After a nearly four-month study of safety records, worker interviews, a facility walk-through and a review of industry best practices, the Western New York Council on Safety and Heath has released a report critical of the Wendt Corporation in Cheektowaga.
The recently unionized metal workers at Wendt say they have been complaining about work conditions for years and now they have a detailed report to back up their claims.
"In February we were approached by the workers of the Wendt Corporation, who were recently unionized by the Iron Workers Local 576," said WNYCOSH Program Director Brian Brown-Cashdollar. "They've been concerned about the health and safety conditions in the plant and the employer's either reluctance or unwillingness to adequately address them."
Brown-Cashdollar told WBFO the council's review of the conditions found numerous problems, which are detailed in a 40-page report released Thursday entitled, "Risky Business."
"What we found as far as top-line findings is that the air quality, the atmospheric conditions in the plant are questionable and there isn't enough done to measure or determine the quality of the atmospheric conditions," he said. "There's significant issues with the welding hazard exposures. There is lack of adequate training and very insufficient documentation for what is a high-hazard industry."
Among the other complaints in the report are unsecured machinery and equipment throughout the facility, explosion hazards and the danger of being crushed by the company requirement to work under or next to suspended material.
On its website, Wendt describes itself as an "independently owned and operated family business...serving the scrap metal recycling industry the last 40 years [and] now under the leadership of Tom Wendt Jr." A search of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's online database - which goes back to 1972 - by WBFO found seven citations, including two complaints, between 2009-2012.
The workers' call to action is also prompted by the fact that workers - uniionized in June 2017 - have yet to negotiate their first union contract with Wendt.
"Considering the employer's intransigence over the years, the workers are concerned that they will see little sustained improvement in their working conditions without successfully negotiating a first contract with strong health and safety language," said Richard Lipsitz, president of the WNY Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.
Workers staged a picket along the company's Walden Avenue sidewalk on a snowy day in February, claiming the company had been "dragging its feet" in negotiating a union contract.