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Chemical Workers Strike Over Health-Test Cost

May 28, 1987|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

SANTA FE SPRINGS — Operations have ceased at the Neville Chemical Co. plant, where workers are on strike over the company's refusal to pay for tests to detect toxic substances in their blood.

All 17 of the plant's production workers, members of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers of the AFL-CIO, went on strike May 20. The plant produces chlorinated paraffin used as an additive to fire retardant, traffic paint and some lubricants.

"They feel like the company really doesn't care about them as a human being in terms of their health. If they did, they would commit to doing something," said Bill McGovearn, an international representative for the union in Southern California. "What good is $20 an hour going to do if you die because of that $20 worth of work?"

The union wants tests to detect dioxins and furans, suspected cancer-causing chemicals that are a byproduct of the distilling process at the plant. McGovearn said the tests would cost about $136,000, or about $800 for each worker.

Tests Called Unreliable

Jack Ferguson, plant manager, said the union had not cited the $800 figure in negotiations, adding that he is uncertain which test the union wanted. Ferguson said there are 85 types of dioxins and 147 types of furans, and that the reliability of such tests has not been proven.

"We're not going to commit to the first test that comes along," Ferguson said. "We have said that when sound test methodology is developed, we will talk about participating in testing."

He said researchers "haven't been coming up with alarming deaths or abnormalities in this sort of thing. . . . No adverse health effects have been directly related to dioxin."

The union rejected the company's offer that included salary raises of 2% the first year, 3% the second year and 2% the third, but McGovearn said health and safety, not wages, are the roadblock to resolving the dispute.

Neither side has tried to resume negotiations since talks broke off one day before the strike was called.

Neville is the only manufacturer of chlorinated paraffin on the West Coast, but Ferguson said the company can ship the product from another of its plants in Pittsburgh, Pa. "It's an unfortunate situation. It will hurt the facility quite a bit," Ferguson said.

Neville was convicted in October, 1986, of federal charges of illegally burying more than 20 55-gallons drums of hazardous chemicals under concrete at the Santa Fe Springs plant. Some of the drums contained orthodichlorobenzene, a cleaning solvent that can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system.

Ferguson said Neville is appealing the conviction and the $40,000 fine levied by a federal judge. The testing requested by the union isn't related to the conviction, he said.

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