Chicago, Il., March 25, 2003 — A temporary worker, badly injured while on the job at Chicago’s Azteca Foods plant, says the company put him in danger by requiring him to work without any training on unfamiliar and unsafe equipment.
Rodrigo Mina, speaking at a press conference on Tuesday (March 25th) at the United Electrical Workers (UE) Hall in Chicago, called for justice in his fight against Azteca and for justice on behalf of union members who have been on strike against the company since September 30th, 2002.
Mina told reporters he was working as a replacement worker on February 20th when he slipped and fell. His right arm was caught between two conveyor belts, he said, trapping him for ten minutes before someone could be found who knew how to turn off the equipment. His arm was badly crushed.
After three operations to rebuild his arm, doctors have said they don’t know if Mina will ever have use of it again, he said quietly. Mina was clearly in a great deal of pain as he made his way into the area of the UE Hall where the press conference was being held.
'PATTERN OF GLARING DISRESPECT'
As the result of an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Azteca was cited for leaving dangerous equipment exposed, a practice which led directly to this accident, said UE Field Organizer Leah Fried. Striking workers had previously complained about a lack of a guard on the conveyor belt with little reaction from Azteca bosses, she noted. Azteca was also cited for failing to provide safety training for Mina on the equipment he was assigned to use, said Freid.
Steve Frederick, director of the Chicago Area Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (CACOSH), blasted the Food manufacturer for its indifference to the health and safety of its workers.
Frederick argued Mina’s accident simply highlighted a "pattern of glaring disregard" by Azteca for its workers.
BLAME BELONGS TO AZTECA
"Training and lack of protective guards were issues in [previous OSHA] inspections," Frederick noted. "Now, OSHA has come back yet again to investigate Mr. Mina’s accident," he said. "Again they issued citations for lack of guards on the machinery and lack of proper training." Fredreck added that he was also "appalled" to hear from the union that the company attempted to blame Mina for the accident, citing "operator error."
The blame, he made clear, should be placed squarely on Azteca.
"Once again, a profitable company’s efforts to extract even more profit by squeezing its workers has directly led to a crippling injury," the CACOSH director said. "By bringing in temporary and inadequately trained workers to try to break the back of the union representing its employees, and by neglecting safety procedures, they have brought about the crippling of yet another worker" he said.
Mina appeared with his mother, his attorney Kenneth Lewis, CACOSH director Frederick, Jamie Daniel, Professor at UIC and a member of the Chicago Workers Rights Board, and Fried.
AZTECA UNMOVED IN MEDIATION
The press conference was called by UE Local 1159 which Azteca workers formed as their local union in a National Labor Relations Board election last May. They’ve been fighting for a first contract ever since and have been on strike against Azteca since September 30th, 2002. Bargaining began in May 2002. Two recent sessions have been held under federal mediation, but, so far, the company has refused to budge from its concessionary demands.
Azteca Foods, Chicago’s largest tortilla manufacturer with sales of up to $33 million, is demanding takeaways that include an effective pay cut, gutting seniority and overtime protection, and the right to fire a worker for having a union leaflet on company property. In response, UE has called a national consumer boycott of all Azteca Foods products.
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