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A union representing workers at the Middletown Township Sewerage Authority called for authority leaders to resign this week following the death of a 47-year-old man killed while working in a manhole at the facility last spring.
John C. Molnar, of Hazlet, a widowed father of three, died May 31 while working at the sewerage facility, located on Beverly Way in the Belford section of the township.
“There were so many safety concerns after (Molnar’s death), it’s just clear that the people in charge didn’t have any idea what they were supposed to be doing,” said Dylan J. Wilkinson, an officer with CWA Local 1075, which represents the sewer workers.
After Molnar’s death, state officials inspected the plant and found numerous safety violations, according to documents obtained by NJ Advance Media on Monday.
The violations listed in the documents, which were the result of two inspections in June, do not appear to have played a role in or contributed to Molnar’s death. However, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported serious problems at the facility.
According to the state records, the violations included failure to identify respiratory hazards, neglecting to properly maintain Bilco basement doors with chains to prevent employees from falling through, exposed wires and hazardous chemicals leaking from a pump station.
At a township sewerage authority meeting Monday night, union workers presented executive director Brian Rischman and two authority chairpersons with a “vote of no confidence” petition signed by 25 of the 28 workers from the plant where Molnar died.
The union called for Rischman, sewerage authority chairperson Chantal Bouw and vice chairperson Emil Wrede to resign. Union members said workers’ lives have been at risk for many months, if not years.
While there are seven voting commissioners serving on the authority, Wilkinson said the chairperson and vice chairperson, along with the executive director, “are the most involved” and most visible to union employees.
Rischman, Bouw and Wrede did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the petition. Richard C. Leahey, attorney for the authority, did not return a call seeking comment.
“We have no confidence in the leadership,” the petition states. “We believe that they have no ability to provide a safe and healthy working environment and demand they immediately resign or be removed.”
The petition was first presented to members of the Middletown Township Committee. But Wilkinson said the committee does not have the power to immediately remove authority leaders, but they can choose not to reappoint them.
The union claims Molnar should have been wearing a harness attached to a tripod the day he died. That would have allowed other workers could to “crank him back up” to safety, Wilkinson said.
Molnar should also have had a calibrated gas meter to test the air in the manhole and a fan should have been blowing fresh air to the worker, Wilkinson said.
The Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health agency, or PEOSH, which is investigating the incident, has not released Molnar’s cause of death and has declined to comment, citing an open investigation.
Wilkinson said he believes Molnar died either from carbon monoxide poisoning or from drowning in the water at the bottom of the manhole.
“He was entering a confined space and he didn’t have any of the proper safety equipment on-site,” Wilkinson said. “Not only was it too hot, but they didn’t have enough manpower. He went ahead with the job anyway.”
Wilkinson said the workers who signed the petition “feel like they were failed by their leadership” at the sewerage authority.
A GoFundMe page set up to raise money for Molnar’s three children, ages 16, 12 and 2, had raised more than $38,000 as of Monday night.
Molnar’s wife, Bridget M. Molnar, a teacher and the mother of the two older children, died at age 42 in July 2016.
Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TonyAttrino. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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