A company owned by Atlantic County Freeholder Frank Formica faces two lawsuits after employees at his family-owned bakery suffered serious injuries.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had filed 22 violations against Baker Boys, a bakery partly owned by Formica Brothers, according to records obtained from the U.S. Department of Labor website.
Dianna Trujillo, a 23-year-old single mother from El Salvador, had a forearm amputated after while operating a piece of machinery at the bakery in 2016. One year earlier, Francis Carpinelli lost his right hand while operating a break making machine.
Both are suing Formica’s company. There are no allegations of wrongdoing against Formica personally.
“It was a very unfortunate thing. These are both tragedies,” Formica told the New Jersey Globe. “We have employees here that still have nightmares about the accident.”
According to Formica, Carpinelli put his hand in a moving machine while it was on – two days after receiving safety training.
“I’m not knocking her,” Formica said. “She put her hand through a moving chain drive.”
Formica said his family bakery has been in business for 99 years and that he had never faced an OSHA complaint until former Baker Boys with other bakery companies as a commissary plant a few years ago.
Some of the OSHA complaints were for minor issues, like an extension cord that was too long.
Most of the violations were downgraded, including the fines.
“They saw our due diligence,” said Formica.
The plant manager and compliance officer at Baker Boys is James Bertino, who is also an Atlantic County freeholder.
Formica and Bertino, both Republicans, are up for re-election this year. Republicans have a 6-3 majority on the freeholder board, with another GOP incumbent, Maureen Kern, up for re-election. Democrats need to win one seat to take control.
Formica said that Bertino had no role in the issues that caused the litigation.
“There is nothing under his purview that he ever did wrong,” said Formica, who noted that other employees, not Bertino, conducted the actual safety training programs.
Formica said if Democrats sought to make the litigation a political issue over the next few weeks, he is confident the voters will recognize his company’s strong record on safety issues.
“I would take great umbrage and righteous indignation at that,” the freeholder said. “We are a family. Our employees are like a family.”
The family bakery business is well known in Atlantic County, and the reputation of the brand helped advance Formica’s career in public office.
While making his sympathies clear and acknowledging that Trujillo and Carpinelli suffered serious harm – he said they have already received benefits through worker’s compensation — Formica remains unhappy with the lawyers who want a big pay day. He said the accidents were hardly intentional.
“The insurance company, under New Jersey law, have not been paying legal fees,” Formica said. “I’m slowly going broke.”
Update: Democratic freeholder candidates Celeste Fernandez, Maureen Leidy, and Barbara Butterhof-Rheault, released the following statement: “The claim by Formica, that somehow the victims of unsafe workplace conditions were directly responsible for the amputation of their limbs, is heartless and irresponsible. Employers have a duty and obligation to provide a safe work environment. Ultimately Mr. Formica and Jim Bertino, as Plant Manager, are responsible for ensuring worker safety – and in these two cases they failed. The amputation of a limb isn’t something that a quick trip to UrgentCare or workman’s comp makes right. I hope that the injured receive restitution befitting the losses that they suffered.”