NEWS from the Steelworkers
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 7, 2000
Federal Investigation Cites Inadequate Training and 'Negligence' in Gramercy
GRAMERCY, LA, January 7, 2000 - The United Steelworkers of America today
welcomed the citations issued by the federal Mine Safety and Health
Administration against Kaiser Aluminum (NYSE:KLU). "We're very pleased to
see them," said Stanley Folse, safety and health chairman for USWA Local
Union 5702. "MSHA's citations prove what we've said all along. Kaiser ran
this plant in a dangerous and irresponsible way, with badly trained
replacement workers, after locking out its experienced workforce."
The citations arose from MSHA's investigation of the July 5, 1999 explosion
that destroyed much of the plant, causing numerous injuries. The company
was charged with twenty-one serious violations of mandatory safety standards
and other regulations. Thirteen of those were "unwarrantable," the most
severe kind of citation the agency can issue. Violations included
inoperative pressure relief systems, blocked pressure relief piping, routine
operation of pressure vessels beyond their design capacity, inadequate
safety training, and lack of proper protective equipment. MSHA said that
these violations constituted "more than ordinary negligence."
In addition, Kaiser was charged with seven counts of impeding or interfering
with MSHA's investigation, ignoring MSHA orders not to enter areas rendered
hazardous by the explosion, and wrongly claiming that data requested by MSHA
did not exist.
MSHA's proposed penalties will be released later, as will the agency's
investigation report on the July 5 explosion. Some of the violations could
also be referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.
USWA members at Kaiser went on strike September 30, 1998. They subsequently
offered to return to work while continuing to negotiate, but the company
refused. The workers have been locked out since January 14, 1999.
Supervisors and replacement workers were operating the plant at the time of
"Kaiser deserves the most severe penalties allowed by law," said David
Foster, director of the USWA's district 11 and chair of the union's Kaiser
negotiating committee. "But in the long run we want this plant to reopen
with a skilled workforce of steelworkers under a fair contract. It's time
for Kaiser to end their lockout, bargain with us in good faith, and work
with us to make Gramercy a safe place to work."
Stanley Folse, Sam Thomas, USWA Local 5702 225-869-3273
Harry Tuggle, USWA Safety Specialist 412-562-2587
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