. While receiving notice of the sexual harassment, the company failed to address the harassment and the shift manager continued to harass other young female employees, including teenagers. The shift manager would brush up against the girls intentionally, rub their shoulders, and poke them in inappropriate places. He fondled the breast of one young female, touched one on her bottom, and placed his hand on the inner thigh of another. Eventually, the sexual harassment forced several of the employees to resign.
The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, Western Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The suit seeks monetary relief in the form of back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, compensation for lost benefits, and an injunction against future discrimination.
If you did this outside of work - you could go to prison. But because this alleged conduct was performed by someone’s boss, they are only looking at what will in all likelihood be small monetary penalties.
Here’s one we missed from June: Federal workplace safety inspectors have determined the operator of a southern Alabama tire shop could have prevented a 45-year-old mechanic’s fatal injuries by following required safety standards.
An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found the tire service mechanic and an apprentice had just inflated a tractor tire after mounting it on its rim at Neal Tindol Tire LLC in Opp on Jan. 18, 2023, when seconds later the tire exploded as the mechanic leaned over it to unhook the air compressor’s hose. The tire struck the mechanic before flying upward, breaking through the ceiling and landing on the roof.
OSHA inspectors learned the air compressor the two workers used had been set to inflate the tire at 110 pounds per square inch units of pressure when the tire that exploded had a maximum load-carrying capacity of 35 pounds per square inch.
The agency determined that the tire shop allowed employees to inflate tires on single-piece rim wheels without using a required restraining device or barrier for protection against tire explosion. In addition, OSHA cited the company for exposing workers to struck-by hazards by allowing workers to remain in an unsafe area while inflating tires, and for failing to prevent workers from inflating tires above the manufacturer’s maximum recommended pressure.
Neal Tindol Tire faces $14,511 in proposed penalties for the violations.
Mewbourne Oil Company (Mewbourne) has agreed to pay a $5.5 million penalty for illegal pollution in New Mexico and Texas and undertake projects expected to cost at least $4.6 million to ensure 422 of its oil and gas well pads in New Mexico and Texas comply with state and federal clean air regulations and offset past illegal emissions.
These terms are in settlement of claims alleged in a civil complaint that, at more than 100 of its oil and gas production operations in New Mexico and Texas, Mewbourne
- failed to obtain required state and federal permits
- failed to capture and control air emissions from storage vessels
- failed to comply with inspection, monitoring and recordkeeping requirements.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the New Mexico Environment Department identified the alleged violations through field investigations and repeated flyover surveillance conducted in 2019, 2020, and 2022.
Mewbourne’s compliance with the consent decree will result in annual reductions of more than 9,900 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and 1,300 tons of methane. VOCs are a key component in the formation of ground-level ozone, a pollutant that irritates the lungs, exacerbates diseases such as asthma, and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
In addition, as a co-benefit of these reductions, the consent decree will result in significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing methane – a powerful greenhouse gas. 1,300 tons of annual methane reductions equates to more than 33,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). Eliminating the release of this amount of methane per year is similar to eliminating the annual use of 3.4 million gallons of gasoline.
In addition to paying a $5.5 million fine – to be shared equally by the United States and the State of New Mexico – the consent decree requires the company to take numerous steps to ensure that 422 well pads covered by the Decree and located in New Mexico and Texas are operated lawfully.
New Mexico’s portion of the fines will be sent to the State of New Mexico’s general fund.
Mewbourne will spend at least $3.6 million to implement extensive design, operation, maintenance, and monitoring improvements, including installing new tank pressure monitoring systems that will provide advance notification of potential emissions and allow for immediate response action by the company.
Mewbourne will also spend at least $1 million to offset the harm caused by the alleged violations by replacing over 2,000 pollutant-emitting pneumatic devices with non-emitting devices on an accelerated schedule. This offset project will reduce VOC emissions over 15 years by approximately 4,500 tons beyond that required by existing regulation.
Amazon claims it’s drivers are not in fact Amazon employees, but simply employees of its delivery contractors. Specifically, in response to reporting by Vice they said:
"...these drivers are not Amazon drivers, actually, but drivers who deliver for Amazon, which is a very critical factual difference."
As silly as that sounds, the distinction is important, in fact. If it’s true, then Amazon could legally refuse to bargain with these workers in the event that they unionize because - hey - they aren’t Amazon workers!
But if they are wrong (they are) it would mean that under the law they would be mandated to bargain with drivers that unionize.
While it may seem obvious that Amazon is a joint employer to its delivery drivers considering that these contractors are set up solely to service Amazon and Amazon dictates every aspect of the job, we have another piece of evidence directly from Amazon themselves: they spent over $160,000 on anti-union consultants specifically to dissuade drivers that work for their contractors from unionizing.
If they aren’t your employees, then why are you doing that?
- Aurora Pro Services, a North Carolina-based residential home service and repair company, has agreed to pay $50,000 and provide other relief to settle a religious harassment, discrimination, and retaliation lawsuit brought because all employees to attend daily employer-led Christian prayer meetings and reprimanded employees who did not attend, up to and including termination.
- The EEOC announced a lawsuit against HCA Healthcare, Inc. a for-profit corporation headquartered in Nashville, because they violated federal law by refusing to promote an employee because of his age, race and national origin, and fired him in retaliation for complaining internally to his employer about the discrimination.
- The EEOC announced a lawsuit against Silver Bay Seafood Restaurant, Inc. because they violated federal law when it subjected a female employee to a sexually hostile work environment, specifically, she alleges she was continuously sexually harassed and touched
- The US DOL recovered a little over $7,000 for one worker illegally fired for his protected use of Family and Medical Leave by his employer: Home 2 Suites in Shreveport, LA
- Here’s one we missed from April: the Williams companies agreed to a settlement that requires them to pay a $3.75M civil penalty and spend an estimated $8.5M to come into compliance after the companies violated leak detection and repair requirements in federal, state and tribal clean air laws, resulting in excess emissions of VOCs (remember those?), and other harmful pollutants like methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere. Young children and the elderly are especially sensitive to these impacts. This affects natural gas processing plants owned by this company across the south, including in Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Texas.
- The EPA issued a proposed denial to an Alabama of Alabama’s permit program to manage coal combustion residuals after they identified deficiencies in ADEM’s permits with closure requirements for unlined surface impoundments, groundwater monitoring networks, and corrective action requirements. EPA discussed these issues with ADEM; however, the state agency has not revised its permits or supplemented its application to explain how such permits are as protective as the federal CCR requirements. Under the federal regulations, surface impoundments cannot be closed if, once closure is complete, the coal ash continues to be saturated by groundwater. Facilities must prevent groundwater from infiltrating and flowing out of the closed unit to prevent additional groundwater contamination.
- The U.S. Department of Labor announced today that its Mine Safety and Health Administration will extend the public comment period on proposed amendments to existing federal standards that protect the nation’s miners from health hazards related to workplace exposure of respirable crystalline silica, or silica dust through September 11. Get your comments in, in support of our country’s coal miners not dying of black lung.