The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration ordered a Pontiac asphalt company to pay more than $950,000 in damages after it fired a foreman and two truckers who raised safety concerns.
Asphalt Specialists has been ordered to pay $953,916 -- $243,916 in back wages to the drivers, $110,000 in compensatory damages and $600,000 in punitive damages -- to three workers who expressed concern about ignoring the U.S. Department of Transportation's mandated hours of service for commercial truck drivers.
A federal whistle-blower law bans companies from retaliating against workers who raise certain concerns. The Surface Transportation Assistance Act makes it illegal for an employer to fire, discipline or discriminate against an employee who "refuses to operate a vehicle because the operation violates a regulation, standard, or order of the United States related to commercial motor vehicle safety, health, or security; or the employee has a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to the employee or the public because of the vehicle's hazardous safety or security condition."
OSHA also is ordering the company to rehire the three workers.
"We disagree with their findings. We plan on appealing," said Asphalt Specialists project manager Dan Israel. "We're disappointed."
The company's outside general counsel, Steve Wright, said, "OSHA, before making these findings, didn't look at any of the information we provided. All these people were terminated for proper reason."
He called OSHA's news release "playing fast and loose with the facts," because, he said, the reason OSHA said the company terminated the workers was their helping with a safety investigation. He denied that, explaining that the company rehired the workers in 2013.
The foreman was fired in June 2012 after repeatedly pointing out that schedules didn't allow for the federally mandated 10-hour rest period -- 27 hours straight in at least two instances -- according to OSHA. He also refused to drive in an unsafe way that could injure himself or the public.
One truck driver was fired in April 2013 after questioning the number of work hours and refusing to sign an affidavit saying company truckers did not work too many hours, which Asphalt Specialists wanted to use to fight the fired foreman's OSHA claim.
Two and half months later, another driver was let go after pointing out worries about vehicle maintenance and driving hour requirements.
"It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against employees who report work-related safety concerns or violations of federal transportation regulations, which require drivers to have a minimum 10-hour rest period between shifts," Davide Michaels, assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, said in a written statement today. "OSHA is committed to protecting workers from retaliation for exercising basic worker rights."