As I reported a few weeks ago in the Portland Phoenix, the infamous egg magnate Austin "Jack" DeCoster has some friends in the Maine state legislature, which has been considering a law to help out his companies. That initiative may get voted on as early as today.
I have a magazine piece about all this in the forthcoming issue of Down East, but readers won't see that until after the legislature votes on L.D. 1207, an act that will free Mr. DeCoster's companies from the worry that their workers might one day unionize. The Down East article sheds light on the question many have about Mr. DeCoster: how does he keep getting away with it? [Update: 5/24/2011: the Down East story is now online.] But there are a couple timely details to report straightaway.
First, when members of the legislature's Labor Committee met to consider the bill, they received a remarkable amount of erroneous testimony. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Dale Crafts (R-Lisbon), a labor attorney hired by the company to "investigate" its own record, and two company officials told the legislators that the company had had a clean record in Maine for ten to fifteen years, and suggested, stated, or implied that no significant problems had been turned up by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (or OSHA).
A few minutes on Google reveals this not to be the case. In reality, DeCoster's Maine operations have been fined by OSHA multiple times over the past decade for serious and repeat violations of workplace safety and other issues. These include $344,210 in June 2002 for a range of serious workplace safety infractions; $108,500 in August 2004 for "willful, repeat and/or serious violations"; and $150,000 in August 2008 for a "disregard for basic, commonsense safety procedures and employee protections [that] is as astonishing as it is unacceptable."
This, of course, leaves aside far more serious transgressions by Mr. DeCoster's companies in other states, including responsibility for a salmonella outbreak that sickened over 1900 people and triggered the recall of more than half a billion eggs. It also ignores fines for animal cruelty and law suits by neighbors over the past decade here in Maine.
I gather that it's not illegal to give false testimony before the legislature, which means legislators ought to spend a few minutes on the Internet checking out what they've been told.
[Update, 5/23/2011: As a result of this report, Sen. Rector says he is withdrawing his support for the bill.]
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