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Mayfield candle factory destroyed by tornado facing retaliation charge from former employees

An aerial shot of the collapsed Mayfield Consumer Products factory.
John Hewlett
An aerial shot of the collapsed Mayfield Consumer Products factory.

Former employees of the western Kentucky candle factory destroyed in last December’s deadly tornado outbreak are alleging Mayfield Consumer Products retaliated against them for cooperating with an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) probe.

The charge – filed with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of 20 former Mayfield Consumer Products employees – accuses the company of “continuously retaliating” against these workers after they cooperated in an OSHA probe that attorneys say led to $40,000 dollars in fines for seven worker safety violations earlier this year.

Attorneys said some of these former employees came forward last week to complain that MCP management told them not to speak with OSHA investigators last December.

This OSHA investigation into safety practices began in the immediate wake of the disaster, during which the MCP facility collapsed under the force of an EF-4 tornado, trapping around 100 people inside and killing nine.

Attorney Amos Jones – one of three co-counselors for the employees alongside William Nefzger of Louisville and William Davis of Lexington – said these employees are now being targeted by an Indiana-based collection agency for medical bills MCP and its insurers have allegedly not paid.

“The reason that we filed at the National Labor Relations Board last week is to enforce the law against retaliation. Mayfield Consumer Products had been under investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Kentucky Workplace Safety Division and there were fines for safety violations before the tornado and our class representatives and others participated in the investigation and told the truth,” said Jones, who is also representing the employees in a class action suit against MCP. “So one year on, it seems that the victimization continues for these more than 100 employees and, in some cases, the estates of the persons who died.”

Jones says the NLRB has responded and is awaiting affidavits from his clients.

A statement from MCP’s legal counsel Edmund Sauer resolutely denied the allegations in the charge.

“MCP categorically denies the baseless allegations, only learned yesterday, through a complaint made by former employee Elijah Johnson (one of the class representatives),” the statement given to WKMS read. “MCP has cooperated with OSHA to the best of its ability and even facilitated several employee interviews. While MCP has, within its rights, chosen to challenge the OSHA citations, MCP respects OSHA and the work it does to protect employers and employees across the Commonwealth.”

The statement from MCP’s legal counsel also defended its decision to have factory workers shelter in place on site during the tornado.

Since the storms, the candle factory has announced that it will be closing and permanently laying off half its employees. The organization is also planning to expand in Hickory in Graves County over the next five years to consolidate its operations in the area.

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