OSHA fines firms who sent exploited foreign students to Hershey plant

PALMYRA, Pa. - Showing, once again, that a labor law-breaking company in one area is likely to also violate workers' rights in others, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration hit two firms that exploited foreign students at a Hershey candy plant in Palmyra, Pa., with job safety violations and fines totaling $288,000.

Following a six-month investigation, OSHA Director Dr. David Michaels fined Exel, Inc., an Ohio-based logistics contractor, $283,000 for violations at the Hershey plant it operates under contract with the firm in Palmyra.

It also fined the SHS Group, LP, a staffing firm that channeled the 400 foreign students - in the U.S. on special summer work-study visas - to the Palmyra plant. SHS was fined $5,000 for refusing to train the students on lockout/tagout procedures there.

Exel broke the law 42 times from 2008 through 2011, OSHA said, by refusing to record injuries on agency-required injury logs. Job safety hazards at Palmyra led to strains, sprains, abrasions, cuts, bruises, and other injuries. OSHA probers also found Exel illegally did not "develop and implement an effective hearing conservation program" for Palmyra workers, especially those in bagging areas.

"Nothing useful can be learned from an unrecorded injury,'' Michaels' statement said. "Accurate records provide critical information to employers and employees about the cause and prevention of work-related injuries. The law requires employers to maintain complete and accurate records because, without these, it is more difficult to prevent additional injuries and illnesses from occurring."

The initial exploitation of the students led OSHA to probe the plant. Conditions at Palmyra were so bad, and the students were so exploited, that they staged their own strike in August. The students drew support from Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) President Frank Hurt and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. BCTGM Local 484 represents regular workers at the Palmyra plant, but Exel used the foreign students to replace those employees.

"Hershey has caused their exploitation and profited by it," Hurt said then. "The students have been used by the Hershey Company and the Hershey Trust to avoid having to employ full-time, unionized workers." The students "deserve justice, and it is what our nation should be known for," he concluded then. Hurt had no immediate comment on OSHA's fines. Exel said it would appeal the fines.

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