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Korean people like the number “three”.  

In Korea, when we fail or are disappointed, we encourage ourselves quoting a common saying “don’t give up until the third trial”.

The funeral usually takes three days. Even though I don’t know the exact historical base, but we feel the “three” as a complete, comfortable number.

However, today is the ninetieth day from Joohyun’s death. He was twenty-five years old when he entered Samsung LCD as an engineer. His family still remembers how much he was happy to be a “Samsung-man”.

78th day of picketting in front of the plant - Joohyun's father

But Joohyun’s dream was totally destroyed.

Joohyun had suffered from skin disease due to chemicals which he could not know even the names of. So he had to move from the production line into a material supplying department.

But as before, he had to work more than 12 hours a day. He had to go to work whenever he got a call, even on holidays.

Also he was totally isolated  in his dormitory. There was no one with whom he could talk about because all the room mates had different work shift schedules. Moreover, more than three hundreds of cameras were watching everywhere to prevent workers assemblying.

Finally he got depression.

During the sick leave for two months, he looked to overcome his illness. But as the day to return to work was coming, he became irritable and anxious again.

A few days before the end of his sick leave, Joohyun visited the company to get counseling. After coming back from the company, he told his family that he should return to work, in the production line again. There was no other choice but to return to work – if he refused, he must quit his job.

52th day protesting at Samsung HQ - Joohyun's sister

The day was the first day of returning to work. Joohyun couldn’t sleep at all. He wandered here and there in the dormitory, and all his activities were recorded by hundreds cameras – even his four attempts to jump to his death.

Where is the justice?

Joohyun’s family have been demanding Samsung to apologize and take responsible action, because both Joohyun’s depression and death were not just individual problems.

According to the law, the company should:

– not force workers to work such a long time

– not force a sick worker to work in ain improper job

– guarantee the safety of workplaces and dormitories

– prevent workers’ physical and mental illness from working condition

So the family asked the local office of Ministry of Labor to investigate Joohyun’s working conditions, and to the police to investigate what had happened on the very day of Joohyun’s death.

At first, the response from both governmental organizations were the same: silence and ignorance. To tell a long story briefly, it took 90 days for them to do what they must do.

Recently, the local office of MOL have found a few illegal practices of Samsung, a small but clear evidence that can show the working conditions in Samsung plants are not different from that of a sweatshop. Finally, they will send the documents to the public prosecution office tomorrow.

That’s the reason why the family of Joohyun could not carry out his funeral until now. They just want to see where the justice is. And it has taken 90 days from his death…

84th protest visit to the Ministry of Labor

Today, Joohyun’s father told me:

“I think this is a new beginning. My family have already been tired so much, but we can’t stop here. We must watch the prosecutor. I told my wife and daughter that we must keep fighting, and that don’t forget what we have been demanding – our demand is that Samsung must apologize and take their responsibility for my son’s death.”

April 20 will be the 100th day from Joohyun’s death.

Let’s demand Samsung to get responsibility.

Let’s demand the Korean government to do their duty to watch the company and to punish its illegal practice.

Let’s add our voices to this lonely struggle of family who lost their youngest one.

Please think and act whatever you can add your voices to this struggle before the 100th day is coming.

Justice for all can’t be achieved without justice for the weakest people.

In solidarity,

SHARPs
For an earlier account of the suicide and later struggles of Joohyun’s family, see this previous post.

written by Jeong-ok Kong  (+82-10-9140-6249, anotherkong@gmail.com)
Supporters for Health And Rights of People in Semiconductor Industry (SHARPs)

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This short movie shows the forty-six workers who lost their life due to the occupational diseases at Samsung, one of the biggest company in Korea and one of the most famous electronic company in the world. Most of the victims got the illness at very young age and died. Listen to their voice, “Don’t forget me, my dream, my life, my tears, and my suffering”. Watch and share widely!

http://dotsub.com/view/96c14804-6874-468b-a2e6-65c1c50d1170

With English captions.

  • March, 2011, made by SHARPs (Supporters for Health And Right of People in Semiconductor Industry)
  • [Music] “Reason” by Park Chang-geun
  • [English] Stopsamsung.wordpress.com
  • [Korean] cafe.daum.net/samsunglabor
  • [Email] Sharps@hanmail.net

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The Second Collective Law Suit on Workers’ compensation

April 7, SHARPs held a press conference in the court and announced the second collective law suit against the government by four victims of occupational disease in Samsung electronics. The government agency which manages the National workers’ compensation insurance had refused to compensate them because the victims could not prove the so-called “work-relatedness” of their diseases.

The government has been demanding these victims to reveal “exactly what kind of chemicals” and “exactly how intensively” they had been exposed. But the workers had never got any education nor information about the chemicals in their workplace from the company.

Kim Chil-jun, one of two lawyers for the victims, said “it’s too unfair to shift all the responsibility of proving onto the victims”. According to his explanation, all these victims had entered the Samsung electronics before graduation of high school and must work more than 12 hours a day, being exposed to various hazardous chemicals without any information. The lawyer added, “By this law suit, we want to raise awareness of the hazard of the high-tech electronic industry as well as occupational diseases in Samsung electronics, and to make an opportunity to fix the wrong decision criteria of the workers’ compensation system.”

One of the four victims, Han Hae-kyoung, said, “the company never gave any information about the hazard to us”, and “I regret so bitterly working Samsung. No use to cry after losing health. What is the use of better pay?”. She added, “the company should not do this. They must have already known it, then they should tell us.”

The four victims who raised the law suit together are:

Han Hae-kyoung (female, age 33, brain tumor)
entered Samsung LCD plant in 1995, worked in soldering of PCB with lead, quit the company due to losing menstruation in 2001, got tumor in 2005, now has the first degree of disability in walking, talking, and vision.

Lee Yoon-jeong (female, age 31, malignant brain cancer)
entered Samsung semiconductor plant in Onyang, worked for 6 years in the job of testing the chip with very high temparature, quit the company in 2003, got the cancer in 2010 and announced to be able to live only 1 or 2 years.

You Myoung-hwa (female, age 29, aplastic anemia)
the same job in the same plant with Lee Yoon-jeong, entered the company in 2000, got the disease in 2001, has been living in her room depending on transfusion for 10 years but will not survive without bone marrow transplantation, has failed all the efforts to find out the proper donor both in and out of Korea.

Lee Hee-jin (female, age 27, multiple sclerosis)
entered Samsung LCD plant in Choenan, examined the LCD panels in high stress, got the disease in 2008, lost the vision of one eye, suffers from various dysfunction.

 

This law suit is not only for the compensation of 4 workers, but also for the lots of nameless victims of occupational diseases in the whole electronics industry in Korea.

Please keep your eyes on our struggles.

 

written by Jeong-ok Kong  (+82-10-9140-6249, anotherkong@gmail.com)
Supporters for Health And Rights of People in Semiconductor Industry

Related articles (In Korean language, But you can find a few photos there.)

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Lee Gun-hee, Lee Jae-yong, and Choi, Gee-sung (heads of Samsung conglomerate and Samsung Electronics), do you know that two workers committed suicide from their dormitory in January this year??

In the chill weather in the flowering season the bereaved family of Kim Joo-hyun are keeping up their protest in front of the headquarters of the company and condemning the inhumanities of the Samsung corporate dynasty.

March 24 was the day come again to place where this chairman was restored to his position by the Lee Myungbak President, after his conviction. We had remembered this day and some guests join the protest.

Mr Lee Kiho who had been imprisoned for one and a half years because of the Ssangyong Motors strike and ‘Orange’ who works as an activist at Dasan Human Rights Center, came to express solidarity. Also there was Kim Jong-tae, who was fired from Suwon Samsung Electronics because he posted on the electronic bulletin board that Samsung worker should set up a union; and the victims of the Guacheon eviction.

The mother of Kim Joo-hyun said “My son had lived only 25 years. He is more precious than your whole company. It has been 73 days after he died, we want to have his funeral! ceremony. Somebody has to show the responsibility and apologize to the family!” There are many unjust deaths in Korea in this final stage of capitalism. But if the only bereaved families protest about this issue and if we do not try to make a union because we are afraid of the power of the company, there is no bright future for the democracy for all.

Summarized from March 24, KCTU website (in Korean)- http://nodong.org/592486

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One of the latest of a long string of victims of anti-union South Korean conglomerate Samsung, is Samsung LCD facility engineer Kim Joo-hyun, who died by committing suicide on January 11, 2011. He was 25 years old (26 in the Korean way of counting age). Since then it has been more than 50 days. His family – his parents and his elder sister – have been postponing the burial of Joo-hyun’s body until now, as expression of their expectation of justice. Joo-hyun’s body remains at the morgue.

The family’s first demand is an apology. Because the day that he fell from the 13th floor of his Samsung worker dormitory, there were 300 cameras around the dormitory, recording everything.

Just after his death, his father went to the police and they showed him an edited video. They explained to him that he had fallen himself, and that thus it was suicide, not murder. The family spent 10 more days, trying to get the raw, unedited footage of the surveillance video. And they found that actually, he had tried four times to jump. The first two times, he tried and gave up himself, returning to his room. But the third time, when he was at the edge of the balcony on the 13th floor, he was found by another person in the dormitory. That person called the Crisis Help Centre (an office inside Samsung), and then 3-4 men came and persuaded him and escorted him to go back to his room on the 6th floor. But inexplicably, after talking with him a few minutes, the men left the room, leaving him there – alone. After another 10 minutes, Joo-hyun came out – and succeeded in jumping and falling to his death.

After realizing this from the raw videos, the family asked:

1)   Why did the company let him try repeatedly?

2)   Why did the men leave Joo-hyun alone?

3)   Why did they not even call his family or other friends? Joo-hyun had his cellphone.

But Samsung until now has given no answer.

The family’s targets are Samsung, the police and the Ministry of Labor. Kim Joo-hyun worked 12-15 hours a day. He couldn’t rest even on his holidays. He would get calls from the factory to come to work, as if he was on call (though his job is not of an on-call nature). He could not sleep or rest enough. He only visited his hometown one to two times a month, sometimes even only once in two months.

His suicide can be considered suicide from overwork – karo-jisatsu in Japanese, something which can be legally compensated in Japan.

Joo-hyun’s hardship at Samsung

Joo-hyun had been at Samsung for about one year. He had joined Samsung in November 2009 to work as a facility engineer in the fab (fabrication) department of Samsung LCD factory; he was to keep the machines running smoothly.

He had severe skin problems and signs of depression by the time he committed suicide. Just a month or two after he began work in the ‘clean room’, he began to get mild symptoms of atopic dermatitis (like eczema), but it soon became very severe, especially on the side of his legs. When he showed his painful legs to his father in July, his father could see the top layer of skin was very damaged, and even discharging some liquid. It was very itchy and painful for Joo-hyun. He finally requested to change his job duties, and was re-assigned to another location and job in the factory. But in the new department also, he got severely stressed. The supervisors abused him, especially looking down on him for his education level, as he was a graduate of a two-year college.

Moreover, from the beginning of his job, even when he had been working in the clean room, he was forced to write a 20-page report immediately the day after, if there was ever any mistake or damage to the equipment. Thus, even after working extremely long hours and while suffering from skin damage and abuse from superiors at the workplace, he would have to go home and stay up to write the 20-page report. The treatment of workers in the factory was like towards soldiers, or children – typical of many Samsung factories, and apparently of many electronics factories, even in China and Taiwan.

Family and supporters protest

Since a few days after Joo-hyun’s death, Joo-hyun’s family members have been picketing every morning in front of the Samsung LCD factory; they have been doing so for more than 40 days. They also picket near the dormitory, usually in the afternoon, but have not been allowed to go inside anymore. The family and supporter have also recently begun to picket one hour a day during the week, in front of Samsung Headquarters.

SHARPs and KCTU have also written to and protested to the government and police to demand a thorough investigation. The sad death of young Joo-hyun is only one in a long string of tragic deaths of young Samsung workers in South Korea.

Monday, February 28, 2011, was the 49th day since the death of Joo-hyun. It is the day when it is traditionally believed that a soul will return to heaven. The family of Joo-hyun and their supporters conducted a ceremony at Chun-an Station square, to commemorate Joo-hyun’s death and call for the public to join in demanding Samsung take responsibility.

Samsung’s non-response

Strangely (or not), Samsung has kept silent in response to the family’s pleas. Yet every morning at 8 a.m., and steadily in rotating shifts until 10 p.m., a man can be found keeping the family in surveillance at the funeral hall where Joo-hyun’s funeral had been held.

Samsung and LG’s LCD factories

Having a dormitory for workers is not very common in Korea. Yet Samsung built a huge dormitory which houses at least several hundred workers.

Just 8 days earlier, another Samsung worker had committed suicide, jumping from another place in the dormitory. She was 23 years old. In the Samsung dormitory, an apartment has three rooms, and three workers stay in each room. The number of apartments per floor is not exactly known, but there are at least 13 floors.

It is quite possible that suicides have been happening in other factories such as in LG. However LG’s main workforce is dispatch (temporary) workers, and they do have a union, at least in form. On the other hand, Samsung’s main workforce is regular (formal) workers, and Samsung is adamantly anti-union. Samsung workers thus usually work longer, generally expecting to work for their life in the company.  But with no way to handle the grievance between union and company, the family must appeal to the public. In spite of the public appeals, Samsung has remained unresponsive – only making itself appear more culpable.

Samsung workers should be happy and enjoying their work for a great brand and pride of the nation, but instead they have been suffering and dying in increasing numbers, shushed by the company and even ignored by government authorities. We appeal to the public who reads this blog, to let more people know about what happened to Kim Joo-hyun, as well as the others whose stories have been shared here. Only through such support and solidarity can the small Davids of Samsung worker victims fight against the Goliath of anti-union Samsung conglomerate and the South Korean government for justice.

We urge you to leave your messages of condolence and solidarity to the grieving family of Kim Joo-hyun in the comments. We will translate them and share with his family.

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As workers streamed out of the building for lunch at noon on Thursday, three women stood in front of the head office of Samsung Electronics in Seoul’s Seocho neighborhood holding a funeral portrait and wailing. The women are the mother, older sister, and aunt of Kim Ju-hyeon, a worker at the company’s Tangjeong LCD complex who committed suicide in his dormitory on Jan. 11. Kim was 25.

Kim Jeong, the elder sister of Kim Ju-hyeon, holds brother’s portrait in a request to speak with a representative in front of the Samsung Electronics headquarters in Seoul. (Photo: Lim Ji-sun)

Thursday marked one week since the bereaved family members, who had previously issued their calls for an investigation in front of the Tangjeong complex in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province, assumed their positions in front of the head office in Seoul. Kim’s older sister Jeong, 28, said, “We came to Seoul after the people at the Tangjeong complex told us, ‘It is out of our hands now, go tell the head office,’ but nobody will meet with us.”

Samsung positioned employees to physically prevent Kim’s family members from entering the building. The same scene has been repeated for a full week, with dozens of men positioned at the entrance to the main building to block the bereaved family members.

Shockingly, the Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL) has also been silent to their demands for an investigation. On Feb. 28, the 49th day since Kim’s death, the ministry notified them of a decision not to disclose Samsung Electronics’ employment regulations, explaining that they were Samsung’s “trade secrets.”

This decision has been called unprecedented even by those within MOEL.

“The employment regulations are a document that is made well-known to all workers, clearly specifying their working conditions and so forth,” said a MOEL official. “I cannot fathom how this could be a trade secret.”

“In my eight years as a labor attorney, I have never seen the Ministry of Employment and Labor refuse to disclose a company’s employment regulations,” said Lee Jeong-ran, a labor attorney with the group Banollim, a civic organization that advocates for the health and human rights of workers in the semiconductor industry. “The decision not to disclose the regulations is evidence that the Ministry of Employment and Labor is assigning itself the role of Samsung’s puppet,” Lee added.

Samsung Electronics stated, “[The employment regulations] are designated internally as something to be kept confidential from the outside.”

MOEL also said that no data exists on suicides and declined to disclose the findings of Kim Ju-hyeon’s special health evaluation, on the grounds that it was “under investigation.”

Kim, who began work as an equipment engineer on Samsung Electronics’ LCD color filter production line in January 2010, jumped to his death from the 13th floor of his dormitory. He had been suffering from stress due to workdays lasting over 12 hours, as well as a skin disease of unknown cause. Fifty days after his death, no funeral has yet been held.

Banollim and other groups that have battled Samsung Electronics over occupational leukemia cases designated the third week of March as “memorial week for workers who have died from semiconductor and electronics industry accidents.” They plan to hold rallies during the week at sites such as Seoul Station and the area near the main offices of Samsung.

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

Original article at: http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/466463.html

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Ms. Park Ji-yeon died on March 31, 2010. The angry group of Samsung electronics worker/cancer victims’ families and their supporters – SHARPs – organized activities to mourn Ji-yeon’s tragic death and condemn Samsung’s lack of responsibility….. but was faced with only more coldness from the ‘great’ multinational corporation.

4/1 Mourning Press Conference

Press conference on April 1, after Park Ji-yeon's death

On April 1, SHARPs and Samgsung leukemia Chungnam strategy committee met at the Seoul St Mary’s Hospital at the School of Medicine, Catholic University of Seoul where Ms Park’s funeral was taking place. In the funeral home, they held a press conference sharing their condolences for the deceased Ji-yeon. The participants claimed that “Samsung should not try to evade all responsibility by simply paying for the hospital fees. They should immediately stop this kind of shameless idea.”

Furthermore, they pointed out that “she had no history of genetic disease nor did she even catch a cold easily. The only reason Ji-yeon came down with leukemia is because of the exposure to chemicals and radiation at Samsung as well as the night shifts and the stress.” “The brand value of being a top-tier corporation and also the top most wanted company, Samsung surveilled workers and used violence to prevent labour unions from forming, and suppressed labourers and worked them to death without any safety measures, sending them to their graves. We know that the profitable results of Samsung is built on all this. They set the resolution that “We need to fight and expose this truth and spread the news of Ji-yeon’s unfair death so that she could rest in peace.”

 

Police act as Samsung goons, repressing those who publicly mourn the death of a precious worker's life

4/2 Seven people leading the commemoration ceremony arrested

On the day of Ji-yeon’s funeral service on April 2, SHARPs and 10 other people were about to march from St Mary’s hospital to Samsung’s main building with banners and pickets. However, they were stopped by the police that dispersed the crowd.

Furthermore, the police also stopped the silent protest that was to take place near the Samsung main building.

An informal press conference was held to conclude the situation, but the informal ten-person press conference that even had no microphone was quickly dispersed by the police as an illegal assembly within ten minutes. Seven of them were taken to the police station.

On April 3, SHARPs and others held a denunciation press conference in front of the Seocho police station for the coercive arrest of the seven people. They were discharged within 45 hours.

 

3/25 Mass meeting on resolution to denounce Samsung

SHARPS, KHIS and ATNC Network rally for union rights at Samsung

SHARPs, the Korea House for International Solidarity (KHIS), and Asian Transnational Corporations (ATNC) Monitoring Network met on March 25 afternoon near Samsung semiconductor Kihong factory to hold a mass rally to express: ‘Samsung take responsibility for the cluster of leukemia in semiconductor workers’ and ‘condemn Samsung’s anti-union policy!’.

This was possible due to ‘joint international action to denounce repression of trade unions in Asia’. Participants gathered in the rain and held banners that had the unified motto ‘let’s fight for the right to work without dying’ and marched to the factory dormitory entrance. They all petitioned to fight for the Samsung workers’ rights.

(translated from Korean, SHARPs Newsletter No. 2)

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A new petition has been created by international supporters of SAMSUNG electronics worker-victims. The text is below.
Background:
Over the past two decades, Samsung has become one of the most dominant electronics companies in the world, and is now a global leader in semiconductors, flat panel displays, mobile phones, and television production.

Sadly, this rapid rise to global dominance has come with serious consequences for the workers who produce the products – recent reports indicate that about 100 workers – mostly young women – have been stricken with cancer – mostly blood cancers – and at least 30 of them have died – making this the one of the largest known electronics cancer clusters in the world. (See http://tinyurl.com/2bl5c8a for more information).

Samsung has denied all responsibility for these illnesses and the Korean government has declined to declare the cancers “work related” and refuses to disclose results of its investigation of Samsung. In response, a strong support movement led by the victims and their families has emerged in Korea and around the world and is seeking justice for those who have suffered from occupational illness.

We the undersigned express our support for the workers and their families and call on the Korean government and Samsung to commit to the following principles in addressing this situation:

•Samsung should publicly disclose all of the ingredients of the chemical substances and toxic information about the materials and processes used in production in its facilities in Korea and throughout the world (“the right-to-know”) – the company should not try to hide behind blanket claims of “trade secrets”; this information should also be made available through regular hazard communication to the workers;

•Samsung should disclose all industrial hygiene monitoring and exposure records in its facilities, documenting which substances are being monitored and the results of that monitoring;

•Samsung should disclose all occupational health monitoring protocols and records for its workers, making sure to protect confidentiality; this should include the extent and duration of each worker’s exposure, as well as health outcomes data (morbidity and mortality) such as a mortality data file, corporate health records, and insurance records;

•Samsung and the Korean government should disclose the protocols and commit to disclose the complete results of all occupational health studies undertaken, including any studies done by outside consultants, such as ENVIRON; workers and their chosen experts need to be included in ongoing review of the protocols and study methods, which should be available for public review and comment, including submission of pertinent data from outside parties at each stage of any such study, including the review of and right to comment on any draft findings;

•Samsung should guarantee its workers that they have the right to refuse unsafe or unhealthy work and that they are protected from retaliation for exercising those rights (right-to-act);

•Samsung should phase out the use of toxic substances in their production when there are safer alternatives available;

•The South Korean government should assure fair compensation for all of the victims and insist that Samsung accept responsibility for its actions.

To SIGN the petition, follow this link:

http://www.gopetition.com/petition/40246.html

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Korean electronics workers fight for their health

Dr. Jeong-ok Kong MD, MS has been a leading figure among Korean
occupational health professionals involved in numerous research projects
and campaigns with labor unions and grassroots organizations of workers.
These projects have ranged from work on musculoskeletal disorders, to job
stress-related physical and mental health problems, to chemical exposures.
Dr. Kong currently works as a fulltime activist with the Korean Institute of
Labor Safety and Health, (KILSH), whose activities center on workplace-
oriented action, and the development of worker expertise and leadership.
Dr. Kong is the recipient of the 2010 International Health & Safety Award
from the Occupational Health Section of the American Public Health
Association.
Dr. Kong’s talk will focus on the most recent struggle by cancer victims of
Samsung semiconductor plants.  This international campaign, coordinated
by SHARPS (Supporters of Health And Right of People in Semiconductor
Industry), aims to draw attention to and prevent cancer and other diseases
among young workers in Samsung plants in Korea.
Monday, November 15
5:30-7pm
UCSF School of Nursing, 5th Floor, Room N-517
Tuesday, November 16
12 noon
(arrive early to go through building security)
Oakland State Office Building
1515 Clay Street, Room 15 (Second Floor), Oakland, CA
5:30 pm
Hesperian
1919 Addison Street, Suite 204, Berkeley, CA
For more information, contact:
Garrett Brown, 510-558-1014, garrettdbrown@comcast.net
For information on events in the South Bay with Dr. Kong, contact:
Ted Smith, 408-242-6707, tsmith@igc.org
Sponsoring organizations include:
Hesperian • Maquiladora Health and Safety Support Network • UC Berkeley Labor Occupational Health Program
UC Center for Occupational and Environmental Health • UCSF Occupational and Environmental Medicine
UCSF Occupational and Environmental Health Nursing

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APHA OHS Section Awards Honor Winners and Remind Us of Ongoing Struggles

Category: Occupational Health & Safety
Posted on: August 31, 2010 11:08 AM, by The Pump Handle

by Elizabeth Grossman

The American Public Health Association’s (APHA) Occupational Health & Safety Section has announced the winners of its 2010 Occupational Health & Safety Awards. In a year that has been marked by what David Michaels, Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, has described as “a series of workplace tragedies” – among them the deaths of 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine and 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico – noting both the honorees, and those in whose honor the awards are given, is a reminder of the enormous work, courage, and long history of efforts to ensure safety at work.

For their outstanding work to improve workers’ health and safety rights and working conditions both in the U.S. and internationally, the 2010 awards recognize five individuals:

  • Dr. Sherry Baron, coordinator for Occupational Health Disparities at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health;
  • Tom O’Connor, Executive Director of the National Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) Network and principal coordinator of the Protecting Workers Alliance;
  • Stephen A. Mitchell, the current Health and Safety Representative for United Automobile Workers (UAW) Local Union 974, representing 5,500 workers at Caterpillar Inc. in the Peoria, IL area;
  • Wally Reardon, a communications tower climber who has dedicated himself to improving safety practices and standards in his fast-growing and dangerous industry; and
  • Dr. Jeong-ok Kong, an occupational health physician who has advocated on behalf of Korean auto and rail industry workers through the Korea Institute of Labor Safety and Health, (KILSH), and most recently for semiconductor industry cancer victims through the organization known as SHARPS (Supporters of Health And Rights of People in Semiconductor Industry).

Their work carries on that begun a century ago by Alice Hamilton, considered to be the founder of occupational health in the United States; by Lorin Kerr, who served for over forty years as a physician for the United Mine Workers and was instrumental in passage of the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969; and by Tony Mazzocchi, who was one of the most influential labor leaders in the field of occupational health and safety, founder of the Labor Party, and instrumental in enactment of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970. It is in their honor that the APHA awards are given. The long history represented here is a reminder of the challenges and dedication involved in this work.

I was heartened to see Dr. Jeong-ok Kong’s name among the honorees, because I’ve become familiar with her work while writing about occupational and environmental health issues in the electronics industry. I first met her at a meeting in Manila in 2008 and the impact of her work has grown steadily since then.

Dr. Kong has faced particularly daunting challenges in her work, especially when advocating on behalf of young workers at Samsung’s Korean semiconductor plants who’ve been stricken with crippling and fatal diseases. According to Korean news media accounts, SHARPS, and other NGOs, there are more than 20 documented cases of Samsung workers who’ve been diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, and other cancers. At least nine have died of such diseases. Other Samsung workers at these plants are known to be suffering from skin disorders, neuropathy, fertility problems including miscarriages, and chronic nosebleeds.

Dr. Kong has been working to bring international attention to these cases and to win acknowledgement – and action – from Samsung. Workers and their representatives believe exposure to benzene and other carcinogenic chemicals as well as radiation in confined spaces over long hours may be causing these illnesses. Samsung has said it doesn’t use benzene, but is now undertaking an investigation.

Among the challenges Dr. Kong has faced are the Korean restrictions on public assembly, as evidenced this April when she and others holding a press conference were arrested following the funeral service to honor Park Ji-Yeon, a Samsung worker who died of leukemia on March 31, 2010 at age 23. Dr. Kong and seven others were arrested and held at a police station for two days.

In July, Samsung announced it had hired a consulting firm to conduct a year-long investigation of the cluster of leukemia cases at its factories outside of Seoul. According to the AP, as reported in The Boston Globe, Samsung says the investigators will work in consultation with experts from the Harvard University School of Public Health, and “be given complete access to Samsung’s semiconductor manufacturing facilities.” The study will look at both chemical and radiation exposures that might be linked to these and other diseases.

When I wrote to congratulate Dr. Kong on her APHA award she replied, “Thank you very much. I don’t think I deserve to get it. But I believe it would encourage my comrade of SHARPs and hope to be a chance to share and spread our struggle with many others.”

The OHS Section awards will be presented on November 9th at the APHA annual meeting in Denver. You can also read previous Pump Handle posts about the 2007, 2008, and 2009 awardees in our archives.

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Salon, The Washington Post, The Nation, Mother Jones, Grist, and the Huffington Post. Chasing Molecules was chosen by Booklist as one of the Top 10 Science & Technology Books of 2009 and won a 2010 Gold Nautilus Award for investigative journalism.
Original post at: http://scienceblogs.com/thepumphandle/2010/08/apha_ohs_section_awards_honor.php

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