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.

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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