Names in the News

Justice in Hamlet

EMMETT ROE, OWNER OF THE IMPERIAL Food Products Inc. chicken-processing plant in Hamlet, North Carolina, pled guilty in September to 25 counts of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 19 years in prison.

 A fire at the Imperial Food plant in September 1991 killed 25 workers and injured more than 50 others. The fire began when oil from a conveyer belt leaked onto a gas-fired chicken fryer. One hundred employees attempted to escape but found that many exit doors were barred. Roe had ordered that the doors be kept locked to prevent workers from stealing chicken parts and going outside for coffee breaks, and to keep insects from getting inside the plant.

 Roe is eligible for parole in less than three years. The plea agreement dismissed charges brought against the plant's managers, James Hair and Roe's son Brad. Roe faces at least 19 lawsuits filed by the families of the victims.

 "I have mixed emotions," says Dick Schultz, director of the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Project. "The penalty should have been more ... He'll be back on the streets in three years. The positive side is that 19 years is 19 years more than any other sentence for an employer in the state for workers' deaths."

 David Graham, assistant district attorney in Monroe, North Carolina, said that the charges against Brad Roe and James Hair were dropped because the investigation found that the Imperial Foods was run "as a dictatorship." Graham says that Roe "personally formulated the locked door policy," and insured that the policy was carried out by plant janitors.

 In the aftermath of the fire the state of North Carolina fined the plant $808,150 - the largest fine in the history of the state for workplace-safety-regulation violations. Since the accident, Roe has declared bankruptcy and closed all of his operations.


Death in the Mines

AMIDST A HEATED UNION STRIKE against Royal Oak Mines, nine Royal Oak miners were killed in an underground explosion in Canada's Northwest Territories in September. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) say the explosion was set off by a bomb and are treating the incident as a multiple homicide. Accusations concerning responsibility for the accident have aggravated tensions between the union and the company.

 Members of the Canadian Association of Smelter and Allied Workers (CASAW) Local 4 have been on strike at the site since May 22, 1992. Royal Oak Mines hired replacement workers to continue production in the mine. According to the union, six of the nine workers killed in the September 18 accident were union members who had crossed the picket line to return to work. The other three were replacement workers.

CASAW charges that the accident stemmed from unsafe conditions at the mine which sparked the strike. When the explosion occurred, the miners were about 220 yards underground, travelling to their work area in a small railway car. The union claims that the company was transporting explosives into the mine when the railcars derailed, causing the explosion.

 Royal Oak vigorously denies the union's charges. "Claiming that the men had explosives in the car is absolutely untrue," Manager of Investor Relations Graham Eacott says. "There is absolutely no doubt that [the explosion] was deliberately set off. It wasn't an accident. It has nothing to do with safety issues at all."

 "If this was an accident," Harry Seeton, president of Local 4, says, "the company would immediately shine the light away from itself - and ... on the union."

 The union distrusts the RCMP's ability to fairly determine the cause of the accident. The RCMP's chief investigator told CASAW that no one investigating the accident has any experience with underground accidents, according to Seeton. The union is calling for the Territories' government to conduct an independent inquiry into the cause of the explosion.


Pesticide Fraud

CRAVEN LABORATORIES, the company's president and three employees were indicted in late September by a federal grand jury in Austin, Texas on 20 felony counts in connection with pesticide residue tests submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

 Craven contracted with pesticide manufacturers to conduct residue tests on 43 pesticides to be submitted to the EPA under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act to enable the agency to set appropriate tolerance levels for the chemicals. The laboratory was charged with tampering with the concentrations of pesticide solutions being tested and manipulating controls on instruments to achieve the desired results on graphs. Consequently, pesticide manufacturers were defrauded of money they paid for the tests, and false information was submitted to EPA for use in setting tolerances and registering pesticides. Hugh Lowe, an attorney representing Craven, refused to comment on the indictment.

 Susan Cooper of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides says that the EPA inspection program has been consistently lax in attacking false data connected to laboratory testing. "The inspection program is a disaster," Cooper says.n