Voices From the Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Thursday March 10, 2011
Talk about your bad career moves. Former Drive for Diversity driver, Jesus Hernandez has probably given up on his dream of making it to NASCAR’s big leagues… if not, he should.
This last week, Hernandez, whose most recent job was a test team mechanic (kind of like being a prestigious member of an NFL ‘practice squad’) for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, filed a wrongful termination suit against EGR. In his suit, Hernandez claims he was fired after he threatened to go to OSHA about working conditions at an EGR test tunnel. Hernandez seems to think that the tunnel does not have adequate ventilation and claims he suffered symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
To be honest, when I first read of this, I laughed. In my mind I was picturing a “wind tunnel” environment. How in the hell can a wind tunnel NOT have adequate ventilation? In the bathroom maybe, but out in the actual work area?
Well, as it turns out, the tunnel in question is actually an abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnel that EGR has fashioned for use as a straight line testing unit for its race cars. I have no idea how long its been abandoned, but since its been almost 30 years since I’ve been on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, chances are I may have been in it myself. Maybe that’s what’s wrong me now! But back to the case…
Hernandez visited or worked in the tunnel three times in 2009. After his third time there, he went to EGR with his concerns. In March of 2010, EGR showed Hernandez a report from a worker compensation company, Amerisafe. Amerisafe concluded in that report that the carbon monoxide levels in the tunnel did not exceed OSHA standards. EGR then ordered Hernandez back to work at the tunnel. Hernandez agreed to return to work but said he was going to notify OSHA. Hernandez was fired in April of 2010 for what can only be described as a “failure to communicate!” No, actually the real reason listed was ‘failure to cooperate’ which basically is the same thing but far less memorable if it were to be used in a movie.
Having listed the facts as I and the rest of the world not actually involved in the case are privy to, I have a few questions that I’d like to ask.
Now I’m no engineer, but I’ve been in many a tunnel and I’ve watched many documentary shows about them as well. Tunnels by their very nature are built to have natural ventilation to some degree that is often, if not always, augmented by the use of fans or other ventilation methods, even if it’s a canary in a cage…not that the canary actually helps the ventilation process but when you hear a thud as it falls from its perch, its time to get out! Old miners learned of this the hard way from way back when their co-worker first farted in one. Why would this tunnel be any different?
Secondly, it is not known how soon Hernandez went to EGR about his concerns after his third visit but even if it was in December, it is apparent to me that EGR did in fact take the concerns seriously. How did I come to that conclusion? I’ll tell ya…if they hadn’t, why did it take till March of 2010 to show Jesus the carbon monoxide report? Was it lost in a filing cabinet somewhere? Did they not have anyone on staff savy enough to make up a false one before that? I doubt it. The most obvious reason is that they took the issue seriously enough to take the time to get a test done and the results back.
Or, perhaps Hernandez waited until 2010 to even voice his concerns? If that is the case, why did he wait so long? Another fact of the case is that Hernandez only filed his suit after the North Carolina Department of Labor rejected his claim and refused to prosecute the case due to lack of evidence. Well, by all means Senior Hernandez, if all else fails, find yourself a good lawyer!
“We are confident that when all the facts are revealed in a court of law, it will be clear that EGR subjected Jesus and other workers to unsafe and dangerous work conditions and then illegally fired Jesus when he was about to blow the whistle,” said Michael Roessler of the Lanier Law Group, who is handling the case.
Is that so? Where are the rest of the EGR employees who should be standing by Jesus’s side? Oh, there are none! No specific amount of damages have been listed in the suit for wrongful termination and retaliation, but you can bet it not going to be small.
Whatever is decided in a court of law (and I hope EGR does not ‘settle’), one thing is certain, Jesus Hernandez’s welcome in NASCAR has probably run its course. I mean, who would want to hire a worker with a history of suing a former employer in the industry? And the dreams of being a driver in NASCAR? If Jesus can’t handle acceptable OSHA levels of carbon monoxide in a test tunnel, the LAST place he needs to be is in a race car!
In case you are wondering, Hernandez is a veteran of 35 total races since 2007 in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series, both East and West. He also has served as development driver for MB2 Motorsports, Ginn Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. before working at EGR.
It may not be what Brian France had in mind as a product for his Drive for Diversity program but at least a former pupil is making headlines!!
Stay off the wall, (and out of the tunnel!)
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