Former GOP Congressman Runs the Trump Playbook: Bad Business and Worker Exploitation
Late yesterday, The Fresno Bee reported that former GOP Congressman and failed dairyman David Valadao has been taken to court after getting caught once again for endangering and exploiting his farm workers.
“When David Valadao isn’t shamelessly promoting the Trump agenda to Central Valley voters, he’s taking a page from the Trump playbook: abusing workers and shortchanging business partners, all the while disguising financial failures by filing for bankruptcy. With practices this crooked, it’s no wonder he supported Trump 98% of the time he was in Washington,” said DCCC Spokesperson, Andy Orellana. “This is not the first time, nor will be the last time farm workers from the Central Valley are shortchanged and disrespected by Valadao.”
Read more about Valadao’s failure to live up to honoring his farm worker’s safety and livelihood, BELOW or HERE.
KATE IRBY AND TIM SHEEHAN // FEBRUARY 11, 2020
Former Rep. David Valadao’s family dairy is asking a California appeals court to reconsider part of a recent jury verdict that held the farm mostly responsible for a 2016 accident that severed an employee’s hand.
His dairy’s worker’s compensation insurance carrier had been trying to limit its potential financial losses from an incident in which employee Carlos Martinez Ocampo’s arm was caught in an auger and cut off below the right elbow.
A Kings County jury in October found that Valadao Dairy bore the greatest share of responsibility for the incident, assigning 80 percent of fault to the dairy, while the manufacturer of the equipment, Tulare-based U.S. Farm Systems, was deemed 20 percent responsible.
Ocampo lost part of his arm on Oct. 16, 2016, about three weeks before the November 2016 general election in which Valadao, a Republican from Hanford, won re-election for a third term in the House of Representatives.
Valadao lost his 2018 re-election bid but is campaigning to reclaim the seat in this year’s election, aiming to unseat Rep. TJ Cox, D-Fresno.
Valadao was not involved in the farm’s day-to-day operations at the time of the accident. Years earlier, before he was elected to Congress, Valadao had a role in purchasing the equipment. He was called as a witness in the civil trial and pressed in court about the dairy’s employee training.
Ocampo was injured while cleaning a manure separator, which is used to create cow bedding from manure. The machine was turned on while Ocampo was cleaning it, and he fell and lost a portion of his right arm below his elbow in a large drill called an auger.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA) cited and fined Valadao Dairy for safety violations.
One was that “the employer did not provide training and instruction for the employee who was injured operating the waste separator at the dairy.”
The second, more serious violation was for failing to have guardrails around the elevated platform where Ocampo was standing as he scraped manure solids that had clogged a screen near the auger.
CalOSHA initially proposed to fine the dairy $13,275 for the violations; the penalty was later negotiated down to $6,450, which was paid in May 2017.
When asked if Valadao believed the farm shared any responsibility for the accident, his campaign characterized Ocampo’s injury as a “tragic accident” and said Valadao wasn’t interested in pointing fingers. Neither a lawyer for Valadao Dairy nor a lawyer for the dairy’s insurance company returned multiple requests for comment.
Valadao today is an employee of Valadao Dairy, according to his campaign, where he earns $30,000 per year according to his latest financial disclosure.
He had an ownership stake in the dairy and in two other businesses owned by his family, Triple V Dairy and Triple V Cattle. He dissolved his ownership stake in the companies in 2017 and 2018, and last year filed for bankruptcy protection. Valadao earned between $6 million and $30 million from Valadao Dairy while he was a congressman, between 2012 and 2017.
Ocampo, a Mexican immigrant who moved to California to work in the dairy industry, was 29 when the accident happened. He had worked at the dairy since May 2015, court records show.
His attorney estimated that over Ocampo’s lifetime the injury would reduce his earning potential by more more than $1.1 million. Future medical bills – including maintenance and periodic replacement of a prosthetic arm and hand – represent another $1.7 million in expenses, according to court documents.
“On the day of the incident, Ocampo was unclogging the machine as he had been trained,” Ocampo’s attorney, Warren Paboojian of Fresno, wrote in his opening trial brief. “However as he climbed down the step ladder (with the scraper in one hand), from the raised portion of the machine, his foot slipped on the wet stairway, causing him to lose his balance and fall to the right of the step ladder.”
“As he fell, his right hand landed on the open, unguarded auger,” Paboojian added. “As a result, his right hand was cut off.”
WHO TRAINED THE WORKER?
In a transcript from the October trial, Valadao says that he bought the manure separator in 2000 from U.S. Farm. His congressional campaign told The Fresno Bee that Valadao purchased it through a contractor.
Reajan Houle, the representative from U.S. Farm Systems, testified that he told David Valadao in 2002 the power should be turned off whenever a worker went up on the top platform. That’s where Ocampo was when he fell.
“I am a hundred percent certain of that,” Houle said. He said he repeated that to David Valadao when a second auger was installed in 2005, and told him how “dangerous” the machine could be.
David Valadao denied he had been told that. He also said that they typically left training up to the insurance company, and that he had never trained employees personally.
The message to turn the auger off may have never gotten to Ocampo. According to court transcripts, the Valadaos could not produce training records for the manure separator, which are required by law.
OSHA has a specific name for the need to turn off a machine and make sure it stays off before cleaning it, called “lock out, tag out” procedures. Ocampo said he had never heard of “lock out, tag out” and Miguel Valadao, David Valadao’s brother and operations manager at the dairy, said that procedure was not in place at their farm when the incident occurred.
During court testimony, an attorney asked if David Valadao understood it was the employer’s responsibility to implement that protocol.
“Well, yeah, today,” David Valadao responded.