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Energy Company Claims ‘No Responsibility’ For Hiring And Abuse Of Undocumented Oil Spill Cleanup Workers

By Andrea Nill Sanchez on September 8, 2010 at 7:00 pm

"Energy Company Claims ‘No Responsibility’ For Hiring And Abuse Of Undocumented Oil Spill Cleanup Workers"

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Michigan River Oil SpillBack in July, a state of emergency was declared in southwest Michigan’s Kalamazoo County following an 800,000 gallon oil spill. At the time, Enbridge Energy, a subsidiary of Enbridge Inc., took complete responsibility, stating “[t]his is our mess. We’re going to clean it up.”

However, the company doesn’t want to take any responsibility for the illegal hiring and abuse of the undocumented cleanup employees who were hired by an Enbridge Energy subcontractor to work up to 100 hours a week in unsafe conditions. According to Enbridge, the company conveniently has nothing to do with the controversy since its contractor (Garner Environmental Services) hired another contractor (Hallmark Industrial) which in turn hired and abused the undocumented workers:

In the wake of the Messenger investigation, the firing of Hallmark and the detention of its workers, Enbridge Energy — the company repsonsible for the spill — has claimed no responsibility for the workers cleaning it up.

Last week, Enbridge officials said there was no official proof that the undocumented workers were in any way connected to the spill cleanup in Michigan. “This is an issue between law enforcement, Hallmark, and Garner,” said Terri Larson, Enbridge spokesperson. “There is no direct connection between Enbridge and Hallmark.”

While it’s true that Enbridge probably wasn’t directly involved in the hiring or managing of undocumented workers, that won’t necessarily exonerate the company. There is an abundance of businesses that have been caught knowingly employing the services of a subcontractors that hire and abuse cheap, undocumented labor. In fact, for many of these companies it’s simply part of a business model that allows them to maximize their profits by skirting immigration and labor laws. However, under the Obama administration, an increasing number of these companies are being held liable for the unlawful hiring practices of their subcontractors.

It doesn’t help that the Michigan Messenger — which broke the story — has also found that Enbridge’s own labor record “reveals a pattern of problems with worker safety including multiple worker deaths in recent years.” Earlier this year, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) charged Enbridge with failing to develop and implement safe work practices for workers exposed to hydrogen sulfide and a failure to provide required personal protection equipment. According to OSHA, these violations were committed “with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to employee safety and health.”

Rep. Mark Schauer (D-MI) has come out blasting Enbridge, stating, “It’s outrageous and disgusting that our local workers — including many who have hazmat training and certifications — have been cheated out of these opportunities to do this work.”

Meanwhile, those unauthorized workers who spent 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, cleaning up Enbridge’s “mess” in unsafe conditions may never see the fruits of their labor. Last week, a bus full of Hallmark workers on their way back to Texas to collect their pay was stopped by police. While some workers ran away, the majority of those detained were sent to a detention facility in Houston and will likely be deported.

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