CENTRALIA, Wash. — Three Centralia businesses face more than $285,000 in fines after "knowingly" putting workers at risk of exposure to COVID-19, according to the Department of Labor & Industries.
Between July 7 and Oct. 5, 253 people working in a food supply warehouse in Lewis County contracted COVID, according to L&I. Of those workers, five were hospitalized, according to L&I.
At least one worker reported being told to work because they had not tested positive for COVID-19 when they actually had, according to L&I. Initially, nobody notified workers they were exposed.
“Our investigation uncovered a widespread outbreak that put employees, their families, and their communities across 10 counties at risk for COVID-19,” said Joel Sacks, L&I director. “The actions these companies took or failed to take undoubtedly made it worse — contributing to faster and broader spread of the virus in the workplace.”
The exposures occurred in a large warehouse serving hundreds of grocery stores and military operations. The warehouse is owned and operated by United Natural Foods, Inc. About 1,000 people work at the warehouse, with 600 working directly for United Natural Foods. The remainder of the workers are under contract.
Following an initial investigation in July, the company told officials most operations were being temporarily shut down, according to L&I. However, shipments from the site continued with the general workforce.
United Foods failed to provide information for employees who tested positive and claimed not to know who some people worked for, according to L&I. Employees were allowed to continue working, despite the company knowing – or should have known – about positive cases, according to L&I.
An Order of Immediate Restraint was issued to ensure safety measures were put in place before the warehouse reopened.
United Foods was cited $140,000.
Of the workers under contract at the warehouse, about 200 are employed by Capstone Logistics LLC. Of those, 54 tested positive for COVID; one was hospitalized.
According to L&I, Capstone loaded crowded vans with employees without screening for COVID-19 symptoms or requiring masks. One worker was told he had not tested positive and to continue working, even though he had tested positive, according to L&I.
Capstone was cited $75,400.
Of about two dozen people who work for Prime 360 in the warehouse, four tested positive for COVID, according to L&I.
L&I's investigation found Prime 360's on-site manager showed "intentional disregard" for the health and safety of the workers. The manager told L&I it was his policy to assume employees not wearing masks were vaccinated.
Capstone was fined $70,000.
Capstone and Prime 360 have appealed the citations and fines. The deadline for United Foods to appeal is Tuesday, Feb. 8.