OSHA cites La. company for safety and wage violations

Michael P. Tremoglie Jul. 26, 2012, 5:51am

BATON ROUGE, La. (Legal Newsline) - C.J.'s Seafood in Breaux Bridge, La., has been cited with 11 serious safety violations for exposing workers to blocked exit, fire, electrical and chemical hazards by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor also says the company did not pay minimum wage and overtime compensation to 73 workers as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

"It is imperative that employers comply with applicable laws that protect the health and safety of their workers," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

"Every worker deserves to go home safe at the end of a workday, and the employees at C.J.'s Seafood are entitled to nothing less."

OSHA's Baton Rouge Area Office investigated the company's Breaux Bridge facility where employees peel and boil seafood. Among the serious violations cited were lack of fire extinguishers, exit signs or emergency eyewash stations. Electrical breakers were not labeled, electrical outlets were not covered, an exit was blocked and temporary wiring was being used instead of permanent wiring were other violations. Finally, the employer did not have a written hazard communications program and did not make material safety data sheets available informing employees of workplace hazards, OSHA says.

An other-than-serious violation involves failing to maintain the OSHA 300 log. This is for recording employee injuries and illnesses.

C.J.'s Seafood has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's Baton Rouge area director or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

An investigation by the Wage and Hour Division's New Orleans office found violations of minimum wage, overtime compensation and record-keeping requirements by paying "straight time" instead of the required overtime rate for hours beyond 40 in a workweek.

It also alleges that illegal deductions were made from employees' wages for items required by their jobs, such as gloves, hairnets and aprons. The company is also alleged to have violated H-2B provisions by misrepresenting its temporary need for foreign workers, including the dates of need and number of workers needed, and also by failing to pay the required wage rate.

"This employer took illegal advantage of the H-2B program, which put it in a position to undercut its competition that plays by the rules," said Nancy Leppink, deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division.

"American workers seeking jobs should not be compelled to accept substandard wages and working conditions due to employers' abuse of temporary foreign worker visa programs."

A total of $76,608 is due to the 73 workers, and the company is liable for an additional $70,014 in liquidated damages. The division also has assessed $32,120 in civil money penalties under the FLSA for willful violations of the employer's obligation to pay overtime and $35,000 in civil money penalties for willful violations of the H-2B program.

C.J.'s Seafood has refused to pay the full amount of back wages that the division found due, and the liquidated damages and civil money penalties.

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