The operator of a distribution center owned by the Hershey Co. in Palmyra, Pa., and its staffing provider were issued $288,000 in proposed penalties over workplace safety and health violations, the U.S. Department of Labor reported last week.
Workers at the warehouse included foreign students who had come to the United States on the J-1 visa program that is designed to promote inter-cultural exchange during their summer vacations. The workers repackaged Hershey candies at the distribution center. However, the students staged a walkout last summer over working conditions, and the Department of Labor conducted an inspection of the facility after a complaint was filed by the National Guestworker Alliance.
The operator of the warehouse, Exel Inc., faces proposed penalties of $283,000 for six willful violations, according to the Department of Labor. Those violations include failing to record injuries and illnesses on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration 300 log for four years, evaluate the accuracy of the 300 logs before certifying them for three years and implement an effective hearing conservation program.
Exel had a contract with SHS Staffing Solutions of Lemoyne, Pa., to provide the workers, according to the Department of Labor. SHS was cited with one violation for failing to provide training to employees on the lockout/tagout of energy sources.
Both Exel and SHS have 15 days from receipt of the citations to contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Lynn Anderson, a spokesperson for Exel, said this week the company intends to contest the citations and proposed penalties. “It’s important to remember that these alleged incidents cited by OSHA are specific to one area of one site,” Anderson says. In addition, the vast majority of the allegations involve record keeping, she says.
SHS did not return calls for comment.
The visas for the students were sponsored by the nonprofit Council for Education Travel – USA. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is investigating the organization and has filed suit against it after CETUSA withheld documents from investigators.
The National Guestworker Alliance lauded the citations against Exel and SHS.
“Corporations try to avoid responsibility for labor abuses by hiding behind chains of subcontractors, and by hiring guest workers who are vulnerable to threats of retaliation,” said Jennifer Rosenbaum, legal director, National Guestworker Alliance. “This time, it didn’t work: the student guest workers took the risk to organize and bring these abuses to light, and the Department of Labor held Exel and SHS accountable.”