Members of Carpenters Local 1912 in Phoenix, Arizona told the Industrial Commission of Arizona (ICA) that “enough is enough when it comes to short-cutting worker safety in the name of higher profits.”
More than 160 members of Local 1912 packed an ICA auditorium in Phoenix to demand that the commission end its practice of arbitrarily lowering workplace safety violation fines.
Union members also criticized the commission for its lax enforcement of wage theft violations.
“Workplace injuries and wage theft rob Arizona’s hard-working families struggling to get by, leaving them at the mercy of unscrupulous employers, undermining legitimate businesses, which results in the loss of thousands of man-hours and tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues to our State that could help to fund our schools, highways, and infrastructure and grow our economy,” said Fabian Sandez, president of Local 1912.
Union carpenters also want ICA Chairman Dale Schultz to resign.
ICA’s practice of lowering workplace safety fines came to light in December after an investigative report in the Arizona Daily Star found that the commission routinely lowered workplace safety fines when employers requested that they do so.
The reporters reviewed 139 workplace safety fines proposed by the Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH) between January 2016 and November 2016.
The reporters found that ICA, which has the authority to review and amend ADOSH fines, granted reductions or eliminated fines in half the cases. The fine reductions totaled more than $186,000.
The Star’s reporting led Peter Dooley of the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health, and others to ask the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to review ICA’s practices.
“When you reduce fines and downgrade violations again and again, you’re sending a message that workers’ lives are not valued,” said Dooley. “That’s not right for Arizona.”
After OSHA conducted its review of ICA’s practices, it concluded that ICA was reducing fines “in a seemingly arbitrary manner” and it “was operating outside its legal authority by reclassifying violations.”
OSHA notified ICA of its findings in May and required ICA to cease its arbitrary and illegal actions.
Under the leadership of Schultz, ICA has failed to provide OSHA with a plan for changing its employer-friendly practices.
Instead, Schultz has called the commission’s practice of working with employers to reduce fines an “innovative” approach to improving workplace safety.
As he was explaining his innovative approach to the 160 carpenters attending ICA’s September 21 meeting, Pete Rodriguez, a Local 1912 member stood up, interrupted Schultz.
He asked, “How many millions of dollars have been settled and pushed under the rug because it was politics over the lives of the blue-collar man?”
Moments later Rodriquez said to Schultz, “I stand here with the Arizona carpenters and ask for your resignation.”
At that point, union members stood up and walked out, emptying the auditorium where the meeting was being held.
Before they left, carpenters criticized the commission for not doing enough to stop wage theft and employer wage fraud.
Ensuring that employers comply with state laws concerning the payment of employees and reporting those payments is one of the responsibilities of ICA.
While addressing the commission during the meeting, Sandez said that all too often, construction contractors pay their workers in cash.
By paying in cash, contractors don’t need to keep payroll records that show whether they pay overtime earned by employees, make contributions to social security, or pay unemployment and workers compensation premiums.
In short paying in cash erases any paper trail that shows whether the employer commits wage theft.
“The black market for labor exploits desperate workers, creates the loss of tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues, and perpetuates criminal activity,” said Steve Pasko, a union member addressing the commission. “How are legitimate companies supposed to compete and bid for projects when (others) are allowed to operate with impunity, due to the lack of enforcement by this commission?”
Sandez faulted the commission for its failure to protect worker safety and its indifference toward wage theft crimes.
“In our industry, dishonest businesses commit on a continuing basis acts of wage theft, fraud, and willful safety violations, putting the physical safety and financial well-being of our state’s workers at risk,” said Sandez to the commissioners. “Yet this commission has chosen to side with lawbreakers by reducing fines, watering down violations, rather than taking the appropriate actions demanded by law.”