(TRACY, Calif.) – Workers at Taylor Farms in Tracy, Calif. were hospitalized yesterday after being told to return to work as a chemical spill took place inside the salad processing facility. When they complained about the overpowering fumes, a supervisor in charge instructed them to go back to work.
“As soon as I walked into work, there was a strong smell of chlorine,” said Guadalupe Leon, a worker at the facility. “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.”
The workers, who have long complained about improper safety training and chemicals used by the company, were exposed to fumes that led to nose-bleeding, vomiting and fainting. As workers started having serious symptoms, it was a worker – not a manager – who called for 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,” said Premativo Torres, who also works at the plant.
“Taylor Farms’ routine mistreatment of its workers in Tracy knows no bounds, and yesterday it nearly amounted to a death sentence for its employees,” said Ashley Alvarado, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 601 in Stockton, Calif. “What kind of company tells its employees to keep working amid a dangerous and potentially deadly hazard in the workplace?”
“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,” added Rome Aloise, President of Teamsters Joint Council 7 in San Francisco.
Workers and the Teamsters are calling for an immediate and full investigation of yesterday’s chemical spill incident; the termination of the responsible managers and supervisors; and several workers are considering legal action.
The Tracy Fire Department said yesterday’s incident was caused by the mixture of acetic acid and chlorine, two chemicals used by the sanitation crew inside the plant. Coworkers helped the injured out of the facility and called for paramedics after the supervisor present failed to do so. Among the 20 workers sent to the hospital, two were pregnant women, at least one of which experienced abdominal pains after breathing in the fumes.
Workers also report that several injured employees were instructed by the hospital upon discharge to stay home an additional day, but that those instructions were countermanded by the company’s doctor, who ordered a return to work the next day.
The incident that occurred on Thursday mirrors a similar emergency filed with CalOSHA in 2012 in which 20 workers at the same Taylor Farms facility were taken to the hospital for eye and breathing irritation after being exposed to the industrial cleaning chemicals.
Teamsters have been working with Taylor Farms workers in Tracy over the last two years in an effort to improve working conditions, wages, and win union representation. Efforts to improve worker safety include complaints filed with CalOSHA which addressed the issue of fumes from cleaning chemicals. Although CalOSHA issued serious citations after its investigation, problems remain.
“The company has failed these workers in Tracy. This accident could have been avoided. The gross neglect for these workers’ safety – even after numerous complaints – and the total lack of accountability is disturbing and shameful,” said Alvarado.
Taylor Farms is the world’s largest salad processor, supplying to major fast food, restaurant and grocery chains nationwide. Its 900 workers in Tracy have been attempting to organize a union with Teamsters Local 601 for the last two years, aspiring to the better working conditions and pay enjoyed by some 2,000 Taylor Farms workers in Salinas, Calif. who are represented by the Teamsters.
The National Labor Relations Board has made merit determinations that Taylor Farms is guilty of 57 unfair labor practice violations since workers began organizing with the union in Tracy.
Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Visit www.teamster.org for more information. Follow us on Twitter @Teamsters and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/teamsters.