Bumble Bee Foods Ordered to Pay $6 Million Over Worker’s Death
About three years after the death of worker Jose Melena, Bumble Bee Foods has been ordered to pay $6 million in fines for intentionally violating workplace safety laws as part of their settlement with the Los Angeles district attorney’s office. 62-year-old Melena was killed when he was cooked to death in a walk-in pressure cooker used to sterilize mass quantities of cans of tuna. He had entered the oven to make a repair and some of his co-workers, not realizing he was inside, closed the door behind him and turned the machine on. Temperatures inside the cooker reached 270℉.
This settlement is the largest payout for a workplace safety violation involving a single person in the state of California. Bumble Bee Foods will also have to pay $1.5 million in restitution to the family of Jose Melena, $750,000 to the district attorney’s Environmental Enforcement Agency fund, and $750,000 in court costs, penalties, and other fines. Bumble Bee Foods had been charged with three counts of willfully violating workplace safety rules, causing a death, which is a felony charge. If they fulfill the terms of this settlement, they will plead guilty to to one misdemeanor charge after 18 months.
Hoon Chun, Los Angeles’s assistant head deputy district attorney for the Consumer Protection Division, says, “I hope it sends a message that safety rules are not a recommendation, they are a legal requirement. I’m hoping people will … realize shortcutting safety rules to make a few extra bucks and improve the bottom line is not a tolerable equation.”
Bumble Bee Foods will also have to pay another $3 million in costs to improve workplace safety, specifically by replacing their pressure cookers with ones that don’t require a person to step inside them. An attorney representing the company says Bumble Bee Foods has already started taking steps to make their workplaces safer.
Two other employees of Bumble Bee Foods were also charged in connection to Melena’s death, Angel Rodriguez, who was the director of operations at the time of the accident, and Saul Florez, the company’s safety manager. Florez and Rodriguez both admitted to knowing that workers did enter the cookers on occasion and Florez said he failed to perform the annual audit and evaluation of the equipment and policies to ensure they were in compliance with OSHA regulations.
Of the two employees charged, prosecutors viewed Florez as the person most directly responsible for Melena’s death. Florez entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to pay $19,000 in fines, 3 years of probation, 30 days of community labor, and ordered to take classes about workplace safety. Rodriguez will pay $11,400 in fines, perform 320 hours of community service, and take classes about workplace safety. Both Florez and Rodriguez were also ordered to make public statements admitting to being guilty for having a part in Melena’s death.