Body Part Pies

Table Talk gets a lot of money from the city and racks up a lot of OSHA complaints

We give Table Talk Pies an awful lot of money and they let an awful lot of their workers get hurt. 

Over the past few years, Table Talk Pies has been fined by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration a bunch of times at a whopping total of $400,000. OSHA is currently investigating the company for two violations that may or may not include amputations. 

Amputations!

By the way, the company pays about $135,000 in taxes a year to the city, which is just something to keep in mind when you‘re thinking about those $400,000 in fines and the millions the company is getting in tax relief.

Per a recent Worcester Business Journal article, OSHA opened two investigations this month into “amputation” incidents at Table Talk, though the office has not provided any more specific information on the incidents. So they might be amputations, they might not be. Either way, if it’s serious enough to trigger an OSHA investigation, it was probably nothing good. And it was not even close to the first time.

And yet whenever they look for money, the city is oh-so-willing to give it to them. It’s nearly outside the realm of possibility that they wouldn’t. We can’t risk losing Table Talk to Millbury, now, can we?

Earlier this year, with only the most modest of pushback, the City Council approved a $4.6 million tax deal with the company to build a new facility in the Main South area and get the hell out of Kelley Square before the ballpark starts going. After a couple councilors made a fuss, the company promised to pay its workers $15 an hour after they’ve worked at the company for 6 months. Nothing about the myriad OSHA complaints and investigations the company had already racked up, though. Employees there currently start at $14 an hour, and every day they risk being one of the workers that triggers an OSHA investigation by losing a body part or breathing in poison or getting electrocuted.  

In 2017, the council gave the company another similar deal, about $2.2 million, to open a new facility on Southgate Street. 

Here’s the thing about these tax deals. Worcester uses them with abandon. Nearly every major project in the city gets one. City officials will tell you that we need to use them to be “competitive” with other cities and towns in the state. Called “tax increment financing” packages, they essentially give the company an incremental break on property taxes over the course of about 20 years usually. They start paying no taxes at all and then in 10 years they pay 50 percent of what they should be and then in 20 years they pay all the taxes they should. It’s a little different every time but that’s the idea.

In all, Worcester has about 20 of these tax deals active right now, per a Worcester Regional Research Bureau report that came out last year

Those two “Chacharone Properties” ones there at the bottom are the Table Talk Pies ones. Missing from the list is the one for Madison Properties, the developer the city is relying on to make the ballpark project “pay for itself.”

If we don’t use them, the company will move somewhere else, they’ll say. We need to pass up on this money we could use to repair crumbling school buildings because if we don’t we won’t get any money because the company won’t build here. It’s the same mentality that got us this disastrous PawSox deal and if you’ll remember Amazon used the same logic ruthlessly to produce the best tax deal they could for their “headquarters 2.” Make the cities compete for scraps by seeing how much of the company store they’re willing to sell off.

Worcester, by the way, offered Amazon a $500 million tax deal, a 100 percent property tax exemption for the first 20 years, and $1 million in grant funding among other things. 

Do you see how warped this is? Worker conditions be damned, the city needs to lure private investment by giving the companies that allow workers to be hurt millions of dollars.  The Table Talk Pies situation is perhaps the most instructive of the concept of “economic development” in the way that neoliberal city government is oriented. The city sees itself as a facilitator of private investment—almost like a real estate agent—and the goal is to get things built at all costs. Ed Augustus likes to use the term “tools in our toolbox” when it comes to economic development. Those tools essentially amount to how much tax money they can leave on the table to encourage a business to move here instead of somewhere else. Everyone loses but the company.

This Worcester Business Journal story about the OSHA complaints dropped yesterday, so we’ll have to wait and see until next week to see if any City Councilors put anything related to it on the agenda. If they launch any sort of inquiry into why we give this company so much money while workers keep getting hurt. If a councilor approaches this issue from the perspective of the Worcester residents who work in the factory and not the owners of the factory. 

If the council took it seriously, there are mechanisms within these tax increment finance agreements to pressure companies to be better to workers, though they’re a bit fangless. The company is supposed to report annually on the following goals, per the WRRB. 

The new guidelines direct the City Manager to limit TIFs to projects that will create “permanent, full-time livable wage jobs for Worcester residents,” with a goal that in 2016 and 2017 jobs pay at least 125% of the state minimum wage and beginning in 2018 jobs pay the greater of 125% of the state minimum wage or $15.00 hour. The policy also requires that 100% of the newly created positions will be made available to (but not obligated to) residents of Worcester. The City reserves the right to require that these jobs be filled by 10% minorities, 5% women, and 15% low-moderate income individuals. 

It’s 2020 and Table Talk Pies is still listing its starting wage as $14 in job postings so that’s… you know. Not in the spirit, to say the least.

We’ve recently seen the city exercise its power, or at least threaten to, in the case of UNUM. The UNUM building downtown that has the Jimmy Johns in it that’s pretty much all I know about UNUM is no longer home to any workers as they’ve gone full-remote due to COVID. This has upset the City Council. Some members feel they’ve been hammed because the building is supposed to have 300 workers in it per the TIF agreement. Recently, City Manager Ed Augustus unveiled a plan for possible “corrective action.” Per the plan, UNUM will have to sublet some of the space or risk losing out on whatever is left of the $1.35 million tax break the company got in 2009. 

No such corrective action has been proposed for Table Talk Pies. 

While Table Talk Pies had active TIF agreements with the city, Table Talk Pies racked up six violations for exposing an employee to sodium hydroxide, causing OSHA to rule the company “did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees in that employees were exposed to additional bodily harm or potential permanent disabling injuries that could result from the employer's not notifying emergency medical services.” 

Table Talk Pies had an active TIF agreement when it was fined $122,948 for “serious forklift and electrical shock incidents.” 

Table Talk Pies had an active TIF agreement when it was fined $13,260 for an incident in which an employee’s arm was pulled into a machine causing hospitalization and skin grafts. 

Table Talk Pies has an active TIF right now while OSHA investigates two alleged amputation incidents.

Maybe we don’t have to give this company so much money until they find a way to keep their workers safe? Just a thought.

It’s also worth pointing out before I close out this piece that Table Talk Pies is not a union shop, at least not that I’m aware. These workers are paid just about minimum wage and they risk getting hurt to the point the company is fined more than $100,000 and they don’t even have the recourse of going through a union for grievances or collective bargaining or more workplace safety measures. 

If Table Talk Pies workers had a strong union, this would all be a moot point. 

~/~

If anyone works at Table Talk Pies or knows someone who does my email is billshaner91@gmail.com I’d like to hear from you about working conditions there. All information is shared with the obvious promise of anonymity. Your boss won’t find out. And if you want to go ~on the record~ we can have that conversation. It’s probably not a good idea, but it might be, you know?

As always I’d ask that you consider throwing me some money so I can continue writing stories like this. For the cost of one and a half Dunkin’ iced or one Good Coffee a month or two good tacos or five Taco Bell tacos I can keep writing about Worcester in a way I would be unable to do at a traditional publication.

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I’m starting a podcast of my own but it won’t be related to politics in any way and it’s going to be very stupid and cool and the working title is Highway 69 but more on that later. 

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Also, the Worcester Regional Research Bureau recently released a new report about how the city could pay for it, and turns out it’s really not all that hard.  

Ok see ya sweet babies. COVID is getting terrible again so be careful out there and do what you can to stay home.