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Lawmakers claim labor department is trying to identify workplace safety whistleblowers

Anchorage Representatives Zack Fields and Ivy Spohnholz are investigating whether the state...
Anchorage Representatives Zack Fields and Ivy Spohnholz are investigating whether the state improperly quashed COVID-19 workplace safety citations and fines for two seafood companies.(KTUU)
Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 6:29 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A terse dispute between two Anchorage lawmakers and the state over a quashed workplace safety investigation has intensified in the days leading up to a Wednesday evening legislative hearing on the matter.

Reps. Zack Fields and Ivy Spohnholz, Anchorage democrats, have alleged Alaska Labor ommissioner Dr. Tamika Ledbetter improperly dropped investigative findings and potential fines against Copper River Seafoods, Inc. and Alaska Glacier Seafoods, Inc.

Ledbetter denies any wrongdoing, and appears to have the support of Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor.

Copper River Seafoods, Inc., through spokesperson Tim Petumenos, said the controversy has harmed the company. He said leaked documents that should have remained confidential give the wrong impression, and also subvert proper process for public compliance investigations into private companies.

Fields isn’t backing off, and says he’s been made aware of attempts within the Department of Labor to figure out who the whistleblowers are. Ledbetter denies this, and the attorney general has directed Fields and Spohnholz to turn over any evidence they have to the Department of Law and Alaska State Troopers.

“Do they not consider the statement of whistleblowers to be evidence? And do I have to provide correspondence and the names of the whistleblowers? Of course I’m not going to provide the names of the whistleblowers. The letter from the attorney general was ridiculous and a distraction tactic,” Fields told Alaska’s News Source in an interview ahead of Wednesday’s hearing.

On Jan. 28, a handful of safety and health compliance officers with the state’s occupational safety and health program filed a formal complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration expressing deep concern for an interrupted enforcement process.

“We are now in a situation where we have observed and documented hazards to employees, but we cannot require the employer to abate these hazards. In this way, the Commissioner is knowingly allowing employees to be exposed to workplace hazards and preventing them from being corrected,” wrote the compliance officers.

“The idea that without citation there wasn’t corrective action taken by Copper River Seafoods is incorrect. During the investigation Copper River Seafoods was able to gain valuable information and took the investigation seriously. It has utilized that knowledge to improve the workplace and increase the health and safety of its employees,” Copper River Seafoods, Inc. said in a letter from their attorney, Jahna Lindemuth, to Fields and Spohnholz on Monday.

“I think it’s important to get the facts on the table,” Fields said. “My number one goal is for the department and for the administration to understand that when they fail to enforce the law, someone’s going to notice and is going to hold them accountable.”

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