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.