Gov’t Will Pick Up Tab For West, Texas Damage; Amazon, Bikeshare in Hot Seat for Wage Theft

Mike Elk

The blaze that followed the April 17, 2013 explosion at the West Texas Fertilizer Company. (Wikimedia Commons)

It appears that the government will be picking up the tab for the damage done by the West Texas Chemical and Fertilizer fire, since Texas does not require insurance for plants of that size. From the Dallas Morning News:

But despite the lack of any legal requirement, experts say, most businesses carry liability coverage because a partner or industry practice calls for it. West Fertilizer, for instance, had a policy. But it was worth only $1 million, an attorney for its insurance company told The News last week. If the plant were found negligent, its policy would pay only a fraction of the $100 million in property losses estimated by the Insurance Council of Texas, an industry association. West Fertilizer and its insurer, United States Fire Insurance Co., could not yet discuss how the plant came to carry only $1 million in liability insurance, their spokesman said.

Meanwhile, a newly released video from the Chemical Safety Board shows the severity of the damage caused by the West Texas Chemical and Fertilizer explosion.

And a former West, Texas volunteer paramedic has been arrested on charges of possessing an explosive device. The ATF has not determined yet whether the arrest is connected to the West Texas Chemical and Fertilizer explosion. From ABC:

The arrest came on the same day that Texas authorities opened a criminal investigation into the April 17 explosion.

Reed was not charged for any crime connected to the plant explosion, which killed 15 individuals and burned much of the property in West, and authorities would not say whether they believed there was any connection between Reed’s arrest and the explosion.

The charges against Reed came shortly ahead of an announcement from the Texas Department of Public Safety, which said this morning that it would use a criminal investigation to ensure that the explosion had been looked at from every angle,” according to a statement from TDP director Steven McCraw.

Bikeshare has quickly become a popular choice for hipsters trying to commute around urban areas. However some employees are now accusing the company of wage theft. From The Washington Post:

The company operating the District’s fast-growing bicycle-sharing network may have underpaid some of its employees for more than two years, a former employee has alleged.

Former employee Samuel Swen­son has told the U.S. Labor Department that he was paid $13 hourly for work that should have been subject to the federal bicycle repairer” rate of $14.43 hourly or truck driver, light” at $15.66 hourly. Before he left Capital Bikeshare, Swenson said, he received a raise to $15 hourly but was not paid fringe benefits required under federal law.

Amazon is also in the hot seat for wage theft. From The Huffington Post:

Whenever he clocked out after his 12-hour shift at an Amazon warehouse, Jesse Busk had one more critical task to perform before he could hop into his car and head home to sleep: Pass through the sprawling warehouse security checkpoint.

The purpose of the checkpoint was to prevent workers like Busk from pilfering electronics or other pricey goods from the Amazon stock. The process deeply annoyed Busk, but not because of any indignity he may have felt in being checked for contraband. What bothered him was the time it required after an exhausting day – up to 25 minutes, all of it unpaid.

You’re just standing there, and everyone wants to get home,” said the 36-year-old Busk, who lives in Nevada. It was not comfortable. There could be hundreds of people waiting at the end of the shift.

A fast food workers strike in Detroit on Friday shut down at least four restaurants. From The Nation:

Along with the Gratiot Avenue McDonald’s, organizers say that strikes shut down at least three other stores: a McDonald’s on Van Dyke; a Long John Silver’s on 8 Mile; and a Popeye’s on Grand River, where strikers were joined by US Congressman John Conyers. Strikers plan to converge for rallies at 1 PM and 4 PM this afternoon.

McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Chipotle, and Long John Silver’s did not immediately respond to requests for comment this morning.

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Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.
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