A Pontiac-based mortgage company and a Saginaw gym that was never supposed to open are among the first six Michigan businesses fined and cited for reportedly violating state orders designed to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The six companies were cited by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration with what it called “serious violations” for failing to uphold safe and healthy practices, potentially putting workers in harm’s way. The companies received fines between $2,100 and $7,000. The total fines amounted to $33,400.
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The enforcement actions are in accordance with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders for businesses to follow strict guidelines in order to combat the coronavirus. For months, the administration required many businesses to stop offering in-person services or to implement a litany of safety protocols in order to remain open.
The citations, delivered Monday and Tuesday, come after the state received roughly 1,000 complaints and referrals since the end of July, MIOSHA Director Bart Pickelman said in a news release Friday.
“The MIOSHA investigations determined that these six employers were clearly not taking the appropriate steps to protect employees and their communities from the spread of COVID-19,” Pickelman said. “These citations are meant to reiterate the employer’s duty. Precautions are necessary to establish and maintain a work environment where everyone can return home safe and healthy.”
The six businesses cited are:
- United Shore Financial Services, LLC, based in Pontiac. The company was fined $6,300.
- A UPS distribution facility based in Livonia. The company was fined $7,000.
- Speedway, LLC, gas station and convenience store located in Waterford. The store was fined $6,300.
- Coop’s Iron Works, a fitness center based in Saginaw. The company was fined $2,100.
- Dan Freed, a residential contractor based in Eaton Rapids. The contractor was fined $6,400.
- Hills Roofing, LLC based in Niles. The company was fined $5,300.
The companies have 15 days to appeal the citations. If a company agrees with the findings of the citation and to not appeal, it can enter into an arrangement with the state where the amount of the fine is cut by up to 50%, Pickelman said.
Speedway and Hills Roofing did not immediately provide a comment. The Free Press could not immediately locate contact information for Freed.
Mat Ishbia, the CEO of United Shore Financial Services, vehemently denied that his company did anything wrong. He said they are appealing the citation.
“Absolutely not,” Ishbia said Friday in a phone interview when asked whether his company violated any facet of state coronavirus orders.
“We have not done anything outside of the order at any point, and never will.”
Regarding United Shore, the state in its news release said that an inspection was initiated there because of “multiple employee complaints and reports from the Oakland County Health Department of COVID-19 outbreaks among employees.”
Specifically, the state said it found: “The employer allowed employees to work in a shared office space without wearing face coverings; the employer allowed employees to work within 6 feet of one another without face coverings; the employer allowed newly hired employees to meet in a large group in excess of 120 people without wearing face coverings while seated within 6 feet of one another; and that employees are not notified within 24 hours of the employer learning an individual with a confirmed case of COVID-19 visited the office.”
A MIOSHA spokesman said as of Friday, no appeal from United Shore had been filed. The state declined further comment on Ishbia’s denials.
In mid-August, Oakland County health officials said 84 people employed by the company had confirmed coronavirus cases. Ishbia said 40 of those employees had been on the company’s campus since March, and the other 44 had not. The county on Friday updated the total number of COVID-19 cases to 95, said spokesman Bill Mullan.
Adam Wolfe, the company’s chief legal officer, said the company employs 7,000 people and is going above and beyond to comply with orders the company feels have changed since the start of the pandemic.
The company also threatened legal action against the Free Press on Friday, arguing past coverage has been unfair.
On Friday, Mullan said the local health division completed a tour of United Shore on Tuesday.
“MIOSHA’s action today regarding United Shore reflects the concerns that Oakland County Health Division has had,” Mullan said in a statement.
“This includes the necessity for employees to wear masks as they move about the building or gather together, which health division observed during Tuesday’s visit. Health division also noted a number of things United Shore is getting right, such as social distancing signage. Health division is committed to helping United Shore address the issues identified by MIOSHA.”
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The state said Coop’s Iron Works failed to properly train employees, post required signage and conduct other safety steps.
Michelle Cooper owns Coop’s Iron Works, along with her husband, Rob. On Friday, she acknowledged receiving the citation and that the fitness center is in violation of state order by being open.
“We’re not supposed to be running our business, but there’s no way we would have ever survived if we would have stayed closed for this long,” Cooper said in a phone interview Friday.
Cooper said the business has now posted signs on its front doors and expects to continue operating.
In a statement, a UPS spokesman said the company is working to serve the community and keep employees safe.
“UPS continuously shares the hygiene and social distancing protocols suggested by the CDC with all employees. The company has modified, and will continue to modify, our normal operating procedures to maintain social distance protocols” said Matt O’Connor, senior manager of public relations for the company.
In an interview Friday, Michigan COVID-19 Workplace Safety Director Sean Egan said the state has tried to educate and work with businesses for months to comply with safety protocols. He noted the state has issued guidance for months about what businesses need to do to comply with state orders.
“We’re focused on education first so employers know what they must do to safely reopen. But a failure to follow guidelines puts everyone at risk. While these citations are necessary to prevent potential serious illness, they are not a reflection of the tremendous cooperation we have seen from employers and their workers across the state,” Egan said in a statement.
Pickelman noted that the majority of employers are following the rules. Although the maximum fine amount of $7,000 is not relatively large, he said ensuring a company institutes safety practices to help its employees is the main purpose of any enforcement action.
“The important part of issuing a citation is not necessarily the penalty, it is the fact the employer must fix whatever the problem is and show us that they fixed it. Otherwise, MIOSHA will not go away,” Pickelman said.
Inspections, and, potentially citations, will continue, Pickelman said.
Contact Dave Boucher: [email protected] or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.