Kaptur expects beryllium compensation conflicts

December 10, 1999

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur said yesterday she expects deciding how to pay thousands of workers exposed to unsafe levels of beryllium dust will be a contentious issue for Congress.

"The legislative battle to get compensation and federal benefits still lies before us,'' she told Tom Walton, Blade vice president-editor, and Richard Paton, Blade editorial director, during a taping of The Editors television program. A tronger plan to protect workers at U.S. weapon plants sets an "action level'' that is 10 times more restrictive than a 50-year-old stan dard. It was announced this week by the U.S. Department of Energy, but it applies only to federal con tract employees.

Federal officials are trying to come up with a common standard that would apply to government entities and the private sector, she said. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has urged Congress to approve a compensation proposal that doesn't cover contract workers who performed services for the U.S. Defense Department. Still unresolved is the question of compensating vendors and others who were associated with production that involved beryllium, Miss Kaptur said. "Right now, Ohio workers' compensation is the only compensation. Ohio's system is a pretty good one, but it is the only option available to Ohio workers at this point.''

She intends to help introduce more legislation to cover a broader group of workers exposed to beryllium. Miss Kaptur, who attended the World Trade Organization meetings last week, said she and other delegates were moved and heartened by protesters who demonstrated in Seattle at the trade talks. In many instances, their concerns were over proposed changes in trade laws they fear will weaken living standards, relax environmental laws, and harm human rights, she said. Of the times protests turned violent, she said, "I sometimes wonder if they were people hired to discredit the thousands who were there.''

She found many were young protesters who genuinely want fair treatment of people to be made a key part of trade discussions.

"The point is that trade has to be about more than commerce,'' she said. "Trade has to be about decent treatment of people wherever they live, and the conflict between the Third World and the First World has to be dealt with in an orderly way.''

She said she has no regrets about opposing the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying some of her fears about the agreement have come to pass. "What time has proven is since NAFTA, the U.S. has moved into a deficit position relative to trade with both Mexico and Canada,'' she said. Wages of workers in Mexico have been reduced by half, she said. In the United States, only 26 per cent of the workers who have lost jobs due to the trade pact have been able to find jobs at comparable wages and the same benefits. "We have had good job growth in the service sector, and we have had an economy where jobs are growing, but not always in the areas where jobs are lost,'' she said.

The Editors airs at 7 tonight on WGTE-TV, Channel 30. There will be no Sunday showing.

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