E-Alerts & Press Releases

Workers sue asbestos staffing agency for failing to pay for workplace safety protections

October 24, 2012: “It’s incredible; I have been forced to pay hundreds of dollars to make sure I don’t get sick from performing my job.” At a press conference on October 24, asbestos worker Marvin Blandon urged other current and former employees of staffing agency WMS Solutions to join a lawsuit alleging workplace safety, minimum wage, and overtime violations. Filed by the Public Justice Center and Washington, DC-based Murphy Anderson PLLC, the class action lawsuit seeks to recover the wages that the company allegedly withheld to pay for asbestos workers’ training, medical exams, and protective equipment costs, and to recover funds when WMS required its employees to pay for these same costs out of their own pockets. The plaintiffs are also demanding that WMS pay its employees all minimum and overtime wages due to them for their work attending mandatory trainings. 

Blandon is one of three named plaintiffs who are suing on behalf of themselves and hundreds of similarly-situated employees. At this time, already more than 35 current and former WMS employees have filed consents to “opt in” to the lawsuit. News of the court filing was publicized in multiple television and newspaper outlets. See
 
 
 
The lawsuit follows a PJC complaint to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) that has resulted in citations and fines for WMS and its client , Potomac Abatement. In March 2012, the PJC’s Workplace Justice Project filed a complaint with OSHA on behalf of all current and former employees hired through WMS Solutions. Among the main allegations was that WMS was forcing its employees to pay for their asbestos abatement training, special medical exams and protective equipment in violation of the law. 
 
In April 2012, OSHA initiated an inspection of a demolition and asbestos abatement project at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC, which was operated by a Maryland subcontractor, Potomac Abatement, Inc. and staffed by WMS employees. OSHA regulations allow for an employee or an employee representative to accompany the OSHA investigators on the inspection. Historically, only labor unions representing a bargaining unit have been recognized as authorized employee representatives. However, the Workplace Justice Project successfully presented policy-based arguments to OSHA officials for why the regulations should be liberally interpreted to allow the PJC to be recognized as the employee representative for purposes of the inspection and employee interviews. From April to August of 2012, PJC attorney Alexandra Rosenblatt represented about a dozen employees during their interviews with OSHA.
 
On September 14, 2012, OSHA concluded its investigation and issued citations for WMS and its client, Potomac Abatement. Potomac Abatement was issued four citations for failing to properly provide full-face respirators for workers removing asbestos, failing to ensure that asbestos workers’ respirators were properly cleaned and disinfected, and for failing to conduct daily air monitoring tests and exposure assessments. Potomac Abatement will have to pay more than $4,700 in fines for its violations. WMS, the primary target in the complaint, was cited for all three major violations stated in the complaint—failing to provide, at no cost to employees, asbestos abatement training, medical exams, and protective equipment— totaling $21,000 in penalties. WMS has filed a formal notice of contest.
 


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