A longstanding west Salem cafe and fruit stand has received a nearly $14,000 fine from the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration for not requiring employees to wear masks or maintaining social distancing.
But Clyde Aspinwall, the owner of Cafe 22 West that has a fruit store next door, said that his business quickly complied after being contacted by the agency and will contest the fine. He also said that the new orders have been confusing.
“This is brand new to everyone in the whole wide world,” said Aspinwall.
Since the Covid pandemic struck Oregon in March, Gov. Kate Brown issued a series of orders intended to prevent the spread of the virus. The orders have mandated that businesses increase sanitation and maintain six feet between employees. In June and July, the governor ordered businesses to require employees and customers wear masks while in indoor settings.
Since then, Oregon OSHA, the agency charged with enforcing the new rules, has seen an influx of complaints that businesses aren’t following the requirements, particularly those regarding masks.
On Aug. 18, Oregon OSHA fined Cafe 22 West, located at 5152 Salem Dallas Highway N.W., after an inspection found that its owners failed to ensure that its 18 employees as well as customers wore face coverings while staying six feet apart.
According to records provided by the agency, Cafe 22 West was subject to multiple complaints over the summer that the business was ignoring the requirements.
On July 1, Oregon OSHA representatives visited Aspinwall at the business to advise him of the complaints. Aspinwall told them that he was aware of the orders but wouldn’t be complying with them, according to records.
“Clyde stated that they would not be wearing face coverings at his facilities,” said a report released by the agency. “However, he (Clyde) would not stop any of his employees who wanted to wear the face covering from wearing them but he will not require face coverings to be worn.”
The next day, an agency representative taped a red tag on entrances of both the restaurant and the fruit store warning that it was an unsafe place of employment. An inspector asked Aspinwall not to take the tags down. Aspinwall replied that he would not take them down and they “looked kind of cool and that he was showing them to his customers,” according to Oregon OSHA records.
An inspector followed up the next day with a “spot check,” observing that some employees were not wearing face coverings, including those operating a cash register and wait staff serving customers.
On July 13, Oregon OSHA representatives returned to remove the tags after Cindy Aspinwall, the wife of Clyde, indicated that they were in compliance. The agency still issued the citation on Aug. 18 that includes an $8,900 penalty for a willful violation and a $5,000 penalty for failing to abide by the red warning notice.
“We complied with 100 percent of everything within hours,” Clyde Aspinwall told Salem Reporter. “But they still think that fining us is the right way to go.”
He said that after the visit from Oregon OSHA his business quickly removed the bar from the restaurant and half of the restaurant tables to accommodate social distancing. He said that they weren’t immediately in compliance with the mask requirement but are now.
When asked about his reported remark that the warning tags “looked cool,” he said he had “no idea.” Aspinwall said that Oregon OSHA could have given them a warning first and that keeping track of the new regulations has been a challenge. He said he doesn’t read the paper, watch the news or listen to the governor.
“We are just poor farmers trying to make a living and the government is trying to tell us what to do,” he said.
Since the new Covid orders went into effect, Oregon OSHA has stressed that it seeks to work with employers accused of violations. The agency has received a record number of complaints since the pandemic began. Nearly three months after the Covid orders were issued, the agency logged 4,898 complaints alleging violations — about equal to what it normally gets in one year.
But it’s issued 18 citations to employers for violating the orders. Notably, Lindsey Graham, the owner of Salem’s Glamour Salon, was fined $14,000 in May for flouting the orders.
“In addressing complaints involving COVID-19 and the workplace, we have started with efforts to engage and educate the employers involved about what they needed to do. In most cases, we have been able to resolve any issues without an actual enforcement visit,” said Michael Wood, administrator for Oregon OSHA.
But he said that the agency will use its enforcement tools if employers disregard the requirements.
Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.
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