OSHA Seeks $6,800 In Fines Against Connecticut Humane Society

March 4, 2010

A reinspection of the Connecticut Humane Society’s Newington headquarters by OSHA has resulted in numerous violations being cited as well as proposed fines of $6,800.

OSHA reinspected the facility on Jan. 19 after CtWatchdog.com disclosed that its earlier Sept. 11, 2009, inspection failed to uncover violations because CHS President Richard Johnston and his management team hid evidence of problems while two inspectors were kept distracted.

Workers interviewed on Sept. 11 were afraid for their jobs and refused to reveal the coverup to the inspectors, union sources told me, and OSHA gave the Humane Society a clean bill of health. The Sept. 11 inspection was conducted after at least one worker complained that he had respiratory problems as the result of using harsh chemicals without safety equipment.

After I disclosed the sham in a Jan. 11 column, at least one more Connecticut Humane Society employee complained to OSHA of similar problems. The second inspection was then conducted. This time, OSHA acting Hartford Director Robert Kowalski sent a supervisor as well as an investigator. That inspection was conducted while Johnston was attending a CHS board of directors meeting.

This time, sources said, employees were no longer afraid and several told the OSHA employees in confidential one-on-one discussions about how Johnston and his managers had hid harsh chemicals and brought out protective equipment to the common areas during the Sept. 11 inspection.

By the time of the second inspection, three employees had been fired by Johnston as the result of their union activities, union sources say, and open warfare had started between union supporters and Johnston. Workers had voted 18 to 15 last fall to join the Machinists Union, a vote being contested by the Humane Society.

Johnston was on medical leave Thursday following surgery and could not be reached for comment. CHS board member Leslie White, speaking on behalf of the board, had no comment on the OSHA report or on the proposed fines.

White is on a select committee of the board that claims to be investigating allegations brought by present and former CHS employees of being harassed and bullied by Johnston, a former state senator who besides running CHS is also a lawyer and a real estate agent. He is also board chairman. CHS, one of the oldest and best-known charities in Connecticut, also has facilities in Westport and in Waterford.

Johnston is also under investigation by the state attorney general’s office as the result of signed statements I sent them from former CHS employees accusing him of using money from 129-year-old nonprofit agency for his personal expenses as well as using staff to take care of his child while they were being paid to work for CHS. The workers also claim that a shortage of staff is resulting in high euthanasia rates, especially of cats.

Johnston has refused to comment to reporters and through a spokeswoman denied all charges.

The OSHA citations were dated Feb. 18, but many employees don’t even know about it, according to Cathy DeMarco, the leader of a coalition of present and former employees as well as their supporters. She said she learned of it Friday when one employee happened to see it.

DeMarco, of New Britain, told me Wednesday night that CHS posted the citations on a bulletin board that is not normally used for important notices. OSHA requires that all citations be prominently displayed so that employees will be aware of them. White declined to respond to that claim.

The citations allege:

  • Failure to label all containers that had hazardous chemicals.
  • Failure to develop formal hazard communication programs.
  • Failure to provide suitable facilities for emergency cleaning of eyes and body in case of exposure to hazardous chemicals.
  • Failure to properly inform workers of what safety equipment should be used.
  • Failure to ensure employee proper use of respirators.
  • Food was contained in a refrigerator that contained medicine and was labeled BIOHAZARD.

The complete citation can be found by clicking here 8602403155_100304_244735251.

Kowalski, the acting OSHA director, said the Connecticut Humane Society can appeal the citations. He is scheduled to meet with CHS representatives in Hartford Friday (March 5) to discuss the citations.

He said he was unaware that CHS failed to place the citation on a bulletin board that employees would see and said he will bring that issue up at today’s meeting.


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44 Responses to OSHA Seeks $6,800 In Fines Against Connecticut Humane Society

  1. Focus on March 4, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    It is time for Johnston and his upper management to hit the road. Far too many cats have been euthanized in the last month for no good reason. He has long overstayed his welcome.

    Who benefits if Johnston stays? He does

    Who benefits if Johnston goes? The animals, the good employees, the fired employees who will be reinstated, and the Board of Directors, for standing up against a very poor manager.

    The choice is easy.

    • Now a former volunteer on March 5, 2010 at 7:45 am

      Focus, dont forget..the PUBLIC benefits too. They get back an organization that is what it was intended to be. Not what he has created. WOnder how he’d feel as a parent coming in the building and being told that because you have a young child, we simply cannot adopt to you because all of our dogs have some sort of baggage and cannot be trusted around children. Thank God they can at least look at cats, rabbits and misc other small animals.

  2. ethan on March 4, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Johnston obviously has so me Very Loyal Republican Friends in some Very High Republican Places. They’ve covered for him so far. But, eventually, the embarrassment will too much for even Them, and Johnston will be dropped like a fast grounder in Bill Buckner’s glove. The clock is ticking…. Johnston’s probably deep into his closed-door “golden parachute” negotiations right now….

    Then he’ll be history.

  3. Lindsay on March 4, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    I’d love to see them dispute these charges, go OSHA!

    • Now a former volunteer on March 4, 2010 at 9:33 pm

      Ya had to know it was just a matter of time….time, is what MR J will have plenty of soon….

  4. A Volunteer on March 4, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    Justice will prevail! Go, OSHA! And 3 cheers to all employees and volunteers, past and present, who are speaking up on behalf of the animals.!

    • Now a former volunteer on March 4, 2010 at 9:33 pm

      The board CANNOT be happy about donation money going to pay fines for bad decisions on his part and his managers….Yup….get rid of them and start from scratch.

      • Focus on March 6, 2010 at 8:01 pm

        Especially in light of the fact that it’s not exactly difficult to comply with OSHA. It’s really not rocket science, and in the grand scheme of things, not really that burdensome; that is what is most ourageous about the fact that CHS was non-compliant. They are too busy worried about God knows what else instead of keeping the place safe for the animals and the people who care for them.

        • Now a former volunteer on March 7, 2010 at 9:39 am

          I agree, labelling containers properly, keeping them in a particular place, having safety practices in place are not a difficult thing to do. The problem with CHS is that with so many people quitting for poor working environment and followed by the firings of others…the policies and procedures were overlooked just to get the work done and to get the place cleaned up for the public. Now, if it were MY business, I’d be in the trenches with my staff trying to get out of the weeds but in a Hitler type of environment, that is the total opposite view of the expectation. Case in point, Mr J comes in on a saturday…..lobby is FULL of people waiting to get into an interview room to see pets, there are four of us adoption people on the floor plus Kitty the supervisor. He had her paged upstairs to “see him”. What type of ‘manager” does that? Your public is there to adopt animals and you want to pull one of them off the floor, probably to say, there’s a plastic stop and shop bag on the grounds parking lot, have someone pick it up. He’s too good to bend down and pick it up…..

  5. canine companion on March 4, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    the wheels of justice move slow, but even the complicit, self-preserving “managers” who serve at johnston’s whim must by now realize that their time is running out. for shame on every one of them for putting themselves ahead of the animals (and those who genuinely care for them) and for forgetting what ostensibly drew them to this field in the first place. please, all of you, go away now and give the society back to people with the heart and backbone to care for it properly.

    • Now a former volunteer on March 4, 2010 at 9:31 pm

      I think HELL JUST FROZE over….let the thawing begin…..He probably thought that he could reign as the supreme being forever. Alas, the Coaltion was strong enough to stand up to him and a huge thank you to everyone who has helped. Manager’s….start preparing your resume’s….your gonna need them.

      • OMG on March 5, 2010 at 12:48 am

        What “manager” is in charge of keeping records like this up to date and posted correctly? What “manager is in charge of the training of staff about safety?Keep in mind all of the “managers” received promotions and raises recently. Doesn’t sound like they deserved to be rewarded to me? They put the staff and animals in danger and then ridaculed them when they spoke up! Shame on them…..

        • Now a former volunteer on March 7, 2010 at 10:44 am

          A Manager is someone who leads by example. If this were the case, then the entire staff would be mean, rude and unappreciative of the entire staff. I’ve never met a group of people who followed the leader by being mean and rude to their staff ALL THE TIME. To question their every move, to wonder WHY they are doing A instead of B….With a few good manager’s in place, this organization will soon be what it was intended to be. Almost like Disney, the greatest place on earth…What pains me is that they didn’t have the backbone to stand up to “Hitler” and say, THAT is not how you motivate people to get things done, i will do it my way and we will accomplish more.

  6. Important Info on March 4, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    For Everyone’s Information: The OSHA meeting scheduled for tomorrow is exactly so chs CAN dispute all of these charges. If anyone has first hand information to verify/validate any of the problems uncovered by OSHA, please feel VERY encouraged to attend. Trust me, you won’t be alone. There WILL be friendly faces there. The meeting is at OSHA’s office in the Federal Building in Hartford, at 11:00 a.m. Please, don’t let CHS get away with lying to OSHA again.

    • Maureen on March 5, 2010 at 1:38 am

      I’m going to be there. I will make sure that OSHA hears the real truth about what has happened there.

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  9. Greyhound lover on March 6, 2010 at 12:18 am

    Wow another waste of donations and precious time…Johnston
    needs to throw in the towel…but instead he’d rather cling on to control and drag the humane society through the mud right along with him. And of course focus CHS on his battles not on their actual mission to protect animals and humans.

    • Now a former volunteer on March 6, 2010 at 9:05 am

      Yeah but the board I do believe is starting to SEE things the way they ARE instead of the way he portrays things for them. I for one am thrilled that they are involved to the degree they are. Anyone with any kind of self respect would have stepped down by now, him- his ego is so huge that he will take down the entire organization before he goes down. Amazing…

  10. J_Baam on March 6, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Did you you the CT Humane Society (as are all “non-profit” animal rescue’s) is exempt from complying with the same rules kennels are required to comply with? CT Humane get no inspections, no oversight as far as the care of animals it sells ………..

    • Concerned too on March 6, 2010 at 3:08 pm

      I’ve asked the very same question. Why are there no rules for chs? Over the years Mr. J made sure this was the case for Chs, but was it for the good of the organization or for himself? Chs has nobody to answer to and now things are out of control. This is just wrong. It seems Chs wants to do things their way, not the right way ( Excuse me I meant Mr. J’s way). And how can one person make the rules for a big organization? The board has some say, but over the years they don’t even know the day to day activities on the main floor (only what they are told by Mr. J and the managers). I hope when things calm down and we get to the bottom of this matter the board should take more interest on the daily work and take some part in being involved more with the animals and staff. A staff member should be appointed to meet with the board weekly or monthly to give an update on the progress downstairs. There is always two sides of a story. Lives are at stake here and more should be done to help to make sure the right decisions are made for the animals and the staff.
      We all know Mr. J has been using Chs as his own personal gain and after all these years nobody has spoke up against him and it’s time for a change.

      • Now a former volunteer on March 7, 2010 at 9:33 am

        I am “now a former volunteer” and I approve of this message!!!

  11. CS on March 7, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    How sad that things had to get to this point. If qualified, ethical, talented, and fair people were in the management positions, none of these things (OSHA violations, AG investigation, NLRB charges by the Union, and of course the formation of the Coalition) would’ve occurred. The simple fact remains that Mr.J and his 8- who hate- at the top in Newington are unethical, unqualified, and dishonest individuals who will not accept responsibility for their roles in leading this honorable charity astray. Hopefully the BOD will insist that these 8 ‘managers’ suffer the consequences of their inhumane deeds. Isn’t it truly amazing how the smart, qualified,
    experienced, and just workers have been passed over for promotions, written up, put on probation and even fired? Can someone please put an end to this 20 year saga of insanity?

    • Now a former volunteer on March 8, 2010 at 6:04 pm

      This is what happens what a Hitler Type person takes over an organization. It’s no different than a terrorist organization. You DO what you are told and even though you know it’s wrong…OR you hit the trail. Most of them walk because he makes it so impossible to work with if you DARE to cross him. For the organization to succeed, that entire management team has to go! It’s time to move on people…..Go work in a factory, where you can monitor people closely and inspect things…..

  12. Donna Ploss on March 8, 2010 at 8:24 am

    I was going to donate dog beds for the dogs in the pens in the back, so that they wouldn’t have to sleep on hard, cold concrete. I brought 5 of them and handed them to Kitty Baker. She then tells me that she’ll give them out to to the new owners of people who adopt the dogs. I went home that night and it just didn’t sit right with me. That was NOT my purpose. My purpose was to make those poor animals comfortable in a bad situation. I called CT HS the next day and said I would be picking the beds up and donating them to a NON-KILL shelter. I then went and bought another 7 beds and donated every single one of them to the Meriden Humane Shelter, a non-kill shelter. I sure slept well that night, as I hope the furkids did.

    • Now a former volunteer on March 8, 2010 at 5:43 pm

      I STRONGLY suggest that you write a letter to the Shelter and even direct an email to the board of directors. They need to hear from the public. What you saw and experienced is an everyday occurance there. It’s not about sending an animal HOME with good stuff, that is what the new owners will do. Now, if you surrendered an animal with a bed and stuff then those would or SHOULD go home with you if you adopt the animal but new stuff should STAY in the shelter to make their stay much more pleasant. Good for you for making a statement.

  13. Mer on March 8, 2010 at 9:25 am

    I am not an employee, but I have been told the BOD put a moratorium on all non-medically necessary euthanasia. It is my understanding that for the time being all behavior related euthanasia MUST be first approved by the Board.

    I think that’s a huge win for everyone at this point.

    • A Volunteer on March 8, 2010 at 9:56 am

      Mer, when did the moratorium take effect? I hope that’s the truth but there were 2 “behavioral” EUTHANASIAs , on Friday, February 26, after hours – a little more than a week ago. Rest in peace, Billie and Tisk.

      • Mer on March 8, 2010 at 12:47 pm

        I think it was those last two that really drove the point home to the Board.

        I heard about the moritorium going into effect just this weekend, so it’s a very, very recent policy change.

        • Focus on March 8, 2010 at 6:15 pm

          I don’t think that it is THE BOARD that needs to approve euthanasias, but rather A BOARD, as in a panel of four people that need to approve them. This is what I heard from a very reputable source.

          • Mer on March 8, 2010 at 8:33 pm

            Gotcha. Appreciate the clarification.

          • Lindsay on March 9, 2010 at 7:21 pm

            And where in the society are there that many people capable of such a decision? No one is qualified

          • It's about time on March 11, 2010 at 8:12 am

            Who comprises this Board? Are they still under RJ’s thumb or will they be truly independent? I would hope that this is truly a compassionate board and that they will oversee euthanasias at the other branches as well. It’s not just Newington that performs shady after-hour procedures (ie, Westport!).

        • Lindsay on March 9, 2010 at 7:19 pm

          The BOD isn’t qualified to make decisions on behavioral euthanasia. The two vets have no behavioral background, almost no vets do. Vet school focuses on dishing drugs, not behavior. You can’t take lawyers and finance people, place a dog in front of them and say “do you think his behavior is workable or should we euthanize him?”. That would be like taking 10 year old and asking him to sail the titanic. If they were smart they would enlist help of a qualified third party behaviorist to make these decisions in the mean time.

          • Cat Doctor on March 11, 2010 at 12:51 pm

            Lindsay – are you actually qualified to take such a mean-spirited swipe at veterinary schools? That’s the kind of comment I often hear from people who have never been there, acting like they know more about it than the people who have. I think you owe our profession an apology.

          • Lindsay on March 11, 2010 at 10:19 pm

            Actuall that’s why I didn’t bother attending because I don’t enjoy medical, I prefer behavioral, and thankfully there is a big line down the middle diving the two. Having been a pre-vet student I know more than my fair share of vets, so yes I do call that qualified. Not a single vet I have ever worked with professionally as a trainer or as a patient with my animals has had beyond a very crude basic understanding of how behavior works in relation to training – thus why I get called in. I’m not saying they don’t want it, but that’s not a top priority of vet school. I also don’t use traditional vets prefering holistic, there’s no need to pump toxins into my animals, they do fine without on a nice raw diet. The fact that most vet school funding comes from big pharmaceutical companies ensures lots of drug training. The only place a vet has in deciding euthanasia is from a medical standpoint. Any and all medical issues should be eliminated as the cause of the issue and treated, THEN the behavioral work begins. If left to the vets, all 3 of my cats would be dead now for medical issues deemed “untreatable”, the youngest one having been rescued from CHS because the vet there determined that a purring 12 week old kitten with a severe heart murmur (the purring made it difficult to assess) shouldn’t be adopted out because he could potentially die shortly after entering a home upsetting the owner.

          • Also a Volunteer on March 12, 2010 at 4:13 pm

            Without insulting professions or getting into a debate about holistic vs traditional drugs…let’s just say that the BOD does not have the knowledge base to make euthanasia decisions – whether it’s medical OR behavioral – and leave it at that. Let’s not forget our mission here – and it’s not to insult one another or discuss personal preferences.

          • Mer on March 14, 2010 at 3:26 pm

            The point here is not to throw insults or wage internal wars.

            The point was that, if THE Board or A board has to approve euthanasia then, it should follow, there will be no after hours, just because, or retaliatory euthanasia, which is a tremendous step in the right direction.

            It’s not about whether those people are qualified to make behavior assessments, but that animals aren’t being destroyed just because RJ thinks they cost too much, or because KB wants to punish someone for . It’s a method of accountablity – it’s what we’ve been asking for.

            We are all on the SAME SIDE for the animals here. We are winning one small battle at at time; squabbling over the perfect solution, the solution NOT yet available to us, is alienating and unproductive.

        • A Volunteer on March 9, 2010 at 7:47 pm

          Thanks for clarifying – and that is good news. A victory worth celebrating!

  14. Die-Die on March 8, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    I have attended all but one of the Coalition for Change meetings and I have seen and heard how very deeply the members of this group care about CHS: the workers, the animals, and the organization itself. The vast majority of the group is NOT presently employed at the shelter. They themselves will not benefit in any way by any improvements made by the BOD, OSHA, the AG, the Machinists Union and the NLRB. They only care about improving the very bad conditions at CHS. If the president and his team of bad managers had been doing the right thing for the workers, the public, the society itself and most importantly the animals, NONE OF THIS WOULD’VE HAPPENED! The Coalition for Change basically took on a very large and challenging project, involving time, effort, money, and real work to get the oldest and largest shelter in the state of CT to “always do the right thing….”

  15. Now a former volunteer on March 13, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    So, the latest news is that the management of CHS is telling people that the Courant has printed a retraction to the OSHA story. Claiming that there are no more violations. In truth, what the Courant has retracted is that they added a zero to the total by mistake so they reported 68,000 in fines when it was only 6800 dollars…..Funny how these CHS people think they are so clever….

    • George Gombossy on March 13, 2010 at 5:15 pm

      Must be a little embarrassing for The Courant since it could not even copy correctly our story on this issue.

  16. OMG on March 13, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Unfortunately, things go on as if nothing is or has happened at CHS. It seems that all has been nearly forgotten as all the wrong doing continues. Does RBJ nor his “managers” suffer NO consaquences? This is very upsetting……..the animals have NO voice and we were thier last hope.

  17. Gioia on March 16, 2010 at 11:51 am

    For a chilling read about another animal shelter with an abusive president and management team, read msn.com’s story about the Toronto Humane Society. While the similarities to rj/CHS are disturbing, CHS’s problems will pale in comparison to what’s going on in Toronto’s shelter (and some others). (NOTE: This is not to be interpreted as a pass for rj or his puppets.)

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