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Group accuses Omega Cabinetry of unsafe COVID workplace; company disputes
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Group accuses Omega Cabinetry of unsafe COVID workplace; company disputes


Po Du, a team leader in the hand-sanding division of Omega Cabinets, works on a cabinet front panel Feb. 5, 2018, in Waterloo.

WATERLOO — A group of labor and community organizations is sounding the alarm over what they believe are unsafe practices at a Waterloo employer during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Iowa Council for Worker Safety hand-delivered a letter to Joe Piscitello of Omega Cabinetry in Waterloo last week, according to Jesse Case, the secretary/treasurer of Teamsters Local #238, which is not affiliated with Omega.

The group, which began promoting itself on social media in July of this year, calls itself “a coalition of labor, faith-based and community organizations that are striving to keep Iowa workers safe during the pandemic.” It accused Omega in the letter of not following “accepted” COVID standards from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The standards being violated, according to Case, include not sanitizing work stations five times per day, allowing workers to not wear face masks appropriately, not conducting temperature checks properly and “front line supervisors not taking it seriously,” he said in an email to The Courier.

“Our concern is the size of the employer and the atmosphere that is created when supervisors send signals that basic CDC recommendations are not important,” Case said.

READ: Letter from Iowa Council for Worker Safety to Omega Cabinetry in Waterloo

An Omega spokesperson said the company had been "following or exceeding CDC guidelines during the COVID-19 crisis," including "increasing physical distancing protocols," enforcing a face covering policy, temperature checks and increased cleaning.

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"We are committed to providing our associates with an environment where they feel comfortable and safe," the company said in an email to The Courier on Tuesday morning. "If at any point our associates don't see protocols being followed, we encourage them to reach out to human resources."

In the letter, the council accused the company of being “too lax” in its coronavirus measures, asking Omega “to help keep your employees, their families and our communities as safe as possible during these trying times.”

“As you know, an establishment the size of yours can easily become a super spreader of COVID,” the letter read. “The effects of the health and safety policies of a large-sized employer, along with the enforcement of those policies, have consequences far beyond the facility bounds during a pandemic.”

The letter comes on the heels of similar issues at Tyson Fresh Meats in Waterloo, which fired supervisors amid a lawsuit accusing the company of failing to protect its workers from COVID-19 infection and death.

Case said the Iowa Council for Worker Safety said it has also sent letters to Tyson plants in Columbus Junction and Storm Lake. He said the council formed at the beginning of the pandemic to provide an outlet for those without union representation in the face of what they consider to be lax oversight by the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“With the current political situation in Iowa, OSHA is absent in Iowa’s workplaces,” Case said. “Workers who aren’t represented by a union have nowhere to turn if they want to report working conditions that put them and their coworkers at risk.”

This article was updated Tuesday morning to include a statement from Omega sent Tuesday.

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Reporter covering Waterloo, Black Hawk Co. and politics

UNI political communications/journalism grad. Alum of The Calumet (MCC), The Northern Iowan (UNI), Fergus Falls (Minn.) Daily Journal and KWWL. 4-time award-winner while at The Courier. Interested in exposing wrongdoing and holding power to account.

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