Labor Board Grants El Paso Worker Back Pay, Orders Safer Working Conditions at Job Site

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The Texas Civil Rights Project
Federal agencies find in favor of dismissed worker

El Diario - El Paso

Francisco Alarcon
El Diario de El Paso March 23, 2010

Eric Murillo, an El Paso worker who noticed unsafe working conditions at his place of employment [Chaffhaye, Inc.], was fired in June 2009 because of his attempts to organize his co-workers to demand a safer workplace.

Yesterday, however, he was congratulated in front of the Federal Building for winning what is considered a historical labor rights case in the National Labor Relations Board, forcing safer working conditions in the Chaffhaye plant. Chaffhaye is devoted to production of forage and livestock feed.

In May and June of 2009, Murillo worked as a driver for the company, according to his legal representative from Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, Chris Benoit. Mr. Murillo realized that working conditions were unsafe, unfair, and violated federal guidelines. He chose not to stay silent.

The El Pasoan talked with his co-workers and organized a meeting to consult with legal counsel about their rights. The company vehicles were dangerous; the workers were in the field for more than 12 hours without water and had no protection for using heavy machinery required for their profession.

"Chaffhaye Inc. told him that if he kept talking to other employees, he would have to leave the company," according to reports. It is against federal law to fire an employee when they exercise their right to organize or express discontent about the company.

Murrillo Celebrates
Eric Murillo in the company of family and friends
(photograph: Jorge Jimenez / El Diario de El Paso)

"Employers must comply with the law," Benoit said, adding that by taking his case before the National Labor Relations Board, Murillo pushed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to conduct on-site inspections that resulted in fines for hazardous conditions. In addition, Mr. Murillo signed a settlement that forces Chaffhaye to place signs in plain view for the staff to see that indicate that no worker would be fired for talking about their working conditions. The company will also pay him backpay for his dismissal.

"Although the safety conditions were atrocious, more disturbing is the fact that the company blatantly fired an employee who attempted to improve the work environment," added the lawyer. "The success of Mr. Murillo must show workers that they do not have to fear their bosses."

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