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Archive for February, 2019

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A young researcher died of what appears to be occupationally caused leukemia at Samsung SDI, where a corporate motto reads, “SDI practices human respect.”  Source: Samsung SDI Website capture

 

A young researcher has died of leukemia only three years after he began work at Samsung SDI Co. Ltd, the conglomerate’s electronic materials unit.

The otherwise healthy 31-year-old researcher, identified only by his surname Hwang, died on Jan. 29, about 13 months after his diagnosis with leukemia, SHARPS said in a press statement on Jan. 30.

A Deadly Career

In May 2014, upon earning a graduate degree in chemistry, Hwang took a job at Samsung SDI, assisting in developing etch materials for semiconductor processing.  In Dec. 2017, he was diagnosed with acute leukemia, at which time he petitioned for workers compensation and requested epidemiologic investigations of his labs.  Thirteen months later, he died while awaiting a first reply from the KCOMWEL.

Lethal Exposure

Just as with many Samsung victims before him, Hwang was outfitted on the job with little protective gear.  The following takeaways from the workers compensation petition he wrote reveal a likely lethal level of on-the-job chemical exposure:

  • I worked in a cleanroom at the Suwon plant of Samsung SDI from May 2014 onward.
  • I was responsible for assessing mixtures of aromatic polymers such as benzene and naphthalene.
  • I used hands to douse wafers with photosensitive liquids.  When the liquids vaporized and spread to the 1-meter radius of my workstation, the residues were so rampant that the area turned red.
  • When I coated semiconductor substrates with photoresistors, massive odors penetrated the mask and assailed my nostrils.

They Knew All Along

Hwang is not only the latest victim of Samsung’s occupational disease cluster, he is one of the first known victims among researchers who had been considered better paid and protected than young female line workers who comprise the majority of the victims.

In Nov. 2015 in the South Korean city of Gwangju, this blogger, who anonymously updates these blogs as a volunteer, had the rare opportunity to question a Samsung executive-turned politician about the cluster.  When this writer asked what she, as a female politician with strong ties with Samsung, could do for the terminally ill women workers, the politician answered: “It’s not that only factory workers were dead or sick.  Researchers died, too.”

While sending shivers down the spine of this writer, her remarks suggested that Samsung could have at least some knowledge of the cluster from its inception.  After her failed bid for a National Assembly seat, she has a high-ranking job in the Moon Jae-in government.

Decades of Union Busting

Samsung SDI is not part of the compensation program agreed to by SHARPS and Samsung in Nov. 2018 as it focuses mainly on victims from semiconductor and LCD units.

Samsung SDI is infamous for union busting.  And its successful frustration of unionization drives means that likely victims of the cluster have no place to turn within their company.

Nothing better demonstrates the company’s anti-union brutality than the thirty-one years of agony wrought upon Lee Man-shin, a worker who attempted to form a union in 1987.  Samsung SDI sent him offshore in the early 1990s.  He had since been transferred to various locations globally until 2011.   The following year, the company fired Lee for his ongoing involvement with a unionization drive.

A company document, made in 2002 and leaked in 2014, showed Samsung SDI security staff tailed munje sawon, roughly translated “troublemakers”, and tapped their cell phones.

In 2014, the appeals court ruled in favor of Lee’s reinstatement.  With a highest-court ruling still pending, Lee, now 55 years old, still stages a sit-in at Samsung’s corporate headquarters in Seoul, where he and his unionists hold rallies on every Thursday.

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Lee Man-shin (left) has been fighting for his union at Samsung SDI since 1987.  Source: hani.co.kr

New Movement

Hwang’s death came at a time when the gruesome on-the-job death of a young temporary worker kindled a new wave of protests against workplace hazards and job insecurity.

In Dec. 2017, Kim Yong-kyun, 24 years old, was killed at a thermal plant about 150 kilometers southwest of Seoul after being sucked into a coal conveyer belt and decapitated.  Kim was alone responsible for overseeing a high-speed one-mile-long conveyor belt, alternating 10-hour night and day shifts.  A temporary worker under a one-year contract, Kim was not offered protective gear or safety education.

Following his death, the country’s quarrelsome National Assembly quickly passed a long-dormant bill to strengthen workplace safety.  However, the emerging campaign calls for limiting the subcontracting of high-risk jobs and replacing temporary jobs with permanent ones with benefits and security.

The protesters set up an altar for Kim in central Seoul.  SHARPS and other labor advocates organized a hunger strike there.  Candlelight vigils are regularly held.

An English-language online petition drive is currently underway for Kim Yong-kyun.    

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Kwon Young-eun, a SHARPS activist, spoke at a vigil on Jan. 30 for Kim Yong-kyun.  Source: SHARPS

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