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Rich Products worker mourned at Crest Hill vigil

About 50 people gathered for a vigil and call for action a month after the workplace death of an employee at the Rich Products plant in Crest Hill.

Prayers at the Friday evening vigil were said for Adewale “Wale” Ogunyemi, the 42-year old Nigerian immigrant who died cleaning a machine at the food processing plant and distribution facility on July 20.

Fasika Alem with the United African Organization, which advocates on behalf of African immigrants, was among the speakers at the vigil who called for action on Ogunyemi’s behalf, remembering him as an essential worker and a temporary worker as well as an immigrant, father and family man.

Fasika Alem of the United African Organization speaks to vigil attendees on Friday.

Fasika Alem of the United African Organization speaks to vigil attendees on Friday. (Geoff Stellfox –

“Wale was an immigrant who worked through the pandemic in the food industry,” Alem said. “All workers, no matter where they are born, should be able to work without fear of being placed in a dangerous environment.”

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration has opened an investigation into Ogunyemi’s death.

His was the third death since 2016 at the Rich Products facility, although the previous two were employees of construction contractors doing work at the plant. However, the OSHA inspection into Ogunyemi’s death was the second by the agency this year, and a third was opened the following week after another injury at the plant.

Rich Products has defended its safety training and procedures, saying injury rates at the Crest Hill plant are far below the industry average at food processing facilities.

Speakers at the vigil said workplace conditions at warehouses and production plants need to be improved on a large scale.

“I ask everyone here to recognize that Wale could have been any one of us,” said Cesar Guerrero, a Joliet councilman and former warehouse worker. “We are going to make sure a tragedy like this can never happen again.”

Joliet Councilman Cesar Guerrero holds a sign at the Friday vigil for Adewale Ogunyemi.

Joliet Councilman Cesar Guerrero holds a sign at the Friday vigil for Adewale Ogunyemi.
(Geoff Stellfox –

Guerrero said “outrageous production rates” set by employers at warehouses lead to workplace injuries and listed the injuries he had suffered as a warehouse worker.

Warehouse Workers for Justice, which first reported Ogunyemi’s death after hearing from Rich Products employees, organized the vigil.

WWJ Associate Director Marcos Ceniceros said Ogunyemi’s wife and two daughters live in Nigeria.

“They are still in Nigeria, as he was supporting them from the United States,” Ceniceros said.

The family’s circumstances were emphasized by Bishop Steven Evans with Leap of Faith Ministries in Joliet as he prayed for Ogunyemi.

“I can’t imagine what it must be like for them to be so far from their loved one and have no answers,” Evans said.

A vigil attendee pauses in prayer on Friday.

A vigil attendee pauses in prayer on Friday.
(Geoff Stellfox –

Details of the circumstances of Ogunyemi’s death have not been made public.

The Will County Coroner’s Office did not post a news release about his death as it had for past workplace fatalities. The coroner’s office has not released information from its investigation of the death, saying it has not been completed.

Crest Hill police said Ogunyemi died when he was crushed in a machine that he was cleaning.

Ceniceros said WWJ is trying to get more details about his death and has been getting information from Rich Products workers.

The vigil took place in the parking lot of the Blanchette Catholic Center, the central offices for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet, located at 16555 Weber Road in Crest Hill, not far from the Rich Products plant. Speakers included Alex Quezada, coordinator for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development for the diocese.

Also speaking was state Rep. Dagmara Avelar, D-Bolingbrook, who said she, too, had worked in a warehouse a decade ago and “unfortunately, not much has changed.”

“One life is way too many,” Avelar said of Ogunyemi’s death, “and if you’re not going to do something about it, there is really something wrong with society.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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