'Dirty Dozen' List Details 12 Most Egregious Employers of 2020

April 23, 2020
National COSH focuses on organizations and companies advocating against illness prevention.

The COVID-19 global health crisis has provoked workers to become more vocal regarding paid sick leave policies and to demand better illness prevention programs.

As a result, this year's "Dirty Dozen" list is a special edition largely focused on companies and organizations that allegedly are failing at preventing its employees from exposure to the novel coronavirus. The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) releases the report each year in conjunction with Workers' Memorial Week, which takes place the last week of April.

 "The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed gaping flaws in the U.S. social and workplace safety net, which make it harder to bring the disease under control," National COSH states. "More than 27 million Americans have no health insurance, 33.6 million have no paid sick leave and more than 21 million work insecure jobs in the gig economy."

The process of arriving at the 12 companies each year, which is fully explained in the report, begins with soliciting details from health and safety activists associated with the advocacy group. Judgment is based on the severity of injuries, exposure to "unnecessary and preventable" risk, repeat violations and any actions from employees that work to improve on-the-job conditions.  

Jessica Martinez and Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, National COSH co-executive directors, further explained the methodology for selection in a 2019 EHS Today article, "Direct worker testimony about actual working conditions is the most important source of reliable information for the professional safety and health community. Taking these concerns seriously will save lives."

Goldstein-Gelb explains in her 2020 address: “Worker health is public health. The coronavirus and other hazards don’t stay put in any one workplace.”

Disproportionate Numbers

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics has shown an 8.9% rise in preventable deaths from sudden workplace trauma from 2014 to 2018. Fatalities increased to 5,250 in 2018 from 4,821 in 2014. 

Employees of color particularly at risk. The same five-year period shows a 19.5% increase in deaths among Latinx workers and 29.5% for African-American workers, according to the report.

"This country’s institutional discrimination has had a huge impact on who lives and who dies before this pandemic," Goldstein-Gelb says.

Despite the rise in worker fatalities, National COSH points out a 10.5% decrease in enforcement activity by OSHA between 2014 and 2018. With 9 million workplaces and just 875 agency inspectors, it would take 165 years for the federal agency to inspect each employer.

The current pandemic has overwhelmed the agency with complaints from workers concerned about exposure to the virus. In response, OSHA has released enforcement guidance about how to prioritize the complaints based on risk levels.

Dishonorable Mentions

Four companies made National COSH's "Dishonorable Mention" list. The advocacy group specifically mentioned each of these employers' and their lack of protection for workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amazon, who made the "Dirty Dozen" list in both 2018 and 2019, continues to make headlines for its alleged disregard for worker safety, most notably for terminating a New York warehouse worker who staged a walkout to protest unsafe conditions.

National COSH also called out Montefiore Hospital in New York City following a report in The Wall Street Journal. The hospital system has "stumbled in creating protocols" to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to its nurses, doctors and staff who are handling hundreds of infected patients.

Over in Sioux Falls, SD, meat-processing conglomerate Smithfield Foods has more than 700 confirmed cases of COVID-19, making it a hot spot. Following the death of 64-year-old Augustín Rodriguez on April 14, the company indefinitely shut down the plant in question.

Poultry processor Tyson Foods rounded out the Dishonorable Mentions for its poor response to the coronavirus. Three workers have died at the company's Camilla, Ga. plant.

Goldstein-Gelb says of the recipients of a "Dirty Dozen" designation: "What these companies have in common is that despite their wealth, they continually put workers in harm's way."

The 2020 list is comprised of a broad range of industries from food processing to restaurants to construction. Discover and read more about the "Dirty Dozen" in the slideshow. 

About the Author

Stefanie Valentic

Stefanie Valentic was formerly managing editor of EHS Today, and is currently editorial director of Waste360.

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