Tucker Housewares' Arlington, Texas, plant is fighting almost $9,000 in penalties proposed by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which lately has been paying a lot of attention to the injection molder and its affiliated companies.
Tucker is a division of Zeta Consumer Products Corp. of Little Falls, N.J., a plastics film and bag maker. Zeta bought Tucker from Mobil Chemical Co. in 1996. Zeta in turn is owned by Sigma Plastics Group of Lyndhurst, N.J.
OSHA inspectors visited the Arlington plant July 29-31, and issued two citations on Sept. 3 — one alleging safety violations and the other for a health issue.
The Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees on Sept. 25 issued a news release about the OSHA action. UNITE won representation rights by a 93-34 vote in April 1997, but has not yet settled on a bargaining agreement with the company, Jennifer Petrela, a spokeswoman in UNITE's Washington office said.
UNITE's tenure at Tucker's Arlington plant has been rocky. The union accused Tucker of unfair labor practices in 1997, soon after workers voted in the union. UNITE accused Tucker of firing about 130 temporary workers when it switched employment agencies. Tucker officials said the switch in agencies was prompted by a billing dispute. The National Labor Relations Board sided with Tucker.
Supporting documents about the OSHA inspection provided by UNITE indicated ``original'' penalties totaled $10,500, which OSHA instantly reduced to a ``proposed'' penalty of $8,925. The OSHA documents went further in offering Tucker an informal settlement offer totalling $5,355 if the company agreed not to contest the citation and address the alleged violations by Sept. 23.
But the penalties are being contested by Tucker, and ``are heading to court,'' according to a spokeswoman at OSHA's regional office in Dallas. She said she could not give any further details.
The UNITE release said Tucker violated safety regulations regarding machine guarding, slippery floors and blocked exits, among others.
``It's been ongoing,'' Petrela said of Tucker's safety record. ``Health and safety isn't on their to-do list.''
Tucker plant manager Jim Jackowski said UNITE's to-do list includes damaging his company's reputation, and he ties the OSHA visits to the union's activities.
``We've been in negotiations with UNITE since April of last year, and they are a very difficult union to deal with,'' Jackowski said in an Oct. 1 telephone interview. ``The way they negotiate is to send press releases and pass fliers around at our customers' stores and financial institutions we do business with. It appears they are trying to make us lose customers.''
While union organizer Peter DeMay, who is UNITE's point man for the Arlington plant, said safety has been compromised since Zeta took over the Tucker operation, the company said conditions actually improved after Zeta came in.
``Since that time the number of `lost time' accidents has been reduced,'' Jim Hunter Birch, a lawyer for Tucker, said in a written statement.
Safety measures Zeta introduced cut worker compensation costs from $1,159 to $8 per employee, Birch wrote.
``This latest news release by UNITE is part of a larger effort to smear Tucker and Zeta in the eyes of consumers in order to gain a perceived advantage in its contract negotiations,'' he wrote. ``While Zeta is not perfect, it does strive to continually improve its operations.''
Birch wrote that Tucker is contesting OSHA's allegations, and corrected situations brought up by the inspection ``where there was any possibility of risk to any employee.''
Tucker, which also operates plants in Kingman, Ariz., and Leominster, Mass., has a history with OSHA dating back to before Zeta's involvement.
Two workers died of job-related injuries at the Kingman plant — both before Zeta bought the company — according to OSHA records. Overall, Tucker has paid $6,655 in OSHA fines, according to OSHA's online database. OSHA warns that its database may not be completely accurate, and that penalties in open cases can change.
Zeta also has undergone OSHA inspections recently.
OSHA penalized Zeta's Port Murray, N.J., plant $14,120 for safety violations in 1996 and 1997, according to OSHA's online database. One of those cases, involving a $10,000 fine, is still open and subject to change.
UNITE also represents workers at Zeta's Macomb, Ill., plant, where OSHA inspectors have been called in at least twice since the union election in 1997. One inspection netted no penalties, while the other cost the company $1,312.50
Omega Plastics Corp., a Lyndhurst, N.J.-based retail bag maker and part of Sigma Plastics Group, was hit with a $596,000 OSHA penalty in 1995, the highest of any plastics processor in OSHA's history.