Taylor Farms workers rallied outside the company’s Tracy facility on November 5 along with more than 100 community leaders and allies to call for workplace safety improvements and accountability after an Oct. 15 incident sent 20 workers to the hospital. Carrying signs that read “Taylor Farms: Respect Workers’ Safety,” workers and community supporters condemned the salad processing company’s serious and ongoing disregard for the safety of workers–and called on them to meet a series of worker demands for safer working conditions.
“I was one of the workers who went to the hospital last month because I was sick from the chemical spill,” said Mireya Nesta, a production worker at the facility. “Taylor Farms needs to start caring about worker safety because, if they don’t, these accidents will continue to happen. Will it take a worker dying to get the point across to Taylor Farms?”
On Oct. 15, workers were hospitalized after the company failed to evacuate the Tracy facility amid a chemical spill. The release of chlorine dioxide, used in the sanitation of equipment, created debilitating fumes. But when workers complained, they were given dust masks and told to keep working.
An employee called 911 after workers started to suffer nose-bleeds, dizziness, vomiting and fainting. Among the 20 workers taken away in ambulances, two were pregnant women. Workers say a manager initially urged workers to keep the spill a secret and even sought to blame the incident on workers.
The Teamsters filed a complaint with Cal/OSHA on behalf of the workers, calling for an investigation into the Oct. 15 incident, which is now under way. But this isn’t the first time the company has been cited for safety violations. A similar incident involving a chemical spill occurred at the same plant in 2012, which also led to the hospitalization of 20 workers. In the last year alone, Taylor Farms and its two permatemp agencies in Tracy have been cited by Cal/OSHA for nearly 50 separate health and safety violations.
Wearing dust masks and holding banners, workers at Thursday’s rally said they are standing up to make sure the company meets their demands, which include: the termination of supervisors and managers responsible for not evacuating the plant on Oct. 15; full cooperation with the ongoing OSHA investigation; development of and training on an evacuation plan in the event of a spill; an end to retaliation and blaming of victims for the spill; and the installation of a monitor to alert workers when chlorine dioxide levels pose a health risk.
Workers are also demanding humane treatment of injured workers, including: physical exams by doctors of their own choosing instead of the company doctor; time off as needed; full pay for any loss of work due to the chemical spill; and continued medical attention for workers who need it. A petition with these demands from community leaders was also submitted to Taylor Farms.
“The most recent incident at Taylor Farms is a symptom of a much larger problem at this company,” said Joint Council 7 President Rome Aloise, who spoke at the rally. “Workers have long raised issues about unsafe working conditions in Tracy. Taylor Farms’ response has been to spend huge sums of money to deny workers a voice when it comes to their own safety and health on the job. Accidents do happen, but you never see this kind of neglect for workers’ safety in Salinas where Taylor Farms workers have Teamster representation.”
Other speakers at the rally included Luis Magana of the American Friends Service Committee, Adam Ochoa, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 948, Tim Robertson from the California Labor Federation, and Jessica Caberra of the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance. Taylor Farms, the world’s largest salad processor, supplies major fast food, restaurant and grocery chains nationwide. Its 900 workers in Tracy have been attempting to organize with Teamsters Local 601 for the last two years. The National Labor Relations Board has determined that Taylor Farms is guilty of 57 unfair labor practice violations since workers began organizing with the union.