Verizon Hit with Maximum Fines for 10 "Serious" and "Repeat" Violations of Safety Rules Totaling $140,700
Union Cites "Culture of Indifference" that Led to Death of 37-Year-Old Husband and Father of Four
NEW YORK — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced today that its investigation into the death of Verizon technician Douglas Lalima — who was electrocuted while working on a utility pole in Brooklyn last September — has resulted in 10 citations against Verizon and fines totaling $140,700 for serious and repeated failures by the company to abide by critical safety rules. The fines in the citation are the maximum penalties under the law for such egregious conduct.
According to OSHA's investigation, Verizon repeatedly failed to provide Lalima and other technicians with life-saving equipment, like equipment used to ground the cables they work with, failed to ensure that protective high voltage gloves and helmets are used during certain work operations, failed to inspect what equipment did exist, failed to provide proper training to technicians whose work brought them into proximity with high voltage lines, and even failed to list Lalima's death as a fatality in the required records. Many of the violations are repeat offenses for Verizon, whose poor safety record is among the issues that led 45,000 Verizon Workers to wage one of the largest strikes in the country in recent years last August.
Chris Shelton, Vice President of the Communications Workers of America District 1, said, "OSHA's fines and citation against Verizon confirm what thousands of technicians on the ground already know: Verizon's culture of indifference puts profits over workers' safety. There is no way to sugarcoat this: if Douglas Lalima had the proper equipment and training, he would still be alive today."
Lalima's death adds to a tragic roll of Verizon technicians killed or seriously injured on the job. In June 2002, Jarrod Lyons, a 28-year-old lineman, was electrocuted near Rome, NY. Lyons was performing work similar to Douglas Lalima's; OSHA also issued cited and fined Verizon in Lyons' death for similar safety violations. Other Verizon workers have been fatally electrocuted around the country in recent years, including in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maryland. Four of these deaths on the job occurred within a seven-month period in 2006 alone. In the past, Verizon negotiated away their OSHA fines, reaching settlement agreements they subsequently did not honor. CWA urges OSHA not to believe Verizon's false promises and grant a settlement of the fines and citations in this case. Verizon did not fulfill the terms of previous settlements and should not be trusted to honor the terms of another settlement.
Currently Verizon is attempting to use safety as an excuse to contract out more jobs to low-wage, low-benefit contractors. Although Verizon's safety practices are grossly inadequate, lower-trained, low-wage, non-union contractors' practices are not a solution for occupational safety problems — more contracting-out will only make matters worse. In January, a Verizon contractor working in West Haverstraw ruptured a gas line, causing the explosion of a townhouse and severely damaging several surrounding homes. CWA calls on Verizon to take safety seriously, not as a pretext to eliminate good, middle-class jobs.
Verizon workers pledged to honor Lalima's memory by stepping up the pressure on Verizon to get serious about workplace safety. CWA Local 1109 President Rolando Scott stated "What happened to Douglas could happen to any one of our members. Verizon has made clear at the workplace and at the bargaining table that it thinks we are expendable. But we will not give up until Verizon takes workplace safety seriously."
Verizon has 15 days to pay the fines and must quickly rectify its safety lapses, or appeal OSHA's findings.