Worker Dies of Extreme Heat at Non-Union Auto Plant Georgia

Teresa Weaver Pickard, a 42 year-old employee of the Sewon America auto parts plant in LaGrange, Georgia, passed away on Wednesday, May 29.

The autopsy could take three to four months due to a backlog of cases, according to Troup County Coroner Jeff Cook. But we do know that workers at the LaGrange Sewon plant work in extreme heat for hours on end. In the same week, several other workers passed out due to the heat.

According to an anonymous employee who spoke to the LaGrange Citizen, management keeps the air conditioning off in the break room to “discourage loitering.” It’s so hot in the break room, he says, that the candy in the vending machines melted.

“I heard that [Pickard] complained of chest pain several times before she was sent to the break room,” he also said. She was then sent to the front office, where she sat for three hours before an ambulance was called. The anonymous employee reported that he heard Pickard died on her way to the hospital.

Pickard’s tragic death is an all-too familiar story of how a combination of neglect, contempt, and apathy toward worker conditions can have terrible consequences.

In 2011, Georgia had 111 reported workplace fatalities, and nearly 79,000 workplace injuries and illnesses. Georgia is also a so-called “right to work” state, where the government bans fair share contracts and unions are sapped of resources. The Sewon plant is one of many foreign-owned manufacturing plants across the South that offer almost exclusively non-union, low-wage work.

Thankfully, OSHA has launched an investigation of Pickard’s death. But there are only 50 workplace safety and health inspectors in Georgia, and it would take OSHA 146 years to inspect each workplace once, according to the AFL-CIO.

But even at this exact Sewon plant, this wasn’t the first worker fatality. At the same plant in 2010, a worker fell to his death. Last year, two workers were injured in a crane accident.

OSHA fined the plant in 2010, but management’s behavior did not change. “It’s a really hostile environment,” said the anonymous worker, “I really believe they [management] have contempt for their workers.”

“When my hubby worked at there 2-3 years ago he would always tell me how hot it was even back then, and then the uniform was long sleeve shirts,” wrote LaGrange Citizen reader Amanda Dawn Breazeal, “He said they had air and fans but they rarely to never turned them on…When my hubby broke his finger, he asked to go to the hospital and they told him no!”

The story of this particular plant is one of many, but there is hope. If this story sounds familiar, visit FixMyJob.com and learn how you can improve your workplace.

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