Sunday, December 22, 2013

Bacardi and Temp Workers: A Sad and Tragic Mix

Editor's Note: This story really touched my soul. When we hear our political leaders referring to those who are "lazy" and "gaming the system" --- or abandoning their responsibilities, or not taking personal responsibly for their own lives --- along comes this tragic story of a young man (and a loving son and brother) who had tried to better himself and do the right thing, but only to be heartlessly punished by corporate greed. Here is the sad and moving tale of Day Davis.

Bacardi Limited is the largest privately held, family-owned spirits company in the world. In 2010 they relocated their American headquarters to 2701 LeJeune Road in Coral Gables, Florida (pictured below).

Bacardi headquarters Coral Gables Florida USA

Edward "Ed" D. Shirley was made Bacardi's President and CEO in March of 2012. Privately held companies like Bacardi do not have to legally disclose their CEO's pay packages, but as a former executive at Procter & Gamble and Gillette, one can assume that Shirley's paycheck must be substantial. In an interview last year he said:

"I like the fact that Bacardi is privately held, because it gives the team the opportunity to take the right decisions...being privately held allows us to take a much longer view in terms of strategic choices."

The world famous rum maker had been hiring temp workers for dangerous jobs without adequate training...and now one young man has since died as a result.

Since the 2008 recession, companies like Bacardi have increasingly turned to temporary employees to work in factories, warehouses and at construction sites. In general, the temp industry is now America's largest employer, which now employs a record 2.8 million workers --- more than the federal government and Walmart.

And because these workers are "temps" (without as much experience and training as regular full-time employees), they face a significantly greater risk of getting injured on the job (more so than permanent employees).

A study found that temp workers had twice the injury rate of regular workers doing the same type of work. Within blue-collar industries, temps tend to be manual laborers, who have much higher injury rates than do supervisors and skilled technicians (who have much lower injury rates). And over the past five years the data shows the problem is worsening.

After a Bacardi temp employee died on the job on August 16, 2012, OSHA investigators had later said that Bacardi put profits over safety, trained its workers to cut corners and treated its temps as “second-class citizens” and “peons” --- a portrait that Bacardi, like most major corporations, had naturally disputed.

Bacardi bottler Jacksonville Florida USA

My name was Day

The Bacardi employee's name was Day. He was born Lawrence Daquan Davis, but everyone who knew him called him "Day". His mother gave birth to him in Smithfield, N.C., then later moved to Jacksonville, Florida. She struggled to make ends meet, working at daycare centers, dollar retail stores, fast-food restaurants and supermarkets. But she and her family worked hard to raise Day Davis right.

His mother said, “You see all these little boys walking around with the sagging pants and gold in their mouths. I have to pat myself on the back, because that wasn’t my baby.”

Davis graduated from the Fort Stewart Youth Challenge Academy, a military-style school in Georgia. He then enrolled in Job Corps, a federal training program for low-income youth, where he studied to be a medical assistant.

It was there that he met his girlfriend, Alicia, an Atlanta, Georgia student. A mutual friend had said, “Day was Alicia’s Prince Charming. I've never seen them apart. One day, you looked up and they were together like they’ve been together forever.”

Davis obsessed over video games such as “Call of Duty” and “Dragon Ball Z” and lived his life on social media. On his birthday, he posted a message on Facebook, thanking his mother for giving birth to him. He was also a playful older brother to his sister.

Then one day his girlfriend (Alicia) felt sick and went to the doctor. She was pregnant. According to those who knew him, Davis was a head-over-heels father-to-be. He would surprise his then-fiancée in her class with pickles and cheese fries.

“We were going to get a house together,” Alicia said. “He wanted to do the whole Army thing. We were going to have two children.”

She was eight months pregnant when she woke up one morning and felt that something wasn’t quite right. Doctors ran some tests, but the baby had no heartbeat. Davis held her hand as they waited for her to deliver the stillborn baby girl. They named her A’lisa Kaniya Davis, and then they buried her 11 days later. Davis' sister had said, “None of the funerals we’d ever been to had he ever cried that hard before.”

His baby daughter's death seemed to focus him; Day Davis had wanted to settle down with his wife-to-be. Davis once had wanted to join the military, but he couldn’t pass the math test. So Davis took the same path that many other young people on Jacksonville’s Northside do --- and went to the temp agencies.

The Northside is a neighborhood of modest stucco homes, discount clothing stores and garden apartment complexes offering $535-a-month move-in specials. It’s a place where every other store seems to be buying gold, and where one of the most prevalent jobs appears to be "human sign".

A temp agency hired him. "This was it", Davis had told his brother. He would finally be able to pay his mother back for a fender bender, buy some new shoes, and if things went well, maybe even start a life with his fiancée who had been living in Atlanta while attending school.

After getting his high school diploma, completing federal job training and sending out dozens of applications, Day Davis, at 21 years old, finally had a job --- while millions of others had remained unemployed. But because it was through a temp agency, it didn’t pay very well; but he would be working at the Bacardi bottling plant, making the best-selling rum in the world.

Davis called his mother to tell her the good news and ask if she could pick him up so he could buy the required steel-toe boots, white shirt and khaki pants before going to the factory for a 15-minute orientation prior to his 3 p.m. shift.

Word spread quickly throughout his family. His younger sister had recalled, “Me and my brother was like, ‘Don’t mess up now, you got to do good, don’t mess up.’ ”

It was a humid 90 degrees as Davis walked into Bacardi’s Warehouse No. 7 to the rattle of glass bottles, the whir of fans and the clank of industrial machines. It was his first day on the first job of his life. He went to the bathroom and took a photo of himself in the mirror, showing off his work clothes and orange safety vest. He texted it to his fiancée Alicia and promised he would call her during his break.

When Davis walked into the factory, he joined one of the fastest-growing and more dangerous segments of the U.S. labor market: blue-collar temp work.

The Dangerous Ramifications of Temp Work

Davis became part of what labor economists say is a national trend. Increasingly, young men and women with high school diplomas and vocational training find they can’t get a factory or warehouse job without first going through a temp agency.

The very nature of temp work increases the risk of injury because temps are often working in a new environment, operating machines or handling tasks they don’t have experience with and using muscles they might not normally use.

Labor Department data shows that nationwide, a large number of injuries occur within the first three months of work. Many temp assignments don’t last that long. Indeed, temp worker claimants had far shorter tenures on average than regular workers who filed claims, according to ProPublica’s analysis of workers’ comp records. Many temps are perpetually new on the job.

But in interviews, dozens of temp workers across the country said it was a near-daily experience for them to see employers cutting corners on training and equipment.

According to OSHA investigative files from 2012 and 2013, the Bacardi factory where Davis landed his very first job had for years been operating with “plain indifference” and an “intentional disregard” for safety rules.

“Routinely, bottles would fall from the conveyors when a case of bottles became wet from damaged bottles inside the cases,” an OSHA inspector wrote. The sticky flavored rum would leak onto the rollers, compounding the problem. But whenever the operator stopped the conveyor, the other cases would slam into one another, causing more bottles to fall 10 feet and shatter on the floor.

Despite this, and despite a recommendation from an outside consultant that employees wear hard hats when working under the conveyors, Bacardi failed to require them and failed to fix the problem.

The worker who ran the giant machines that pushed and stacked the cases of rum onto pallets was in a race against production quotas. Often overseeing multiple palletizers (a machine that stacks cases on a pallet) by himself, he would run across catwalks and up small bridges, which had been built over the conveyors, to ensure the cases stayed in line. Sometimes, operators of the machines tripped or nearly banged their heads. One employee who told OSHA he was “working three shrink wrappers and five palletizers at the same time,” recalled a near miss when his right leg almost got caught by a mechanical rake.

One of the most basic tenets of factory safety is that when you shut down a machine to service it, you don’t just hit the OFF switch; you also disconnect the power source and lock the machine to ensure that it doesn’t start up again accidentally.

But at Bacardi, employees rarely did this when working inside the palletizers, for fear of slowing down production, according to OSHA. While they had received general training for the shutdown procedures known as “lock out/tag out,” several operators said they had never received specific training on the palletizers. The security officer who was supposed to periodically ensure that workers knew how to lock the machines didn’t know how to do it himself. Even the health and safety manager, Lesley Toke, and the bottling manager, Tom Brouillette, incorrectly stated that workers could enter machines briefly without locking them. In fact, during the OSHA inspection, Brouillette himself reached into a machine while it was running.

While instructions were taped to the palletizer, they were “convoluted and confusing," an OSHA inspector wrote. The fact that workers didn’t know how to shut down machines properly had been an item of discussion during monthly safety committee meetings since 2010. But Bacardi failed to fix the problem. Instead, investigators wrote, “the employer had trained their operators to cut corners” and keep the lines moving.

Pushing Temps to the Limit

A Bacardi worker told OSHA that about a week before Day Davis started working there, Brouillette held a meeting with staff to show them that production statistics were “in the red” --- and that they needed to pick up the pace. How would they feel, he warned, if their pay was cut to 32 percent of their current wages?

Bacardi is “production, product and profits oriented,” an OSHA investigator would later write. “They do not want to slow down production and spend funds on temporary employees who may not be in their facility day-to-day. Not training these temporary employees saves the company valuable training time. This would equate to [Bacardi] showing ownership of the employee and establishing more risk for their company, which they are trying to limit.”

Looking for a Remedy

Remedy Temp Agency

Alise Cherry, the night coordinator for the staffing agency Remedy for Bacardi, told OSHA, “When people come in, they don’t tell them what not to do.”

As troubled as the Bacardi factory seems, the situation wasn’t that different from other work environments that temp workers describe. Gretchen Purser, a sociologist at Syracuse University, said she routinely encountered unsafe situations when she went undercover to work as a temp laborer for three years in Baltimore and Oakland, Calif. --- and by doing so, she said, she also learned several methods that temp labor agencies use to discourage their workers from reporting injuries.

First, she often had to sign day-to-day contracts, which stated that at the end of each workday, temp workers will be “deemed to have quit” until they report to the dispatch hall the next morning. At the end of the day, before receiving her wages, she typically had to sign a form saying that she didn’t encounter any unsafe work conditions.

Then there is what’s known in the industry as a “DNR,” which is short for “Do Not Return.” Essentially, any host company can write “DNR” on the back of the work slip for any reason, telling the agency not to send that worker again. The more DNRs a worker gets, the less likely he/she is to be assigned for any future work.

Purser recounted one job where she worked as a traffic flagger on a rural road that was under construction. She said that she and her co-worker were stranded for nine hours in 100-degree heat without a break and without access to water. Finally, her co-worker left his post to find out when they could leave. Both of them went back to the agency with a DNR on their slips.

“It’s very difficult to stand up for your own safety,” she said, “because the end result is a DNR.”

The Temps' Meat Grinder

This is a major reason why temps may get injured at even higher rates than the ProPublica analysis showed. “The temp agency is in this position of rehiring them over and over again or not hiring them,” said Linda Forst, an environmental and occupational health sciences professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “So that’s a huge disincentive to report” workplace injuries, she said. “I think the number of temp workers who do report is really low. I think it’s the tip of the iceberg.”

Workers’ comp documents obtained by ProPublica show that some temps have lost work after filing claims for injuries. And there are other reasons temp workers might be less likely to report injuries, workers’ comp experts said. The likelihood of a worker filing an injury claim often depends on how informed he or she is about the process. But compared with regular workers, temps are less educated on average, far less likely to be represented by a union and far more likely not to speak English. In addition, many temp workers are undocumented, making them particularly wary of formal complaints.

Day Davis' first and last day at Bacardi

Inside Warehouse #7 at Bacardi, Palletizer #4 was having problems on the afternoon of Aug. 16, 2012. This account of what happened at the bottling plant is based on police reports, witness statements, OSHA investigators’ notes, interviews and a Bacardi surveillance video.

When the palletizer was working properly, boxes of rum bottles would travel down a conveyor belt to a platform, where the machine would push them into a square. When the platform was full, it would lower the cases onto a pallet 10 feet below, then go back up to get another set of cases.

But on this night, bottles of Bacardi Dragon Berry – a new rum flavored with strawberry and dragon fruit – were breaking on the line. Vincent Flournoy, the operator, wiped the conveyor with a rag.

Brouillette’s warnings about production goals weighed heavy on Flournoy’s mind, he later told OSHA, and he was in a rush to keep up with quotas. But cases kept getting stuck and slamming into one another. There were a lot of broken bottles in the palletizer and under the machine.

Flournoy, a full-time Bacardi employee, hit the emergency STOP button. According to OSHA, he was then supposed to attach a lock to ensure that no one could come by and turn on the machine while someone else was inside it. Then he was supposed to go downstairs and hit another emergency STOP button and insert two bars to prevent the platform from falling. But Flournoy did as he had been trained and did not shut down the machine completely.

“When the palletizer slows down he gets numerous calls on his radio about getting the lines up and running again,” according to the OSHA file. Shutting down the machine properly “would mean slowing down production and not reaching their goals.”

Instead, Flournoy climbed into the machine and began picking up glass and tossing out the mangled boxes. He radioed for help, asking if anyone had any extra temp workers.

Day Davis, who was inspecting bottles on the conveyor to ensure labels were attached correctly, was called over to help. He had just started 90 minutes earlier and, a supervisor later said, he was “gung ho” and wanted to “get the job done.”

He ran over to the palletizer, following Flournoy, who had pointed down below and told him to sweep the shattered glass from under the machine while Flournoy and a Bacardi supervisor, Louis Wrice, cleaned the belt and rollers on top. Davis grabbed a short broom, climbed under the machine and began sweeping up the shards of broken bottles and pulling out those that were still intact. The records don’t say if he was confused about what he was doing, but investigators’ notes show that he paused and looked around several times, eventually going back upstairs to talk with Flournoy and Wrice.

It’s unclear what they discussed. Wrice told OSHA he had instructed Davis to wait. Others said Wrice only yelled at Davis to get some safety gloves. Either way, Davis went back downstairs. After pulling the glass forward with a long broom, he went under the palletizer again and began sweeping glass into a dustpan.

From surveillance footage
Day Davis and his last steps on Earth

Back upstairs, Flournoy and Wrice finished cleaning, shut the safety gate and, at 4:49 p.m., started the machine. The cases began rolling down the line, and the palletizer began pushing them into a square. Davis, who was still underneath the machine, began to stand up halfway. But just then, the platform carrying as many as 60 cases of rum, weighing about 2,000 pounds (1 ton), came crashing down.

“It was like an elevator coming down on him,” Jeffrey Romeo, OSHA’s assistant area director, wrote to colleagues in an email.

Flournoy and Wrice heard a yell. They raced downstairs and tried to pry up the platform. They climbed up and started pulling cases off. But nothing worked.

“Jacksonville 911,” the operator answered.

“Yes, ma’am, I need an ambulance.”

Day Davis' fiancée later said, “That whole day, I was waiting on him to text me or call me and tell me about his day. I tried texting and calling, but there was no answer.”

And Davis’ mother hadn’t heard from him either. At the time, a family friend had tried to reassure them, saying Davis was probably socializing and meeting his new co-workers. “You know, guys, it’s a new place.”

But Day Davis never made it to his first break. When paramedics got to the Bacardi bottling plant a few minutes after the accident, they found that the weight of the platform had crushed him. Davis died right there on the factory floor.

The Family is Notified

Unaware of what had happened, Day's mother was getting ready to pick him up at the end of his shift when she heard a knock on her apartment door. It was 10:15 p.m.

“I knew it couldn’t have been anything good for a detective to be coming to my house,” she said, sitting at her kitchen table a year later. “He said there was an accident and told me that Lawrence [her son, Day Davis] was killed. I asked them if they were sure, and they said they were positive, and that’s when they handed me his identification. After that, I don’t know what to tell you. It was just a long, long period of numbness.”

Somebody had to tell Day's fiancée, Alicia. So around 11 p.m., Day's sister called. “She couldn’t tell me what was wrong. I heard her voice just crackle, and then her brother got on the phone, and he couldn’t tell me. Someone else got on the phone, I don’t know who it was, but they finally told me Day had passed away.”

The Bacardi Blame Game (and Brand Name over Worker Safety)

Almost immediately, the finger-pointing began over who was responsible for the accident. Bacardi insisted to OSHA that it was Remedy’s (the temp agency) job to train temp workers. In fact, Bacardi didn’t even provide them with any safety gear. It was the temp agency that supplied the orange vests, gloves and safety glasses. Remedy told OSHA it only showed temp workers a brief safety video and insisted that it was Bacardi’s job to train them.

“The company appears to have attempted to shift blame to its temporary agencies,” investigators wrote. “They have taken the position that the employee does not belong to them; therefore they are not responsible for their safety.”

Such disputes are common when temp workers get hurt, a review of accident files shows.

After Davis’ death, Bacardi officials walked through the plant with OSHA inspectors. The plant’s health and safety manager, Lesley Toke, seemed more intent on protecting the Barcardi brand than protecting workers, according to notes the OSHA inspectors took during their visit to the company.

“Lesley Toke made a comment,” one inspector scribbled in his notes. “She stated we (Bacardi) had managed to stay out of the media for a long time until just now.”

Toke predicted that the effect of the stories would not be long-lasting, according to the notes, which quote her as saying the bad publicity was “only for a day.”

“Plain indifference,” the inspector wrote. “This is not the first comment of this type she has made concerning protecting product and [the] Bacardi name.”

After the accident, the company released a statement, saying that “Bacardi prides itself as having safety as its number one priority.”

Privately though, OSHA investigators wrote a scathing response in a memo: “They have submitted into evidence several PowerPoint trainings, totaling over 200 slides. There is not one single mention of safety being their number one priority. What is mentioned in the PowerPoints and programs as their most important goal is ‘customer satisfaction’ and under security, ‘protect company assets.’ ”

Bacardi said it disagreed with how OSHA characterized the company in its report. “Throughout its history, Bacardi has been steadfast in its commitment to provide employees with a safe environment,” Bacardi spokeswoman Patricia Neal said in a statement, and went on to say, “Bacardi immediately addressed all of the safety and health concerns raised by OSHA during the inspection to enhance the facility’s safety program and to ensure that such a tragic accident could not happen again."

OSHA fined Bacardi $192,000 for numerous violations, including failing to shut down machines properly and not training temp workers. The agency settled earlier this year for $110,000. Remedy, the temp agency, wasn’t cited for any violations, because OSHA determined it was not supervising employees, nor was it in charge of the work site.

OSHA said Bacardi now includes temp workers in its training and has installed a cage around the palletizer area, which only certain employees can enter with a swipe card.

A Year after Day had met the Night

Day Davis' mother pulled out a cream-colored bag from the funeral home containing her son’s possessions. It’s been a year since the accident, but, she says she still wakes up some mornings wanting to scream.

She took out the still-born baby's footprint, which was found in Davis’ wallet; then his white puka shell necklace, his yellow Livestrong bracelet, his Job Corps wristwatch and, finally, the change he had in his pocket at the time of his death --- a quarter, a dime and two pennies. She didn’t say anything else.

The next day, on the first anniversary of her son’s death, Day's mother drove to the memorial garden that Bacardi built on the grounds of its bottling plant. An 8-foot weeping willow stands at the center, surrounded by yellow flowers, flocked by bees and butterflies. In front is a granite marker bearing a plaque with Day's picture and a poem. Day's mom then kneeled to plant a bouquet of flowers beside it. She then tied three silver balloons spelling his out name --- "DAY" --- with a light blue one reading, “Gone But Not Forgotten.”

She paused before his plaque and briefly touched the image of his face. As she turned to wade back through the tall grass, the wind picked up, knocking over one of the bouquets. She went back to fix it. It was drizzling rain by then. She rubbed a few raindrops off the plaque with her thumb and then knelt down one more time. In her mind, she told her son, she was still proud of him.

The profits that Bacardi lost that day from lost production won't be missed by a single soul, but Day Davis will be missed very much, for a very long time to come.

* The unedited, original and much longer version of this story was posted at TruthOut on Saturday, 21 December 2013 by Jeff Larson, Michael Grabell and Olga Pierce.

OSHA citation:

Bacardi slogan: "LIVE LIKE YOU MEAN IT!"


  1. According to the story, in an OSHA investigator's note it shows that Day Davis paused and looked around several times, eventually going back upstairs to talk with Bacardi supervisor Louis Wrice --- saying it was unclear what they discussed.

    Bacardi supervisor Louis Wrice had told OSHA investigators that he had instructed Davis to "wait", but others said Wrice only yelled at Davis to get some safety gloves. Then Davis went back downstairs and began sweeping glass into a dustpan.

    MY NOTE: Bacardi supervisor Louis Wrice didn't tell Day Davis to "wait" --- that's a lie --- because Day Davis was the new kid at work (at his first job trying to do the right thing) --- so he wouldn't have jeopardized his new job only 90 minutes into his very first shift by blatantly ignoring and disobeying his supervisor's order to "wait" --- and then just go back downstairs to sweep glass. Day would have waited (And been alive today).

    The Bacardi supervisor Louis Wrice MUST have been lying, and so he should have also been held accountable. He yelled at the poor kid to get his ass back to work --- OR ELSE!!! You know and I know it --- we've all been there before.

  2. Our first annual “Banish Them To Siberia” award goes to Lesley Toke of Bacardi Rum