By Blaine Hopkins
The tragic murder of a worker in the parking lot at SBM Life Science earlier this month did little to slow the frantic production pace that has worsened conditions at the pesticide production and distribution facility in Pasadena, Texas.
The facility formulates SBM and Bayer pesticides and then prepares them for distribution with bottling, packaging, and palletizing. In response to the increased demand of the busy season of pesticide production, management has increased the exploitation of the workers, demanded higher quotas from the production lines, with increases on the order of thousands of extra units per shift, with no corresponding increase in pay.
The company’s requirement for increased production meant that when 28-year-old worker Gregory Kirk was shot and killed on his lunch break by his ex-wife in the facility’s parking lot, work quickly resumed after those witness to the murder gave their police statements. Kirk’s coworkers told Tribune he was a nice man who worked hard. Workers also said that while the company had done well responding to the shooting itself, they knew that the death of a coworker would not stop the lines for long.
Worker safety at SBM is ignored in order to increase production. People with health issues that prevent them from performing certain tasks quickly have had their complaints ignored by supervisors who seek to increase their production numbers. This has resulted in pain and injury for those workers who must work through their health conditions.
Recently, a pallet in transport broke and its towering load collapsed on the floor only a few feet from where people were standing. One worker told Tribune that the increased pace forces forklift drivers to move quickly, which increases chances of mistakes. He also said that there aren’t safety personnel on site who check for things that can break.
However, management does not take safety seriously on site, making workers skeptical that hiring more people to look for safety issues would help. Workers told Tribune that the current safety lead doesn’t fulfill some of the basic responsibilities of his job, citing an eye-wash station that has gone un-repaired despite multiple workers speaking up about it.
Machines also go un-repaired, which makes reaching quotas more difficult for the workers regardless of how hard they work. One worker told Tribune, “It’s a decent place to work, but there are safety problems. I see bolts and parts I know are important just lying on the floor. I can see things falling from the ceiling.”
Management’s priority of increasing quotas without additional staffing not only undercuts safety but also makes the lines inefficient. “If they think about how to make things more efficient, these machines need to be fixed. When they run this fast, things jam and break,” one worker shared with Tribune.
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