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‘They Weren’t Thinking of Him as a Human Being’

Huffington Post (12/20/12) Jim Morris; Chip Mitchell

A narrative account of the accident that killed Carlos Centeno on Dec. 8, 2011—and a description of conditions inside the Raani Corp. plant in Bedford Park, IL—are included in a U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration memorandum obtained by the Center for Public Integrity. The OSHA memo, dated May 10, 2012, argues that safety breakdowns in the plant warrant criminal prosecution. On May 15, OSHA proposed a $473,000 fine against Raani for 14 alleged violations, six of which are classified as willful, indicating “plain indifference” toward employee safety and health. Centeno’s family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Raani and a workers’ compensation claim against the staffing firm that employed him, Ron’s Staffing Services Inc.

The American Staffing Association notes that using temporary or contract workers allows employers to staff up at their busiest times and downsize during lulls, and enables employees to have flexible hours and “provides a bridge to permanent employment.” However, a study published this year of nearly 4,000 amputations among workers in Illinois found that five of the 10 employers with the highest number of incidents were temporary firms. Another study, published in 2010, found that temporary workers in Washington State had higher injury rates than permanent workers, based on a review of workers’ compensation claims. Leone José Bicchieri, the executive director of the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, which advocates for temporary workers, says OSHA should target employers known to make heavy use of staffing agencies.

Stephen Dwyer, the American Staffing Association’s general counsel, cautions against an OSHA crackdown on temporary firms. “To the extent that efforts become heavy-handed, there can be a disincentive, then, to using temporary workers,” Dwyer says, to the detriment of the workers, client employers and “the overall economy.”