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At Worker's Memorial Day, Jobs to Move America praises OSHA for sanctions on train-builder

Posted by: Gordon on 4/28/2015
Rev. Bigsby at JMA Action
A new coalition of groups promoting access to jobs thanked OSHA for fining a railcar manufacturer that has mistreated workers at an action in Chicago on Worker's Memorial Day, April 28

In observance of Workers Memorial Day on Tuesday, April 28, the Illinois Jobs to Move America coalition – including Gamaliel of Metro Chicago and dozens of Illinois community, faith, environmental and labor groups – thanked the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for citing railcar manufacturer Nippon Sharyo for 11 violations, after workers raised concerns about hazards inside its factory in Rochelle, Illinois. OSHA levied $34,500 fines on Nippon Sharyo for one serious health violation, six serious safety violations, and four other safety violations, in the last recent weeks.
 
The serious health violation was levied because Nippon Sharyo “failed to put into place welding shields/screens to protect workers...from health hazards such as arc eye and welder’s flash.” The serious safety violations were for various issues related to rickety planks used as scaffolding, and lack of fall-protection for workers working on top of railcars.

One part of the citation reads, “Employees were exposed to fall hazards up to 17 feet while walking on plywood boards that were not scaffold grade or intended for the use.” Another citation reads, “Employees were exposed to fall hazards up to 17 feet when walking and standing on plywood boards that were temporarily placed on the railcar’s roof.” Another citation reads, “employees… did not receive training in the use of personal fall arrest systems.”
 
“Nippon Sharyo’s flagrant neglect of the health and safety of its workers is unconscionable. They need to take immediate action to make this factory safe for its workforce, and stop disciplining or dismissing workers who speak up,” said Jorge Ramirez, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL). “With Nippon Sharyo receiving millions of dollars in grants, tax credits and training money from our state to open the Rochelle factory, we would expect a higher degree of safety precautions for Illinois workers. The people of Illinois, as well as our governor, should be outraged over Nippon Sharyo’s irresponsible actions.”

Nippon Sharyo is a major corporation in the global railcar manufacturing industry that contracts with cities and their public transportation agencies to build passenger rail system equipment. Nippon Sharyo employs about 600 workers in its railcar assembly plant in Rochelle.
 
Nippon Sharyo has been awarded $1.3 billion worth of contracts with U.S. public transit agencies, including Metra, in the past six years[1]. The Metra contract totals $585 million for 160 Metra Electric railcars, purchased when bond funds became available in 2010.  Illinois state representatives flagged concern over OSHA issues at Nippon Sharyo with Metra, in a House Committee on Appropriations for Public Safety hearing on April 15, 2015.
 
Nippon Sharyo also received $4.7 million in grants, tax credits and training money from the State of Illinois to open the Rochelle factory.[2]
 
The violations are a victory for Nippon Sharyo workers who bravely came forth on October 22, 2014, to file an OSHA complaint, detailing broken and unsafe scaffolding, catwalks, ladders and planks; lack of fall protection around railcars; worker falls and injuries; poor ventilation around toxic and flammable chemicals; and inadequate protective equipment for welders and other workers. OSHA previously gave Nippon Sharyo a serious violation in March 2014 for failing to provide proper ventilation for workers using an extremely flammable chemical.
 
"Nippon Sharyo’s disregard for the safety and well-being of its workforce is shocking. No worker should have to balance on rickety plywood planks when they’re two stories up. Thankfully, OSHA has cited Nippon Sharyo, vindicating workers’ concerns about dangerous conditions in the plant,” said Susan Hurley, Executive Director of Chicago Jobs with Justice, which has supported the efforts of Nippon Sharyo workers to win safety improvements. 
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Members of the Illinois Jobs to Move America coalition have raised alarm over unsafe conditions in the Nippon Sharyo factory in the past. Nippon Sharyo Chief Executive Officer Akira Koyasu has not responded to more than 15 letters of concern from community and labor groups demanding answers of the alleged dangers inside the factory. The company also denied entry to community leaders who organized a caravan to the Rochelle plant and requested a meeting with the plant manager on March 9.
 
Other community organizations who have expressed concern over Nippon’s unsafe conditions include the Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Alliance for American Manufacturing, International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART – Transportation Division), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), United Auto Workers Region 4, the AFL-CIO, the Chicago & Cook County Building & Construction Trades Council, Communication Workers of America, and Teamsters Local 777.
 
The Jobs to Move America coalition unites community, labor, civil rights, academic, philanthropic, and environmental organizations advocating for cities to make our transit dollars go the distance – to build better, cleaner public transit systems, to create and retain good manufacturing jobs, and to generate opportunities for unemployed Americans like veterans and residents of low-income neighborhoods. Every year, United States transit agencies spend about $5.4 billion on bus and rail car purchases.
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