Peter Waldman wins April Sidney for “Inside Alabama’s Jobs Boom: Cheap Wages, Little Training, Crushed Limbs,” published in Bloomberg Businessweek.
Alabama is home to 160 auto parts factories, which supply the car factories that flocked to the right-to-work state in the late nineties. Workers in this low-wage, nonunion corner of the auto parts industry endure long shifts to fill punishing production quotas in order to compete with similar firms in Bangladesh and Mexico.
When a machine malfunctioned on the Ajin USA assembly line, 20-year-old Regina Elsea feared her team would miss their quota if she waited for a technician to fix it. So she grabbed a screwdriver and attempted to clear the problem herself. The broken machine surged forward, impaling Elsea on a pair of welding tips. The technician her coworkers summoned to fix it had no idea what to do and ran away. She died the next day. Ajin sent a single artificial flower to her funeral.
OSHA fined Ajin $2.5 million in connection with Elsea’s death. A month earlier, the company had been fined for letting 8 workers get their hands crushed in welding machines.
The risk of losing a limb or a digit in an Alabama parts factory is double the risk for the industry at large. A worker in Alabama is 65% more likely to lose a digit than a worker in the same industry in Michigan.
“Workers like Elsea are losing life and limb because of unrelenting time pressure and lack of basic safety training.” said Sidney judge Lindsay Beyerstein. “Waldman used the Freedom of Information Act to expose a hidden epidemic of grisly death and catastrophic injury in this industry.”
Peter Waldman has been an investigative reporter for Bloomberg News since 2009. He was previously a Senior Writer for Conde Nast Portfolio and before that an editor and reporter for The Wall Street Journal for 22 years, where he was posted in the Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.