Why do companies still lock workers inside?

China's deadly factory fire joins an ever-growing list of examples in which employees have no means of escape despite workplace laws.

By Bruce Kennedy Jun 4, 2013 8:13AM

Firefighters put out the blaze at the Baoyuan poultry plant that caught fire in Dehui, northeast China's Jilin province on June 3, 2013 (© STR/AFP/Getty Images)Another industrial disaster in a developing country, and once again the victims are employees who were locked inside their workplace by management.


Family members of the more than 100 people killed during Monday's fire at a poultry processing plant in northeastern China told Hong Kong media that the plant's doors were kept locked during working hours and that workers were forbidden to leave.


A similar tragedy took place in Bangladesh last year, when 112 workers were killed in a fire at a textile factory that was making clothing for international retailers like Wal-Mart (WMT) and Sears (SHLD). An inquiry found managers and supervisors had refused to let workers leave their sewing machines, even after the fire alarms sounded.


Those events harken back to similar horrors in the U.S. a century ago, events that forced dramatic changes in America's labor and workplace safety laws. But can it happen here, still?


Apparently, it can and does. Even though the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employees to be "able to open an exit route door from the inside at all times without keys, tools, or special knowledge," those rules are still flouted.


Earlier this year, 25 janitors contracted to work at Target (TGT) stores filed complaints with OSHA, saying they were locked in the retailer's buildings during overnight shifts.


In 2011, OSHA fined a meat company in Brooklyn, N.Y., more than $62,000 for locking all of its fire exits at night and not allowing employees to unlock a door without a manager's permission.


And Wal-Mart came under widespread criticism in 2004 when reports surfaced that it had locked in overnight shift workers at some of its facilities -- supposedly to prevent theft and increase worker efficiency.


"One hundred years ago in New York City, 146 workers died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire," OSHA chief David Michaels said in 2011. "Many of them died because they were locked in and unable to escape swiftly. A century later, we still find employers locking in their employees."

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135Comments
Jun 4, 2013 9:41AM
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Some people will always do what ever they can get away with.  People who feel privileged and look at their common man  as a resource for them to exploit.  This is why labor laws are so necessary and why at one point unionization was critical.  You can argue whether or not you need them now but in the early 20th century they were one of the keys to creating the middle class.
Remember we actually have the power to change these this, do everything you can not to buy cheap imported crap and we might be surprised at the results.
Jun 4, 2013 9:48AM
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Go ahead, treat us like China workers.Big business has broken the backs of unions.I hear

lots of people say "we don`t need unions"It`s great seeing wages in the tank, no benefits

and companies with record profits and CEO`S making $100 million with jobs exported to

China.If the CEO screws up he gets $200 million to leave.

Jun 4, 2013 10:23AM
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We can have weekly congressional trials about the IRS yet zero trials about how American Corporations employ factories overseas using slave labor. When the factory burns down with the people in it, Congress doesn't even blink a eye. They are too busy having yet another vote on Obama-Cares. How many times has the House voted on bills to spur Job Creation, literally almost none. This take from the poor and the middle-class while redirecting all to the already wealthy is pure insanity. Then those same folks complain about people needing food stamps. You take away their benefits and giveaway their Jobs to slave labor overseas. So the real question is, when are folks going to get pissed enough to do something about it.
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Yep the super rich are well on their way to restoring the master slave relationships they would love to go back to.

 

 

Jun 4, 2013 1:07PM
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Not only can you stop buying the overseas stuff from businesses, you can also vote for people who give a crap about people instead of the 1%. Otherwise, this race to the bottom will continue. How many people still cannot see that our wages (all of us outside the 1%) have been stagnant for one reason. Because the powers that be - the 1% - and their paid prostitutes in Congress keep it going. We won't need a revolution if people would just vote. And not vote for the 'R' or the 'D'. Figure out the candidate that will help YOU. Not the corporation across town. YOU!!! They have lied to us all for 30 years. 'A rising tide lifts all boats'. If that is true, why are the rest of us suddenly drowning? While they keep high and dry...
Jun 4, 2013 1:26PM
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The reason they still lock workers inside is because to some the almighty dollar is much more important  than a life. After all, if people meet with a terrible fate, they can be replaced. But that dollar has to be tightly held onto. A CEO may lose out on that island he/she has been eying.

Done ranting now.

Jun 4, 2013 1:00PM
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Welcome to America where things are not always as they seem!
Jun 4, 2013 12:57PM
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I do work for a lot of these companies and walk off the job when they tell me that the doors are locked until 7am in the morning when the manager comes in to unlock them.
Jun 4, 2013 1:17PM
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Anyone that can't see what's been happening with big business and big money must be blind or can't see. Its their "MASTER" plan. Do you remember Masters and slaves?
Jun 4, 2013 1:47PM
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Everyone throwing stones at corporate greed, etc.... Have you bought anything at Walmart or Sears lately??    Consumers drive the demand for cheap goods.  Americans want more stuff...and are willing to go to the cheapest competitor to get it.  Well, how do you think they make the products cheaper??

Now you know....spend your money wisely and help solve the problem rather than just bitching about the problem. 
Jun 4, 2013 1:00PM
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Because slavery never really went away.
Jun 4, 2013 1:33PM
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Proverbs 29:7

New International Version (NIV)

7 The righteous care about justice for the poor,
    but the wicked have no such concern.

Jun 4, 2013 1:10PM
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They just don't care about workers in China and some other countries.  They are just peons to be used like in the dark ages.  Sad when life is cheap and the government could care less. 
Jun 4, 2013 1:23PM
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It is even happening here in the USA I work for a company that is almost as bad and it is a high level tech position.
Jun 4, 2013 1:49PM
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Sept, 1991, Hamlet, NC, Chicken processing plant fire, 25 killed, 55 injured. Exit doors locked to prevent theft, and unauthorized breaks.
Jun 4, 2013 2:07PM
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We have modern day wage-slavery without Unions. 

I've worked a Union job and plenty of non-Union jobs and there's a huge difference.  I worked at a casino with a Union and without one.  At my Union Job I made close to $17/hour, had awesome health insurance, and generous PTO.  At the other casino that was non-union, I was making just over 10/hour and had no real chance of continuing to increase my wage.  My benefits were HALF that of the unionized casino.  People were getting let go (terminated) for ridiculous reasons and there were no checks and balances to combat against this.  Like it or not, having a Union made a difference between having just a shitty disposable job, or a quality job that you can make a career out of, support a family with and be respected.   

Jun 4, 2013 1:14PM
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A FRIEND POSTED A PICTURE OF THE CONSTITUTION ON LINE AND A PICTURE OF A LAW PASSED BY CONGRESS. THE POST READ CONSTITUTION RULES BY THE PEOPLE FOR THE GOVERNMENT. THE LAW PASSED BY CONGRESS SAID RULES BY GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS.  I WOULD ANSWER IS THAT WITHOUT THAT BIG BOOK OF LAWS MORE OF THE ABOVE WILL HAPPEN.

 

LAWS ARE NEEDED BECAUSE HUMANS IF LEFT TO THEMSELVES DEVOLVE INTO THE LORD OF THE FLIES.

 

Jun 4, 2013 1:43PM
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As people respond here, REMEMBER where you spend you money!!!  Vote with you dollar and business will respond. Buy American products and services whenever possible,  it DOES Matter to your own economic survival. 
Jun 4, 2013 2:13PM
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This sounds like what our  future will be we are well on the way .If this new immigration bill goes through that will be exactly what the government and corporate america wants they will be able to pay lower wages get rid of benefits all together. Each day in this country we get more and more taken away who is going to pay We Are 
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