Florida Crystals Buys Tate & Lyle Sugars Refineries, Exporting Its Bad Reputation to Europe

West Palm Beach-based Florida Crystals announced yesterday that it has purchased European refineries in a deal that will increase the company's capacity to 6 million tons a year.

Florida Crystals CEO Alfonso Fanjul Jr., in a news release, described the deal with Tate & Lyle Sugars as "proof that working together leads to success."

But for the refineries in London and Lisbon, the deal means they now have a corporate overlord with a long history of making money off the backs of its poorly treated workers.

For instance, an inspection in September 2008 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration turned up 15 violations of workplace safety rules, 14 of them deemed "serious," the highest classification.

The violations included serious hazards that could have been deadly. They included a locked fire exit door, a lack of machine guards on equipment, and employees exposed to electrical hazards.

In response, Florida Crystals paid a $66,500 fine.

It wasn't the first time OSHA has found problems at Florida Crystals. In 2004, a worker named José Gallardo told New Times about an accident that led to his losing most of his left arm at the Florida Crystals-owned Osceola Farms refinery in western Palm Beach County.

Shortly after the accident, Gallardo said Florida Crystals would surely fire him for it. "I cannot work with one hand. They will not want me. Nobody will hire me," he said from his hospital bed.

Florida Crystals spokesman Gaston Cantens told New Times that Gallardo's family had been taken care of and that his job was secure. The claim wasn't true -- his family hadn't been contacted. The accident also hadn't been reported to OSHA, and in response, the agency launched an investigation.

After an inspection, OSHA cited the Osceola Mills refinery for two "serious" safety violations related to Gallardo's amputation. OSHA ordered the refinery to pay a $4,625 fine. But after an appeal, the refinery got the fine reduced.

In the end, a man's arm and possible future employment cost the company $3,469.

Luckily for Gallardo, who couldn't be reached for this article, the Florida Division of Workers Compensation also started an investigation after New Times asked about the accident. State regulators determined that Gallardo was partially disabled from the accident and ordered Osceola Mills to pay him future salaries he lost.

On August 4, 2004, Florida Crystals paid Gallardo the first of several payments that would total about $161,000.

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