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Forest River violations top $250,000, workers blame drug use and poor safety practices

NOW: Forest River violations top $250,000, workers blame drug use and poor safety practices

ELKHART, Ind. -- Elkhart's RV industry is booming right now. Production is high and sales are good, but is it coming at the cost of worker safety? ABC57 spent months investigating one local RV company after it was hit with thousands of dollars in safety violations.

The ABC57 Investigates team spent almost a year going over stacks of IOSHA inspection reports and talking to several current and former employees at Elkhart-based Forest River. What we found paints a picture of a fast-paced work culture filled with alleged drug use and lax safety practices. All proving to be a dangerous combination.

In the last few years the Elkhart RV industry has come soaring back to life after sinking deep into the depths of the 2008 recession.

President Obama took notice of the recovery with a second visit to the area near the end of his presidency and ABC57 even did an entire special highlighting Elkhart County's recovery last year as part of our Michiana 2027 series.

Demand is so high many RV manufacturers are offering highly competitive packages to potential employees to help increase production.

But in that rush to meet demand worker safety seems to be falling through the cracks at Forest River -- a company that bills itself as one of America's leading manufacturers of recreational vehicles.

We spoke to several current and former employees who shared those concerns. Many declined to speak on camera out of fears of retaliation.

One former employee did agree to speak on camera -- if we hid his identity out of fears he would be frozen out of the industry for speaking up. We confirmed his employment through an old Forest River pay stub.

He described the work environment inside the plant as fast-paced.

The company has a 3.2 rating out of 5 on indeed.com, a website that allows current and former employees to review their employers.

Some call it a great place to work, while others say there are problems. One thing almost every worker agreed on was the fast pace. That pace inspired by the "piece rate" one former manager told us about. It means the more pieces completed the more you get paid.

"They try to enforce safety as much as possible, but of course there are slips within the system you would say," the former worker told us.

Those slips eventually drawing the attention of the Indiana Department of Labor.

The company showing up in a 2017 Annual State Occupational report as a "significant case" due to "excessive injuries".

According to the report, in the first 9 months of 2017 alone there were 9 fingers amputated, a fractured pelvis and multiple foot fractures.

Indiana's OSHA office then sent a team of six people to Forest River plants in Goshen and Middlebury and eventually several others.

Between September 2017 and November of 2018, ten of Forest River's 26 plants in Elkhart County were hit with a total of 55 violations, 44 of them serious. The initial fines totaling $254,975.

To compare, during that same time period only four other local RV companies were hit with safety violations. The most was Lippert Components with 10 violations and initial fines totaling $45,000.

Among Forest River's violations inspectors cited risks of amputation, falling and electric shock.

In some cases, inspectors found Forest River employees were not properly trained and wearing the proper protective gear was not mandatory.

"I've seen people cut their fingers, cut their hands and their arms," said the former worker. "There was a guy that fell off a scaffold before."

Some of the violations were corrected during inspection and penalties were reduced after the company reached a settlement agreement with IOSHA.

We requested a sit down interview with IOSHA, but instead were given audio clips explaining inspection protocols and how employers can correct violations.

"An IOSHA settlement agreement requires that the employer do more to address worker safety and health in its work place than just simply pay the penalty associated with the violation," said IOSHA Director, Michelle Ellison.

Part of one of those agreements was to take part in IOSHA's INSafe program.

"It really helps the employer take a comprehensive look at their workplace," said Ellison. "The mission or the goal of this program is to help them identify opportunities to essentially improve worker safety and health and help better ensure compliance with IOSHA regulations."

But the violations and injury reports did not stop. They continued to come in through most of 2018. Paramedics were called twice to the company's Starcraft division in Goshen, one of the locations hit with repeat violations.

ABC57 obtained all dispatch calls to the Goshen plant. One from January 2018 was for a 50-year-old man who fell 12 feet hitting his head. Then in May a man in his 50's had two deep lacerations to two of his fingers.

It's not just happening in Indiana. Forest River has received violations at plants in four other states.

According to OSHA documents ABC57 obtained, 33 of the violations were serious. The fines totaling $132,000.

Workers we spoke with say, it's not just lax safety practices, but a widespread culture of drugs.

We asked our anonymous worker if there is drug use happening at the plant? He answered, yes.

According to the company's code of conduct, "Forest River is a drug-free workplace. We will not tolerate drugs or alcohol, or people under the influence of drugs or alcohol, in our workplace"

Workers tell us, that is not enforced.

"I never personally experienced anyone getting talked to about drug use," the former worker told us.

Some of the job reviews on indeed echoed that statement.

One former employee from Goshen posting, "the plant I was in was full of drug use. "

Another former employee from Dallas saying, "many workers are regular drug users and frequently high during shifts."

When asked what kinds of drugs were being used in the plants our anonymous former worker said, "Pills, marijuana, cocaine and probably meth."

He recalled an experience watching one worker who appeared to be high on the job.

"One time one guy was screwing through the wrong end and he screwed a whole screw through his hand," the former worker said.

He added that he was not drug tested when hired. Other workers we spoke with said the same.

A former manager who spent more than 15 years working at Forest River told us, they eliminated regular drug testing and only test if someone is involved in an accident on the job.

That's something employees say has helped lead to drug use on the job.

We asked the former worker if the lack of drug testing has made it become a problem there? He said, "at times, yes."

For now business is still good at Forest River and until that changes employees don't expect life inside the plant to change.

"As long as there is money going out the door you know it doesn't matter," the former worker said.

They just hope it doesn't come at the cost of one of their lives.

We brought these allegations to Forest River's attention, leaving detailed voicemails and emails, but so far they have not responded to our requests for comment or for an on camera interview.

Below you can find an interactive map of all Forest River plants that have been hit with violations and the details of what inspectors found.

If you believe there are safety violations happening in your workplace you can report them to IOSHA by clicking here.

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Steve 146 days ago
Safety is a systemic issue in all industries worldwide and can be fixed given the right safety leader. I have worked in all levels of safety and have fixed many corporations throughout the years and have seen these issues time and time again safety has to be the core program that all the others programs are built from to provide structure for the company to build from.
MarcusBoucher 223 days ago
Last week I was let go from my position of 3 years with a total of 5 years at the company. They claimed I was not "a team player" and couldn't work with others due to my frustrations with the safty on complex.
Dealing with sheet metal, aluminum siding as long as 35', being exposed to the elements and not being properly strapped down, $10,000's of product has been damaged and has made a very unsafe working environment.
The weather has wrenched the metal to the point of it hanging down from the 15' tall racks with only itself keeping it from flying around and potentially damaging RVs or possibly injuring someone. Trying to work with management lead to my frustrations and eventually my termination. My fear for my job and my lack of the law is what prevented me from reporting this earlier. I will not make this mistake again. People should realize and hold this company accountable before someone gets injured or worse. It is only a matter of time.
TinaCaparellMcGrogan 412 days ago
Interesting... safety violations still ongoing! Workers being denied proper PPE to this day and plant management lying to human resources when confronted with an employee's complaint. Can anyone at Forest River say "lawsuit" or "whistleblower act"?
AndrewStoy 453 days ago
Mr. Gardner,could your employer be doing the same thing with you, making you work to fast and not allow you to do your research properly? I am one of the millions of RV customers who have been victims of an industry that has chosen to eliminate quality control in the building of their products. We track the RV industry hoping to see improvements. Your comment regarding increased sales is wrong, based on an article we read yesterday. The latest financial news indicated RV industry sales are down 40% from a year ago! Are you getting your information from the RVIA or the RV manufacturers? Objective reporting would involve input from customers, RV user groups, Financial Institutions, Independent RV Inspectors and a new facebook user group called RV Horror Stories. This industry controlled by three very large holding companies, not small quality family companies. The industry has changed dramatically since those days a mere decade ago. They are in a position similar to the American Auto Industry in the late 70's. It took the Japanese to bring quality to that industry. We only hope someone or something will do the same for this industry also. Stories that do not report what is really going on only feed the problem.
Strat1163 455 days ago
I purchased my camper last spring and it had 15 issues including a leaky shower pipe underneath that took 3 service visits to repair correctly. Now I am awaiting approval from the manufacturer for a torn mattress that wasnt moved till winterizing. They are claiming that it was from normal wear and tear. This warranty clause appears to be a common default to get out of warranty coverage bc approx half of needed repairs weren't covered. This is my first and last new camper and I'll buy only used ones from now on. This is a widespread problem for all new rv and campers. My inlaws just purchased a new motor home and have had many issues with it. This has to change...
TWMOODY2013 455 days ago
In April 2018 I bought a 2018 Chapparal 5th wheel 30RLS. I parked it for seasonal camping over the summer and so many issues came up. Fridge and freezer not very cold and found a line at the top of the unit from install that had been crushed as it was installed. Heat very poor at the back of the unit and finding restrictions up at the heater where the flex heater lines were kinked. Shower leaking water on the floor because the shower walls were never sealed to the base. Ac unit is in the rear but in the front bedroom there in no cooling. All roof mount vents in the rear leak into the ceiling blowing the ceiling downward as the ac kicks on. Multiple peices of trim fell of in 160 mile tow and they were stapled in place to cover large gaps in the floor to wall due to shitty workmanship. The roofing has air pockets in many areas where adheasive was never put on, no leaks but again crappy workmanship. On the slide seams as you walk out the door clear RTV was globbed on in attempt to cover large gaps in the finish work and looked like absolute shit. The canopy was install in a bind so unless you actually have someone pushing on the tracking as it is retracted it will not close all the way. The DVD player ws not compatable with the 50" tv, when you played a DVD all you got was a digital black and white picture. I installed a new tv and bought a blueray player to solve that issue. TV mount in the bedroom was installed with 1 screw. Bothe rear tail lights let water leak in. This camper looks great at first look, nice options, lots of living space but after using it for one season found that it has so many issues that I don't trust anyone from forest river to fix it and not screw it up worse !!!!!! Look elsewhere !!!! I was ripped off by this company.

Gail 455 days ago
We just settled a lawsuit against Forest River in Nov 2018. Purchased a new 2017 Concord. Issues appeared day one on the way home, 31 items. RV was in service repair for 238 days. While at the Forest River service shop, repair persons caused additional issues, like; running a screw through the side of the RV when they moved an electrical outlet. Now I know why there is no QA out of the Forest River factory. Buyer beware!!
ScottHakola 455 days ago
I bought a Forest River 5th Wheel in June and after our 1st trip, for a month, we had a warranty punch list of 24 items. We had parts flying off all he way down I-5. The service writer at the dealership said they get that all the time with Forest River products. Poorly built and they rely on buyers to have things fixed during the warranty period. Forest River NEVER AGAIN.
DominiqueMcDermed 455 days ago
OMG...I just bought a Forest River Surveyor in Nov...didn't get it for a month because it had a broken door. We finally got it home in Dec and one of the slide outs wouldn't go back in...we fixed the fuse. We still haven't received our owners manual either that we keep asking for since it didn't have one in the Trailer. We are taking it out this weekend and will update on how it goes.
Wantingtherealtruth 455 days ago
So glad you started on your research but are you just looking at forest river. Not a fan of writers who single out just one company. Is this the only rv company that is getting fines. What is the average fine these companies get. Did you do any more research or are you just after this one. These articals can take a company down even if the company is within the normal standards for their market. Do your reseach readers before you take this artical at face value
Check out california lemon law for rvs. If you got a bad rv from forest river. You are not alone and this is not the only manufacturer that has problem rvs.

No...quality control issues plague almost every camper and motor home manufacturer. I was shocked at how shotty built our new camper was. It's a widespread issue..
Bonnie 456 days ago
Ugh, I’m so frustrated. I ordered forest river sun seeker class C from Indiana, little over 80k. Had it delivered to buffalo rv one, Ickes it up in May 2018. flew up to pick up my rig and I was bursting with joy. Drove it home n there’s quite a few things that need to be fixed. I’ve left voice mail, several, no response. BBB also has complaints same issue. As of this date, Forest River has not responded to custom coach, to get the parts needed to fix my rig or authorization to fix. I also emailed Jayne Miller. Concerning this issue. No response. Can anyone help me before May when my WARRENTY ENDS! Leo’s/ PA forest river dealer will not help bc I didn’t buy from them. Which I knew all this prior to purchasing!
Mliebespeck 456 days ago
WOW! A real eye opener.
I was ready to drop $40k on a new trailer, but after reading this I will be looking elsewhere.
Kimberly Mliebespeck 455 days ago
I don't think you should let a few comments on here stop you from buying a unit from Forest River anywhere you go you have the chance of issues.....One Thor company (who you will most likely go to if not Forest River) just had a tank fall out going down the road do your research before relying on just this please
SammyWagner 456 days ago
My husband and I used to work at the Dallas Oregon plant. I actually got injured on the job with in my first month due to the fact people did not do those job in picking up after them selfies . People would come to work on drugs and or drunk . Feel free to contact me for more on our experience
JohnWhitely 456 days ago
I guess this explains why our $60k coach is the worst investment we've ever made. Endless problems and by the time you find all the problems the warranty is expired. I'd be in for class action , but with a backer like Warren Buffett, it will never come to light.
Debbie JohnWhitely 456 days ago
There is strength in numbers! Don't give up! Join our group!
Bonnie Debbie 456 days ago
Add me!
DominiqueMcDermed Debbie 455 days ago
I would love to join your group! Can you give me the info please. I'm so frustrated with my Forest River Surveyor.
John 456 days ago
Forest River is a bad company that doesn't care for their employees or the community. I worked near a Forest River factory that moved units down the road to another field for storage. The roads were littered with screws falling off the units. I had to get screws removed from tires every other week for months. I had other employees I worked with encounter this too. I asked the company to address it and was told to basically deal with it. The receptionist told me confidentially after many calls that her and the rest of the employees had the same issue and Forest River wouldn't do anything about it.

I contacted the police, and they referred me to the street department. The street department referred me to code enforcement. Code enforcement had a municipal truck come out with a magnet and that guy called and told me he pulled off 12 lbs. of metal from the roads.

Why are we spending tax money and employees wasting money on flat tires when this company is making millions and telling us to pound sand when they dump screws all over the road????
Ch11 456 days ago
Pro Customs Rv is just as bad.
Lifting up shoddy racks that are carrying people, with a forklift that hardly works with no real certifications being issued for anything
'Well you can drive it and I approve so go ahead" is pretty much how it goes
Our checks were always cut short, overtime was stolen.
The same guy that goes up on the roof via FL lift is the same guy that fell off the same roof and busted his spine and ribs up
The painter just spray excess paint all over the dang place and you can barely breath because of all the dust and material being Sanded and sprayed all over with horrible-crap fans that were themselves dying while trying to blow the dust away
Meth head do their meth in the parking lot on break, come all messed up and as as the manager 'doesnt see' he doesn't care
Yeah I said forget that job
MarciaFleming 457 days ago
We ordered our coach in March 2018 and took possession of it in May 2018. The unit was taken into the shop here in Texas for the 3rd time on Oct 10, 2018 and as of today it is still in the shop. This unit has spent well over 1/2 it’s time in the shop to fix over 32 issues including one that if we had been driving at the time the hydraulic line melted we would have been in the middle of a fire. I have lots of documentation substantiating the issues and conversations with both Forest River, TerryTown RV/MotorHomes2Go in Grand Rapids Michigan. The issues found were warped doors and windows(both inside and outside), air conditioner that leaked like a sieve, tears in upholstery, screws protruding from wall, microwave not held down, dinning table fell from wall due to to small screws holding it in place, Velcro missing from back of seats, valances not secured and as mentioned earlier the electric jacks hydraulic hose laying across the exhaust. Luckily we found the melting marks on the hose before it burst. God was definetly with us. Due to my husbands medical issues he promised me a year of making memories. Unfortunately because of the issues with Lemon we were unable to complete his bucket list. Forest River told me that they weren’t in the business of buying back or exchanging units no matter how badly they are made. The dealership told me that I could trade it in for something else but as a used unit. That is not an option as we sold our property to pay cash for our dream maker. Instead it seems to have become a bad dream.

Sammysmiththeshit 457 days ago
I have worked here for a while and I don't plan on quitting. Its not only drugs,but also sexual favors. I Had one hard job when I started but 6 months later I have one of the easiest. My plant manager hooks me up for what I do for him. I get overtime and haven't ever worked over 40 hours. Sometimes I get 55 hour checks, helps with my bills alot. I love my job and love my higher ups. I changed my name for my safety
Debbie Sammysmiththeshit 457 days ago
That is so sad. Don't sell yourself like that that. I've been in hard spots where could have sold out but I wouldn't because I'm better than that, and so are you.
Debbie 457 days ago
Forest River campers have shoddy workmanship and now I know why. I bought a brand new model off the lot less than a year ago. We used it twice. Everything is breaking, falling off. We had to have it sent back to the factory andvthey had to replace all the wall board, the shower surround and numerous other things. We are scared that when we take it out again, we will have more problems and then the warranty will be off. If you want to do another story, I am on a group of Forest River owners trying to get a class action together. Some of these people have super expensive R.V.s that are new, unusable and Forest river will do nothing for them. We are hard working people who want to have a little fun with our families or in our retirement and we put our hard earned cash down on shoddy R.V.'s by a company that has a billboard that says "Customer satisfaction is #1". Its laughable. Obviously, they don't care about their workers OR their customers. Just the almighty dollar. It's really sad.
Debbie Debbie 457 days ago
Oh, and almost immediately, I had to have my air conditioning replaced and the fridge is acting up but they said they couldn't find anything wrong.
Kim 457 days ago
No shocker here. I’ve worked for 2 Forest River and one of them is on here for violations. This company nor most of its bosses doesn’t care about their employees. Most bosses do drugs as well and sell them to their employees. Only company I’ve ever worked at where nothing is done to you for smoking weed while on the clock on Forest River property. I know a girl that got hurt after I quit she was on the scaffold and it broke in half and her bone came out her leg. She was down for a long time. They were aware the scaffold wasn’t safe but didn’t care. Their corporate people are no better, have gone to them before and they do nothing. They claim if you have problems and so on come to them but then do nothing. There it’s ok for bosses to bully people and call them names or put their hands on employees.
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