OSHA Inspection Obstructed By Connecticut Humane Society President, Workers Claim

January 10, 2010

Copyright © 2010, CtWatchdog.com

Sept. 11, 2009 is a date remembered by many workers at the Connecticut Humane Society (CHS).

It of course was the anniversary of the World Trade Center destruction.

It was the date that a group of staffers said they would no longer be bullied by Humane Society President and Board Chairman Richard Johnston. They conducted their first of many secret union formation meetings.

It was also the date the two inspectors from the the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration came to the Newington headquarters to check out the facilities after a worker suffered breathing problems from inhaling harsh chemicals. One worker said staff was required to use full strength bleach to scrub floors without proper safety equipment and without additional ventilation.

According to present and former CHS workers, a large staff meeting was broken up by managers when the inspectors showed up unannounced.

A manager and an assistant, the workers said, intercepted the inspectors and delayed and sidetracked them while Johnston and others rushed around covering up potential OSHA violations.

Labels were put on unlabeled bottles, gloves and and goggles suddenly appeared in storage areas, the workers told me as well as officials of the machinists union. The union is organizing the staff at the multi-million-dollar-a-year agency.

The state Attorney General’s office – which began an investigation after I forwarded signed complaints from fired workers – is also being apprised of the OSHA cover-up.

Johnston and another manager – according to one worker – hid bottles of unmarked bleach under their clothing and moved them to a closet in a garage. Johnston even barged into the women’s locker room, without checking to see if anyone was inside, a worker told me, so he could search if anything OSHA might be interested in was in the room.

Johnston, workers said, weeks later announced that the facility had passed the inspection.

The Humane Society had no response to the allegations of obstructing the OSHA investigation. It has blamed allegations of wrongdoing provided to me as simply the fallout from the union organizing effort. It threatened libel actions.

The workers voted 18 to 15 to become unionized last fall, but three of the main organizers were fired last month. Johnston is contesting the union vote.

For the Humane Society’s full statement as well as previous allegations published last week, please read the earlier columns posted under this column.

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46 Responses to OSHA Inspection Obstructed By Connecticut Humane Society President, Workers Claim

  1. Deborah Malina on January 10, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    I am a volunteer of the CHS 3 days a week. I have been hearing complaints from staff now for several months. The charges against Mr. Johnston are just what some of the new disclosures on the IRS form 990 are meant too target… execs with too much influence, execs with personal gain from the nonprofit and execs misusing power. It’s a shame because the CHS mission statement talks about the humane treatment of all, apparently this doesn’t include staff.

    Let’s not forget though that many animals are helped here in CT by this organization. We don’t want to through out the baby with the bath water. This organization needs to be fixed not torn apart further!

  2. Greyhound Lover on January 10, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    More and more stories…
    This stuff has to be true!
    Over the years I’ve heard some horrible stories about this Johnston character. I volunteer for some rescues in CT, and information about how terrible it is there filters through. But, this unbelievable! Those poor workers and animals, thank goodness these individuals are speaking out.
    Get this guy out of there! And these managers that do his dirty work…sounds like the employees would do a much better job running the place!

    • Cathy Derench on January 12, 2010 at 12:17 pm

      I am in utter amazement! I agree, Greyhound Lover… I’ve heard things in the past … and I do rescue too…but how can all of these people be making this stuff up?????
      OMG, this is horrible from the animal and human perspective!

  3. BK Supporter on January 10, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    So glad to see the lid is being blown off of this corrupt CHS leader. Something needs to be done to get Johnston out of there. Isnt that clear by now?

  4. ejn on January 10, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Very true Deborah but you cannot fix anything with rotten parts. He and his managers need to be ousted, then these workers and the animals would have the opportunities they so much deserve.

  5. From Everyone on January 10, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Anyone seen the movie Shawshank Redemption?

  6. Concerened on January 10, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Richard leases a new truck for himself every 2 years. But yet the CHS mobile
    spay/neuter bus sits unused as a billboard in the parking lot. Spend over
    $250,000.00 for this bus and found it to be to much of a hassle to use it for
    what it was intended for. Not to mention the 2 brand new Chevy Trail Blazers
    that sit in the garage unused too. I would like to mention to, while he loves
    spending money, we have tried for years to get new supplies for cleaning and
    kennels fixed that can cause harm to the animals, you should see our only pooper scooper, it is held together with tape! I guess there is more important thing to spend the money on.

    • anon2 on January 14, 2010 at 6:47 pm

      It’s ridiculous the horrible supplies we have to work with. The broken brooms, the splintering mops, the flimsy squeegees. In the small animal room, finding a water bottle that doesn’t leak with a matching top is truly asking too much! The metal poop trays and metal rabbit cages are all covered with thick deposits of calcium build-up. Most of the metal bars on the cat-cages in the condo don’t sit properly on their hinges. Some of them have to be thoroughly slammed to get closed. Many of the black circle dividers that separate double-wide cat cages are broken. So many little things that could be fixed with a little CLR here, five-dollar mop there; instead Johnston wastes thousands on lawyers to keep the union at bay. He wouldn’t NEED the lawyers if he spent the pocket change it would take to fix things and show people (and more importantly, animals) the respect they need.

  7. Lindsay on January 10, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    In the summertime, the improper ventilation system allows the walls inside to become so saturated that after a few short weeks, thick black mold begins to grow in the vent ducts and over doorways. Many days we’d all go home with pounding headaches from using bleach all day to cover up this toxic situation. But we always felt it was better to do than allow the mold to get worse…of course you can only clean so much but there’s the stuff you don’t see further into the ducts that would surely cause respiratory issues in both humans and animals.

    • Concerened on January 10, 2010 at 9:43 pm

      To stop diseases from spreading into the main cat condo through the vents,
      cardboard was taped over the vents. Bet they can’t show prrof that the
      vents were ever cleaned professionally in the ten years since the building
      was built.

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  9. Harry P. on January 10, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    The public needs to know that many many employees and volunteers tried, in many different ways, over many years, to initiate positive changes @ CHS. Every attempt fell on deaf ears and then the volunteer or staff member was fired, harassed or intimidated by petty and unfounded disciplinary actions, or threatened to be sued. I worked @ CHS in 2009 and can truthfully say that the problem lies with the president and upper management. These people do not have the proper credentials and/or work experience to run a shelter of this size. This OSHA fiasco, with the injured employee, exemplifies this fact. The managers also lack basic manners and civility when dealing with the workers who are the heart and soul of this organization. But even more alarming is that staff can get seriously injured or ill because management refuse to get trained and then train the staff. At the root of the problem is the extremely low amount of workers! They simply cannot thoroughly and properly run this facility. It is very strange there because most of the animal care workers, adoption counselors, customer service staff and the entire medical department are far more knowledgeable, dedicated, professional, experienced, educated and HUMANE than most of the disrespectful and rude managers above them. The atmosphere is very tense and unhappy if you are not in Mr. J’s chosen circle. The Coalition and the Union were 2 separate ways in which concerned workers and volunteers hoped to begin the process of restoring harmony to the Society.

    • Concerened on January 10, 2010 at 10:07 pm

      Well Said, Thank You!

  10. uberVU - social comments on January 10, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by ctwatchdog: OSHA Inspection Obstructed By Connecticut Humane Society President http://bit.ly/8Oowvj via @AddToAny…

    • kim czaja on January 12, 2010 at 12:34 am

      i was injured with a severe lower back injury due to a OSHA violation, the fault of the ct. humane society. it was swept under the carpet. prior to that, i had to have a knee replacement. i presented all the doctor’s letter’s that were required. i was harassed to come back to work earlier than i should have. after a period of time i was let go. i went thru 2 hearings and i was the first person to win. employees were scared to stand up for themselves. richard was a bully. …as well as some of his staff. when i was hired to work there…at the fox memorial clinic, the dr’s. gave up time and $$ to get the facility running, as well as the staff that started the “UNPROFIT CLINIC”. i was disgusted to hear by richard that we were not making any $$$. this was at a board meeting.

  11. Concerened on January 11, 2010 at 12:05 am

    I recommend doing a search for properties owned by Richard Johnston, you will be surprised at what you will find…..

  12. Bill Donahoe on January 11, 2010 at 12:37 am


    It’s “Diss” not “Dish”that the Pr person did.

    It’s short for “Disrespect”.

    • James on January 12, 2010 at 7:02 am

      Hi Bill,

      Just for clarification, it was indeed “dishing” in the colloquial sense–which, among other things, means giving the scoop on something of questionable nature.


  13. Concerened on January 11, 2010 at 2:21 am

    Just curious to why this hasn’t gone to the media yet? I think more people need to be made aware of what goes on at the CT. Humane Society!

  14. Monica on January 11, 2010 at 10:42 am

    This situation definitely has to hit the media. Richard Johnston has to be exposed for the unethical and unfair treatment for the employees of the Humane Society both still working and let go.

  15. IntheKnow on January 11, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Over the years It’s been proven to be a money making business. I’d like to know how much Mr Johnson made by the sale of the Newfield Avenue, Stamford, property.
    Even this should be looked into.

  16. Concerened on January 11, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    People please please start emailing and calling the Attorney General. We need
    this to reach the media too, start emailing your local newspapers as well.
    The more people we get to come forward the better our chances of making a

  17. Concerened on January 11, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    There are an awful lot of job openings at the CHS listed on thier site today.
    Even in this economy I seriously doubt people will be lining up to work for
    this guy!LOL!

    • anony mouse on January 11, 2010 at 9:39 pm

      After months of having a skeleton crew for a staff, they had a huge job fair a few months ago. Over 100 people showed up and filled out job applications. The had a handful come in to work a day, “shadowing” one of the senior employees. They hired NOBODY. Since then, they have fired additional workers, and not replaced anyone. Any job openings posted currently are only there for show. Mr. J won’t hire anybody until he knows for sure he has beaten the Union.

      • Concerened on January 11, 2010 at 11:16 pm

        They were hiring for 3 animal care positions, 1 for each shelter. When the union was voted in they pulled the ad. There are not enough staff to tend to the animals properly and with the 2 nazi’s
        they have as teamleaders always adding to the work load the animals are not receiving the proper care.

  18. Anon on January 11, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    I worked for the Connecticut Humane Society on the day of this inspection and I am here to say that everything in this article, and those previous, actually happened. I was honestly worried about posting this comment because if they find out who I am they will not hesitate to fire me, but more people need to know what goes on in that place. We as employees just want the animals and ourselves to be treated humanely, as the mission statement says. It saddens me to have to stoop to this but it may be the only way to affect real, needed change within the Connecticut Humane Society.

    • anon2 on January 14, 2010 at 6:37 pm

      I was there as well that day. In fact, it was the first time I had ever seen Johnston (I have worked there 4 years). He came in to the area I was working, poked around a minute before he told me OSHA was coming and asked me to hide some feline medications and left. I just shrugged it off because my last employer was infinitely worse. This is not to excuse CHS by any means!
      I remember being told the next week that three different people (employee and volunteers) had had to go to the hospital for respiratory problems including one the coughed blood.

  19. NoName on January 11, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    All of these articles including the above statements are sadly true. Planting items before inspections is nothing out of the ordinary, even when it is an unexpected visit stalling buys just enough time.

  20. anony mouse on January 11, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    The OSHA inspection was the end result of close to a month of toxic-level exposure to chemical fumes suffered by almost all of the hard-working staff at CHS. Rather than properly measuring out bleach to dilute in a measured amount of water, the manager of the Adoptions team, Kitty Baker, would pour bleach into spray bottles and add water indiscriminately. The result was a concentration many times stronger than was safe to breath. Employees were called “weak” for getting headaches, and when anyone needed time off to see a doctor, they were belittled in front of their coworkers. When so many employees began to complain that it can only be called an epidemic, Ms. Baker handed out paper masks (the kind you would wear cleaning cobwebs in the basement), clearly labeled “for particulate use only” to employees. The dangerous and noxious vapors from the cleaning chemicals were undetered by the paper masks, and employees continued to get sick. One employee spent months suffering from pneumonia caused by chemical exposure. Another had migraines triggered on a regular basis. If the Attny. General looks at the amount of sick time taken that month, compared to any previous single month in CHS history, the numbers would speak for themselves.

    • Shock & Awe on January 12, 2010 at 1:53 am

      Below is some information regarding the proper dilution of bleach in the shelter environment for those of you still unfortunate enough to be working for RBJ. If nothing else, this should help you survive your daily work duties without too many health issues. Next time OSHA comes in, have them check the potency of the bottles labeled “bleach”. Even if the puppets manage to label them correctly at the last minute, they will not be able to cover up the toxic cocktail fermenting in those bottles.

      5% solution diluted at 1:32 (1/2 cup per gallon) completely inactivates parvo, panleukopenia and calicivirus when used correctly.

      For those of you keeping score, imagine what it’s like for the poor animals with infinitely greater olfactory senses to be inhaling those fumes. Sadly, they have no one to complain to. This practice needs to stop. NOW.

    • Mer on January 12, 2010 at 11:21 am

      Re: the “for particulate use only masks” – employees were later written up for not using them.

      Then, the CHS provided respirators (which were of incorrect type, cumbersome, and inhibited breathing for those already compromised). This was verbalized by management as being an intentional retaliation toward whoever tipped off OSHA (which could very well have been an employee doctor). CHS then learned that for the respirators to be used according to OSHA standards they had to be fitted personally by a medical professional.

      They took the respirators away.

  21. Animal lover on January 11, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    I’m also at CHS and know managers were frantically going room to room checking for OSHA violations while the two inspectors were kept waiting. One wonders why that would be necessary if employees and volunteers had been routinely using the proper protective equipment.

  22. Concerened on January 11, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    I am a employee of CHS and I was present at the 9/11/09 OSHA inspection.
    All the information that has been provided about employees suffering from
    toxic effects of bleach and the fact that Richard and his team of managers interfeared with the OSHA inspection to cover up known hazardous situations.
    I myself have suffered breathing problems because of this and will give my statement under oath if need be.

  23. Been there done that on January 11, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    As a former employee also, I have witnessed many of these bleaching episodes. Sometimes bleach would be poured out of the bottles full strength onto the floors and spread out and let sit for 20 minutes. After these bleachings within days I would be at the Dr’s office being treated for a sinus infection. I have seen one other employee who had nose bleeds for days and another who was coughing up blood. Imagine what it was doing to these poor animals that could not escape those fumes or complain.

  24. Animals Voices on January 12, 2010 at 12:01 am

    I would just like to mention not only were the employees affected by these harsh chemicals, but the animals are often left in these areas when the cleaning is going on, sitting in enclosed cages for hours breathing these toxic fumes. Many of the cats would have cronic respritory problems while at the shelter but more often than not once they got adopted and were in a new enviorment they would recover.

  25. Alpha Dog on January 12, 2010 at 1:42 am

    Richard Johnston has had 20 years to find ways to cover up all of the terrible things that he does. We need to dig deeper and more ex-employees that know about the Humane Society funds being used by him for personal gain need to come forward. You do not need to give your names, just your statements.
    We need to get this man, “and I use the term loosely”, and his team of inhumane managers out of there!

    • Intheknow on January 12, 2010 at 10:58 am

      I heard that when the workers were doing the Westport Shelter.. workmen were taken off the job to work on Johnston personal properties on shelter donations. Hearsay yes BUT heard from a reputable individuals. Being a non profit should not give anyone the right to treat employes like this man does. No one should be verbally chastised or threatened for taking a sick day or schedule vacation time. No employee should fear for their job for telling truths or wanting to better their own working conditions. If the attorney generals office has to start from the beginning of Johnstons CHS career then they best get started because it begins there. The union.. they also need to do what they’re here for.. to help the workers. I personally notified and sent to the Attorney Generals office a complaint and an email to Channel 12 news asking why they’re not looking into this. Keep it going folks.. to let this drop would be a crime far above what that miserable excuse for a boss is doing to the entire CHS staff.

  26. Alpha Dog on January 12, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    I actually witnessed the incoming manager, Elizabeth Clavette, time a animal care worker that was using the restroom. When the worker came out, she quickly repromanded him and told him that the 7 minutes he was in the bathroom was to be deducted from his break!

    • Anon on January 12, 2010 at 8:41 pm

      I was there that day, this is true, and at first I couldn’t believe it but honestly I am not sure why it surprised me.

      • Yet another former on January 12, 2010 at 9:34 pm

        Nothing surprises me at this point. The stories just keep coming and coming. I just hope for all involved that change happens and FAST!

    • volunteer on January 13, 2010 at 10:20 am

      Maybe next time, the manager could go in with her stopwatch and give some advice on how to be more efficient in his technique. Maybe not wash his hands, zip up on the way out?
      Lot of class Liz!
      Shame on you!

  27. volunteer on January 12, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    It really is a shame how they treat the front line staff. I inquired what the starting salary would be for a shelter worker and was told between $8.50 & $9.50 an hour. Seriously. WHAT THE HELL IS A POLITICALLY CONNECTED LAWYER DOING RUNNING A NON-PROFIT ANYWAYS!!
    Clean house upstairs, let the staff work with the animals they love, and stop treating them like crap. They are good people, treat them right. Don’t let the threat of a union make you think any less of them. They are backed to the wall and it appears if they speak out on there own they are canned. Get rid of Johnston and bring respect and dignity back to the organization.

  28. Intheknow on January 14, 2010 at 10:29 am


    Just because you’re non profit doesnt mean he’s exempt. All of you have rights and now it’s in the open.. keep it open. Keep reading.. educate everyone about these laws. When a crew was sent to LA after Katrina.. did the employess get paid correctly? I don’t think so. Make sure you folks check that our too..

  29. Intheknow on January 14, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Now that I think about it.. When the pepperridge Rd, Stamford property sold and they put homes in there. I do wonder still, who was the property sold to and who sold the homes there. Could there be a connection between Johnston and that property to this day? How do we find this out? I was told that homes started going up 2000-2001 right after the sale.

    • Lindsay on January 14, 2010 at 10:09 pm

      town records show owner on file previous and current and who pays taxes and how much, it’s all available to the public, either stop in or call. most likely he would have it under a different name, like a group or trustee

      • IntheKnow on January 15, 2010 at 10:45 am

        Thanks for the tip and you’re most likely right, everything hidden. Talking to a few folks it seems that Stamford Property was donated to CHS. I remember that shelter from way back to Tommy O’s day.
        I’m surprided some knothead hasn’t told you all if it’s that bad leave. What most dont seem to understand is your love for the animals. That’s why you stay and working in a hostile environment is physically and mentally debilitating. What Johnston has managed to do is ethically, morally and legally wrong.
        Harassment in the workplace is illegal and I hope one of you have spoken to an attorney.
        No matter how hard it gets, don’t let this fall thru the cracks. Don’t let the union give up on you and do not give up on yourselves. The strengths shown just reading these posts is amazing.
        It’s taken far to long to get here.. don’t let it slip now.

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