“Too often nothing happens,” said John Podesta, Center for American Progress chair and founder, introducing the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Majority Committee report released on December 11th that details federal contractors’ repeat and serious occupational safety and wage violations. “Too often the government renews agreements with companies that have a long track record of putting their workers at risk while profiting from taxpayer dollars,” said Podesta in remarks at a Center for American Progress (CAP) event.
The report, commissioned by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), found that nearly 30 percent of the top federal wage and safety law violators are current federal contractors. The report also found that forty-two workers were killed on the job between 2007 and 2012 at companies that held federal contracts in 2012.
Workers die, contract dollars still roll in
Safety violations by companies receiving federal contracts include the death of a Cintas Corporation employee in Tulsa, Oklahoma who was killed after being swept into an industrial dryer in 2007. In 2011, another Cintas employee was killed after a dryer started up while he was servicing the machine in a Louisville, Kentucky facility. According to the Harkin HELP report, in fiscal 2012, Cintas received $3.4 million in federal contacts.
“We don’t want anyone hurt on the job, so we’re continually promoting the importance of safety among the 115,000 people we employ,” said Gary Mickelson, Tyson Foods public relations director via email. “If there’s an accident, we examine the causes, cooperate with federal safety officials and take steps to prevent it from happening again. In each of the incidents cited, we cooperated with government safety officials and took corrective measures,” wrote Mickelson. “ In fact,” he continued, “since fiscal 2008, we’ve experienced a 26 percent decrease in our total recordable safety incident rate.”
Cintas, another federal contractor with both safety and wage violations, did not respond to a request for comment. Butterball Turkey, which received $17.4 million in federal contracts despite $1 million in assessed OSHA violations in the past five years, said via Edelman PR that no one was available to respond.
Calling for stronger oversight
This is not the first time this problem has been investigated. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on the issue in 2010, and it was that report that prompted Senator Harkin’s investigation. Last year the organization Public Citizen also released a report on this ongoing problem – and revealed that a subcontractor hired by NASA that was found responsible for work-related fatalities at an Xcel Energy facility in Colorado and during work on the San Francisco Bay Bridge. An additional report from the Center for American Progress underscores the finding’s of Sen. Harkin’s HELP committee report.