Seafood Company Accused of Allowing Union Organizer to be Killed on Conveyor

Thursday, April 11, 2013
Christopher Hebert

The death of a union organizer at a Mississippi seafood company has resulted in government fines and a lawsuit by the victim’s mother.

 

Christopher Hebert, 24, died at Omega Protein’s Moss Point fish-processing plant on April 9, 2012. According to the lawsuit, Hebert was ordered to perform welding work inside a giant rotating screw conveyor without being informed that it was operational. While he was inside the single screw conveyor, a supervisor ordered another employee to turn on the conveyor. Hebert was dragged feet first into the machinery and screamed for help. His last words were, “I’m dead!”

 

His mother, Cynthia Hebert, is suing Omega Protein—along with two insurance firms that allegedly were responsible for the plant’s safety rules—claiming the company intentionally left her son unattended inside the machinery and failed to lock the equipment in order “to bring about injury, or death, to Christopher,” according to the civil complaint.

 

Hebert had worked in the plant’s maintenance department for three years. During that time, according to the complaint, he alerted management to what he saw to be “unreasonably unsafe and dangerous working conditions." Since his supervisors did not respond, Hebert tried to unionize the workers at the plant. His actions met “harsh resistance” from management and he was subjected to harassment, his mother claims.

 

His death prompted an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which found the company guilty of 25 OSHA health and safety violations. Omega Protein was fined $79,200.

 

“This terrible incident could have been avoided if the employer had followed OSHA's standards for energy control procedures,” Clyde Payne, director of the Jackson office, said in a statement.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

Fatal Payback for Organizing, Mother Says (by Iulia Filip, Courthouse News Service)

Omega Protein Investigation After Fatal Accident Results in Numerous OSHA Violations, Fines (by Kaija Wilkinson, Mississippi Press)

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