Sanitation district under fire for treatment of Hispanic workers

February 25, 2011


The South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District is under state scrutiny once again; this time for its alleged treatment of Hispanic and temporary workers.

A complaint was filed with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA). It alleges the Oceano based sanitation plant is violating safety orders found in Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations, which requires the district to “establish, implement and maintain an effective injury and illness prevention program.”

A confidential letter from OSHA, obtained by CalCoastNews, was received by the plant on Monday, Feb. 21. It details the complaint which alleges Hispanic and temporary workers employed at the sanitation plant are not being trained on personal protective equipment and the hazards of the job, unlike their counterparts.

In the letter, OSHA says it has not yet made a determination as to whether the complaint has any grounds. It is, however, requiring the district, which serves Oceano, Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande, to conduct an internal investigation of the alleged hazards and report back to the state organization within 14 days of receiving the notice.

If the sewer plant operator does not meet OSHA’s response requirements, the office says it intends to make an unannounced inspection which could result in the levying of citations and monetary penalties if the allegations are found to be true.

The letter concludes by reminding the district that California law protects employees that make formal complaints about health and safety hazards in the workplace, including protection from being fired or discriminated against.

The complaint is just the latest in a series of challenges for the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District within the last few months, including an unlawful termination suit, a massive raw sewage spill, water board violations and compliance issues.

A former shift supervisor and 12 year veteran of the plant, Scott Mascolo, who was terminated last week, was an outspoken critic of safety and compliance issues under the district’s watch.

Mascolo says he had complained to plant administrator, John Wallace, that on many occasions Hispanic and temporary workers were put at risk of respiratory hazards, chemical exposure and even electrocution because they were not given proper training, education and bi-lingual literature particularly on safety and personal protective equipment.

He said the plant favored Hispanic employees for their exceptional work ethic but they were often belittled, intimidated, overworked and denied breaks.

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QUOTE FROM ARTICLE: “It is, however, requiring the district, which serves Oceano, Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande, to conduct an internal investigation of the alleged hazards and report back to the state organization within 14 days of receiving the notice.”

Maybe they should ask John Wallace to do the evaluation. Shouldn’t cost more than a couple-of- $100,000.

Your right on the money Marymalone. Much like Wallace directing the self monitoring discharge limits of the plant which got the plant investigated and a Notice of violation, Wallace will do an in house safety study on your dime. He already approved $40,000 to the Wallace group to compile a Operations and Maintenance manual for the staff that the plant staff said was useless because of the errors in it. How does a person who dosent know ca ca about ca ca charge $40,000 for this and get away with it?

Wallace hired his own in house investigator you paid for to prove the accusations made against him and his cronies were false, can you say collusion?. Nothing like a crook hiring his own staff to investigate wrong doing, If this isn’t a conflict of interest then what is I ask?

These two got some cajones alright, but their quite possibly about to be castrated in court.

Using the excuse of “no money” doesn’t fly with something like a sanitary district. The district board has absolute authority to raise sewer rates to cover things like these, which I would term to be “maintenance” involved. Shoot, you don’t even need to get a permit to do maintenance.

And with 3 towns involved in the district, rates wouldn’t need to be raise very much at all to cover a $500,000 expenditure. What? $2 a month per hook up? Maybe less?

I have to agree with most of the posters here, Wallace has got to go.

See unlike competitive bidding jobs, this is a professional services contract which doesn’t have to go out for bids. Indeed, these types of contracts don’t have expiration dates on them and are automatically renewed on an administrative level, so they aren’t questioned unless the elected board members decide that they WANT it to review it or to go out for bids.

This creates a culture ripe for corruption and the rewarding of incompetence, which is probably what’s going on down there.

I think it’s high time the district take a hard review of the contract with Wallace. But it won’t happen unless the district residents, rate payers and voters force the issue.

Lets not forget the sewer rates were raised a few years back and Wallace gave himself a 10% raise because he was so underpaid. This is no joke and if you dispute it research it, nor is the fact Wallace screws the public every month.

Heres a few samples.

07/10/2010 $ 79,267.26

10/06/10 $57,484

11/17/10 $76,264.37

12/15/10 $ 63,531.12

01/19/11 $72,924.86

02/16-11 $57,281.67

Next time you question where your sewer rate increase went you’ll know.

In a summary of events prepared by Wallace for the Regional Board Wallace sites that:

“Apparently due to water in the electrical system conduits feeding the influent pumps the motor on influent pump #4 shorted out. This resulted in the electrical breaker feeding the #4 pump motor tripping, as well as tripping the main breaker that feeds all four influent pumps and other equipment. As a result all four influent pumps stopped pumping at10:26am.

Accusations have been made Wallace was aware of the plants failing electrical system and was for years preparing a rewiring project that had been in the engineering stages for years. Accusations or fact?

San Dist Major Budget Item list for fiscal year 2010/2011 contains the following documents.

04 MBI 16 Electrical system upgrade $500,000.*** Note** the 04 at the beginning of this MBI item indicates it was initialized in 2004 yet has never been completed but rolled over for the next year. Yes 7 years ago.

“The original electrical system was installed in 1964-1966. The wiring that connects the various motors with the motor control center, located in the power generation plant, has begun to deteriorate due to being submerged by ground water. The existing wiring is NOT designed for this type of submergence service. As a result there has been several instances where the wiring has failed and either caused an electrical fire or loss of power.

“Staff” otherwise known as Wallace’s employees are 90% complete with the specifications and will be ready to bid this project early in the Fiscal year.

Electrical Fires? power outages and untrained temporary workers? Sound like the making for some safety related problems?.

This was a project started 7 years ago and still not even so much as started, but Wallace continues to charge $500,000 to $900,000 a year for their services.

How does this add up to public service or acting in the safety of plant employees either trained or temporary?