STAND exposes retaliation, sparks OSHA investigation – Times-Picayune – 3/27/14

OSHA investigating working conditions at Iberville redevelopment site

New Orleans Times-Picayune

March 27, 2014

STAND_Iberville_350Labor-safety officials are investigating the working conditions at the site of a $589 million public housing overhaul.

A local advocacy group said that a subcontractor has retaliated against the employees who lodged the complaint, which accuses it of failing to protect them from mold, lead and asbestos contamination. Durr Heavy Construction, the general contractor in charge of the project to redevelop the old Iberville housing development, bares ultimate responsibility for protecting the workers and preventing retaliation, according to the advocacy group.

Durr denied the allegations and said it is cooperating with the investigation. OSHA hasn’t issued a final report, but investigators have not notified Durr of any violations to date, according to a statement issued by the company.

Earlier this month, construction workers Patrick Delaney and Reginald Junior joined a protest against Durr and its subcontractors, accusing them of substandard work conditions and low pay. Aided by Stand With Dignity, the community organizing group that organized the protest, they also filed a complaint to OSHA’s office in Baton Rouge.

OSHA followed up on March 20 with an on-site investigation.

In a “whistle-blower complaint” to OSHA dated March 25, Stand said that Delaney has since been subjected to threats and reprimands. A supervisor with Abatement Construction & Services Contractor, the subcontractor that Delaney works for, went so far as to threaten his life, according to the complaint.

ACSC, based in New Orleans, has not returned a message requesting comment on the allegations.

“We will continue to work with OSHA and our (subcontractors) throughout this process and will promptly address any factual issues. We have relayed to members of Stand With Dignity that we would be willing to discuss their alleged issues once the OSHA inspection is finalized; however, we would not entertain any further false or defamatory allegations from their membership,” Durr executive Dana Stumpf said in a prepared statement. | The Times-Picayune has requested comment from the federal Department of Labor, OSHA’s parent agency, regarding the allegations, but the department has not issued a response.

The Housing Authority of New Orleans, in partnership with the city, is undertaking a $589 million effort to transform the old Iberville development, which sits on the edge of the French Quarter and the Central Business District. The historic 858-unit complex had become a blighted crime magnet and was eventually targeted for the overhaul, which will see most of its housing tenements destroyed and replaced with newer buildings designed to attract mixed-income families.

Delaney, who works in asbestos abatement, said that ACSC and Durr have failed to provide basic equipment and decontamination equipment.

A HANO spokeswoman said that the organization expects its developer and contractors to cooperate with the OSHA investigation and immediately address any workplace deficiencies.

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