It’s Not Just In Washington

It seems as if the rule of law is under assault everywhere.

A recent story by Reveal, a nonprofit news organization, alleges that during the competition for Amazon’s second headquarters, the state made four safety citations against the company “go away.” (I find it illuminating–and incredibly depressing– that the Indianapolis Star simply published Reveal’s investigative report. It’s just one more bit of evidence that the Star itself no longer has the capacity to engage in investigative journalism or fulfill its watchdog role.)

When an Amazon worker was killed by a forklift in a Plainfield warehouse in 2017, the state of Indiana’s investigator found the company was at fault. The state cited Amazon for four major safety violations and fined it $28,000.

But an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found that, as Gov. Eric Holcomb sought to lure Amazon’s HQ2 to Indiana, state labor officials quietly absolved Amazon of responsibility. After Amazon appealed, they deleted every fine that had been levied and accepted the company’s argument — that the Amazon worker was to blame.

The investigator on the case, John Stallone, had arrived at the warehouse a day after 59-year-old Phillip Lee Terry was crushed to death. He was so troubled by the pushback he was getting from higher-ups that he secretly recorded his boss, Indiana OSHA Director Julie Alexander, as she counseled the company on how to lessen the fine.

“It’s like being at a card table and having a dealer teach you how to count cards,” Stallone said.

Stallone is quoted as saying that pressure to back off came from “as high up as the governor’s mansion.”

The governor has reacted angrily, sending Reveal and the Star an intimidating “cease and desist” letter, and insisting that he was not involved in handling the dispute. The officials at the labor department have thus far declined to be interviewed.

According to Reveal,

Indiana OSHA issued four serious safety citations, for a total fine of $28,000. Stallone sought more, but he was getting pushback. On Nov. 20, 2017, Stallone joined his boss, Julie Alexander, the Indiana OSHA director, as she called Amazon officials. He secretly recorded the conversation, which is legal in Indiana, and shared the recording with Reveal.

During the call, Alexander told the Amazon officials what she’d need from them in order to shift the blame from the company to “employee misconduct,” according to the recording….

Some days after the conference call with Amazon officials, Stallone said Indiana Labor Commissioner Rick Ruble pulled him into his office. The governor was there, too, standing by the commissioner’s desk, according to Stallone.

He recalled that Holcomb told him how much it would mean to Indiana if the state won the Amazon headquarters deal. Then, Stallone said, the commissioner told him to back off on the Amazon case — or resign.

Stallone did resign, and reported the situation to OSHA.

The same day Stallone sent his whistleblower email, Amazon’s corporate offices in Seattle gave a $1,000 campaign contribution to Indiana’s governor. It was years before Holcomb would next face reelection, and Amazon hasn’t donated to him before or since.

Perhaps–as the Governor and labor officials insist– Stallone is just making entirely innocuous actions seem nefarious, although it is difficult to imagine what his motive might be. Or perhaps, the prospect of winning Amazon’s headquarters–or at the very least, avoiding measures that might make the state less competitive–persuaded the Governor and other officials to make an exception to the rules.

These days, everywhere you look, exceptions are swallowing the rules.

 

 

23 thoughts on “It’s Not Just In Washington

  1. “It’s just one more bit of evidence that the Star itself no longer has the capacity to engage in investigative journalism or fulfill its watchdog role.”

    The comment above immediately struck me as another cover-up of wrongdoing by the Indianapolis Star. I also realized that, had Amazon selected Indianapolis to locate its headquarters here, the Star would benefit by all of the advertising it would gain from that corporation. How much of our tax dollars went into the preparation of the application package this city submitted to Amazon? I remember the applications (there were 2) for the Super Bowl was in the millions and the expected economic gain from having the one Super Bowl here didn’t materialize due to outlying areas getting the business expected/promised to the downtown area. The governor’s “cease and desist” letter was skimmed over in the news; I can’t speak to the Star because I canceled my subscription a year ago.

    As an aside; has Indianapolis recouped any of the millions it spent to lure Lucas Oil to build the stadium with a retractable roof in a city which has inclement weather at least 6 month out of the year?

    Moving back to Washington; I keep seeing reports that the White House is working with the Senate on the Impeachment Inquiry. All of you attorneys out there in Sheilaland; isn’t it a conflict of interest for the Senate to work WITH the accused prior to submission of the Articles of Impeachment?

  2. Is there a Congressional committee that investigates this sort of scandal? I understand that the Republicans in the Executive branch and the Senate would likely be a dead end, but might the HOUSE have a remedy of some sort? This seems awful. A poor man is killed at work and OUR government helps the company evade responsibility. This scares me more than a little.

  3. Of course the 1st way to get rid of any interference for nefarious activity, any Apolitical organization must be politicized! Without a doubt, companies usually genuinely despise OSHA. And usually OSHA has some teeth, they have the power of the purse to levy fines and OSHA’s findings can make companies spend a lot of money on safety improvements.

    Philip Lee Terry was obviously just considered a nuisance because he died! I don’t know the particulars of the case, but, suffice it to say, he was possibly crushed by one of the robotic workers at the fulfillment center. I’ve noticed, that it seems Amazon has separated, more emphatically, human employees from the robots. But because they shifted the blame to the deceased employee, that would make it almost impossible for the family to get a fair settlement, if they would get anything at all.

    Just another example of how we are taxed, we are used, we are just commodities, and when we are no longer useful, either in death or injury, you are disposed of for the next person in line trying to make a living. The rise corruption directly corresponds with the decline of the ‘muckrakers’ in the news media. The news media, whether folks realize it or not, served as our security guards. If we had valid complaints, we could bring it to the attention of our local radio, television, or print media, and they would take it up if they found it worthy enough. The media was the spotlight that would expose the cockroaches, when exposed to its light, they run and hide in the corners.

    Because of politicizing watchdog organizations, like the EPA, the FCC, the FEC, and others, politicians can grease the wheels for grift and graft. It’s becoming evident that the criminals are in charge, and somehow, there’s been a role reversal where the public is subservient to government. Again, we are just commodities to be used and discarded when no longer useful to the politicians. You can see why certain members of government want to completely dismantle the social safety net, because that would just leave more money to loot. If you’re a commodity, you are just used until you’re used up. There doesn’t need to be a safety net, after all, why would a commodity need a safety net?

    These corporations are making UN-godly amounts of money, and for the most part, they are not sharing it with their workers. But they are sharing it with stockholders and upper levels of management, as evident by all of the stock buybacks these corporations have been engaged in. Less stockholders in the public realm, more privately held stock to enrich themselves. The president just does his thing more overtly than others, and because of the magnitude of it all, the public has grown weary.

    What we have now, is Striking Observableness, where before, in the shadows, the nefarious activities were accomplished, now it is overtly practiced, these criminals do not fear repercussions. Public Beware!

  4. The Star has become toothless since it was bought by Gannett. I wonder how many, if any, investigative reporters still work there. I seem to recall seeing Mary Beth Schneider’s name recently, but not in the context of the Star. I believe she is working for a local paper somewhere in the state. The stories in the Star with her byline were always interesting to read.

  5. John Sorg; regarding OSHA having the “power of the purse”, they sometimes overreach their authority. Years ago my son worked for a construction company which used bulldozers, back hoes, all forms of big machinery. OSHA issued a citation for not have a horn on their bulldozer; they did have the required backup warning signal. A horn was added to the bulldozer and OSHA returned to check it out. My son Mark, who inherited much of his Chutzpah from his mother, turned on the bulldozer, revved it up and laid on the horn. He saw the investigator waving his arms and yelling so he shut down. The investigator said he couldn’t hear the horn with the bulldozer running; my son replied that they don’t sit on the dozer blowing the horn when it is not in use. Case closed!

  6. I really really hope that this Amazon story will stay in the news long and loud enough to wake up workers to demand that OSHA management in every state never again be allowed to sweep a single corporate safety violation under the rug.

    The victim did not have enough proper training to be qualified to conduct maintenance on a forklift. I am guessing here, but Amazon most likely doesn’t want to pay a high enough wage to inspire truly qualified people to apply for equipment maintenance jobs. Trained and knowledgable Maintenance workers are some of the most highly skilled people and typically are paid very well for their valuable expertise.

    Choosing to take a cheap shortcut and minimally train a current employee is yet another example of Amazon’s slave labor policies. To blame the deceased employee for Amazon’s safety violations is criminal. Governor Holcomb is absolutely guilty just for standing next to the desk of the State Labor official as he requested an OSHA to back off or resign. Holcomb essentially backed up that threat instead of chastising the Labor official for making a threat.

  7. Amazon Abuses Employees and the Environment – because it CNhttp://go.pardot.com/e/777373/nd-the-climate-because-it-can-/3dvpsb/10670723?h=sAeqN60xUvniBwdDvzltMvGF6jwUKrvzy4a-S7jHWLk

  8. I’ve posted this before, and I will put it out there again today.
    Any worker in the State of Indiana who thinks that the state government will have their back should they get injured on the job better think twice. When OSHA is restrained from doing their job you are no longer considered to be a “valued employee” by the big corporations or the state.
    As for Governor Holcomb and his entire administration, SHAME!

  9. It’s comical that our governor sends a “cease and desist” to the media. The politicians are so used to not being held accountable by a watchdog media, so when a media source does do its job with the help of a whistleblower, they freak out.

    Once again, this is the norm–not the exception in an Oligarchy. It’s why many intelligent people have declared us a Fascist country. Marx also predicted this once capitalism had run its course. The end stages of capitalism bring two choices: Fascism or Socialism.

    How do you all like Fascism?

    John Sorg writes, “Again, we are just commodities to be used and discarded when no longer useful to the politicians.”

    The political class works for the Oligarchs. Why do you think CEOs rank Indiana in the Top 5 states to do business?

    In this case, they even get the governor running interference over a worker killed in a warehouse. The only reason we know about this is due to a brave whistleblower. How many times has the governor or his department appointees looked the other way for corporations operating in Indiana?

    The rule of law only applies to us plebs.

  10. Hey JoAnn,

    There really can’t be much overreach when it comes to safety. There are reasons for everything. The horn issue is separate from backup warning lights or a backup beeping signal. In training, at local 150 operating engineers, they basically have train horns on the heavy equipment. The reason being, when backing up, lifting a load, turning, it’s hard to hear anyone yelling, so the operator is supposed to lay on the horn so workers on the ground are aware there’s piece of equipment on the move. This is also required on large trencher’s, and structural cranes. If you’ve ever seen a person run over by a bulldozer, you’d know why there are supposed to be extremely loud warning horns on them. There really should be no limit to safety. I trained with local 150 for several years as I have operated heavy equipment for Illinois Commonwealth Edison. (Retired) That includes the large trencher’s, backhoes, earthmovers, booms and bucket trucks. Half of my class are now dead because of accidents. Most of them were electrocution, some were falls, and others were equipment related. And I’m sure if your son ran someone over because they did not hear the equipment coming, or were not aware that there was moving equipment in their close proximity, he would be haunted for a long time by that. I’m surprised the OSHA inspector let that slide, I don’t know if Indiana is a right to work state, those states usually have less protections for workers. They also make it much more difficult to go after employers for negligence.

  11. Big business has all the cash and resources. “The blame” can always be shifted to the individual. This has been the mode for years now. If the individual wants to fight back, “see you in court.” Of course, the individual does not have the resources to defend himself.

  12. Pathetic. This story, as gruesome as it is, reflects back on state of labor during the 1920s and 30s. In this case, the Amazon worker’s life was only worth $28,000 much of which probably went to paying off some lawyer.

    Yes. I agree with Todd. This is an example of outright fascism. But then, since corporations have most of the money and “elected” officials come so cheaply, fascism is basically a slam dunk.

    Well done, voters. You must be so proud of yourselves for doing NO due diligence before you cast your ballot. Corporations can’t help themselves from being so cynical and having such little regard for the working class. They’re slaves to their own capitalism, i.e., stockholders. They literally don’t care who lives or dies as long as they continue to make profits.

  13. John Street,

    I just had a chance to read the article you posted a link to, thank you!

    I have to agree, if Mr. Terry was not trained on that particular forklift, that in itself is a problem. I don’t know what kind of training Mr. Terry had, but it doesn’t sound like he had had enough. Any time you’re working on any sort of boom, anything that can raise up by hydraulic or mechanical means, has to have that potential energy arrested. Usually by bracing, de-electrifying or valving off, any or all in combination. I would say that they would have to go by the inspector’s judgment on the issue. He obviously had training records, and he obviously did the site inspection. Also, he would’ve been aware of Specific instructions that were given to Mr. Terry by management. Personally myself, I would never get under a piece of equipment if it were not braced, don’t climb under a jacked up vehicle without jack stands in place. The same with a fork lift boom, or a boom truck, or a crane, or the blade of a dozer. Perfect safety measures cannot be designed imperfect people, it’s always best to look at all of the possibilities of a problem, threat to life or limb, and then use the spirit of a sound mind, better safe than sorry.

  14. When you think about a $28,000 fine for a persons death it is trivial. For Amazon who pays NO Federal Income tax, $28,000 is not even chump change. At the very least this employee should have been observed by a competent employee familiar with the work being done or a supervisor.

    You have to wonder knowing Indiana, if the Indiana OSHA is properly staffed and truly independent.

    Holcomb, simply proves with his cease and desist, he knows nothing about the Bill of Rights. Holcomb could have objected to his part in the story as it is alleged, it is a leap into Extremism to try to suppress the story altogether.

    Then again given our toothless local McMega-Media Holcomb must have been shocked, the story was printed at all.

  15. When this story first came out, the source was a little unorthodox, and it read like a he said, she said story. I just read the transcript of the NPR interview and now I am not so sure.

    I suspect that the truth of the story is somewhere in the middle. Maybe an overzealous OSHA manager trying to make “Indiana” look good.

    But without real in depth journalists with some good legal backing, the whole truth of the matter seems like it is going to remain hidden.

    I am sure Stallone is truthful in what he saw. I am not really sure the Governor was not involved. I think the best I can hope for at this point is that maybe the story itself will have raised enough of a stink that this will never happen again.

    Safety in the workplace should be #1. Everyone deserves to come home everyday.

  16. Todd,
    Once again you’ve hit the nail on the head!

    This reminds me of the days before unions and workers rights. People were dying by the gross in factories because the object was production and money, not human lives and safety.

    Speaking of commodities, absolutely, that is all we are. what’s the quickest way for a company to show a profit in a quarter? Cut payroll. And they cut it at the bottom, not the top. They also defund pension plans, eliminate employee benefits such as healthcare and vacation time. Screw the little guy at the bottom and stuff your pockets at the top. Back in the beginning of the nineteenth century, unions were a necessity. Unfortunately, the unions have lost their way. And now they’re going the way of the dinosaur. It’s too bad because the system was well-conceived for employees rights, it’s just greed and graft seeped in as it does everywhere else.

    Fascism? Sure! Modern slavery? Absolutely!

    Defund education, defund health Care, defund the social safety net, defund pension plans, keep them poor, stupid and needy, and they’ll be grateful to work for the crumbs swept off of the oligarchs table.

  17. When as a corporate officer you are graded solely on shareholder value, bottom lines and tax avoidance, it is not surprising that the human element (even death) is ignored. Workers Compensation acts were passed at the behest of the rich and corporate class in order to avoid tort suits which would greatly increase corporate exposure and, of course, corporations farm out even workers compensation liability to insurance companies, so there is no direct avenue to their coffers via tort suits. Unions are not only necessary to countervail wage inequality; they are also necessary to address dangerous working conditions. Right to work acts and statutory removal of rights by labor to seek tort relief should be matters of negotiation, not Republican legislators who seek campaign contributions from the rich and corporate class. Want to get good and mad? Fines and workers compensation premiums are deductible, thus making them a mere cost of doing business, and since the rich and corporate class add such costs into the price of their goods and services, you and I are subject to a double whammy, i.e., higher costs and no sharing of the tax load. Pitchforks, anybody?

  18. SCOTUS was wrong. Corporations have way more power than citizens do. They can afford to pay for elections. To match it the middle class would have to unite and agree on who to support and that would compromise democracy by having to decide before the election.

  19. Shutting down a large percentage of oversight of corporate behavior may distress us, but the small percentage of working oversight left over distresses corporate princes even more. Surely, they think, there is a way to eliminate ALL oversight.

    And there is.

    If only a corporation could become a sovereign country and have no entity exist that is superior (in the eyes of the law or of brutal strength) to the corporation; that would do the trick. Sound like science fiction?

    Consider: There is a strong, robustly supported rumor among international journalists that a few large corporations with armies, navies, air forces, and intelligence operations of their own intend to do just that.

    Eric Prince’s former company, Blackwater, now Xe Services LLC, Academi, and a few other military companies–Halliburton, G4S, FDG Corp, DynCorp, Aegis Defense Service, and Northbridge Services Group–are right now engaged in combat operations in Africa. One day they fight against an African state, another day against an African militia, then against an African resistance movement, then against a warlord; AND WORSE, sometimes they fight against NGOs, the United Nations, other companies, and EACH OTHER. The immediate result is chaos.

    However, the end game for all of them is to create a situation by which a corporation can take over a significant geographic area of west Africa. They prefer the area have a deep water port or a port that can be so improved. That would enable them to develop a “new Monte Carlo/Dubai” style city-state. When international respect is far enough developed, they hope to leverage other nations to recognize their “corpstate’s” sovereignty–make it legal.

    That then becomes the ultimate model all corporations of stature will covet for themselves. Their ambition is to become an entity recognized by international law and which contains no oversight of corporate activity, including that which they order their military to do.

    The idea of “citizen” and all that citizenship means will disappear. There will be the Corporate State, and presumably the closest thing to a citizen will be the shareholders; and then there will be us slaves/commodities, likely added in units (CCs–Conex Containers or RCs–Railroad Cars) to the commodities exchange, like corn or hog bellies.

    Never a need ever again to bribe or otherwise convince officials to enact or kill policy. Never a fine. Never a worker suit to settle. Never an obstacle to trashing the environment. Never an investment in anything outside that which produces profit. Heaven on earth.

    And that is the story that my next novel, “Trophy State” will tell. Of course, it will be an artist who exposes the insanity of the current reality. Already over 200 pages and headed for 400, “Trophy State” includes formal footnote references to disabuse readers of the belief that they are reading science fiction.

  20. Larry – thank you for the alert and the notice on your book. “Trophy State” sounds more benign than “Corporate State”.

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