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January 23, 2002

 



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Regional News | Article published January 23, 2002
Union is leery of beryllium plant uniform contract

By KELLY LECKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER


A union representing a Toledo uniform-cleaning service said it is worried the health of workers will be at risk if the company washes clothes from Brush Wellman, a local beryllium manufacturer.

Aramark Uniform Services has been talking to officials at Brush about washing its company-provided uniforms. The plant in Elmore now launders its own clothing.

Both companies say they do not have an agreement, but they are evaluating whether the clothes can and should be laundered by Aramark.

That worries some of the 150 members of Local 323 Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees who work at the plant. They say they are concerned Aramark has not given them enough information about negotiations with Brush, and they worry their health will be in danger if uniforms with beryllium on them are washed at the plant.

"We’re very concerned for the safety of our members," said Karen Burnett, an international representative for UNITE. "We are looking into it and trying to talk to the company."

Beryllium is a lightweight metal used in the defense, automotive, and electronics industries. Beryllium dust can cause an incurable, fatal lung disease if inhaled. Brush Wellman processes beryllium, long used in nuclear weapons.

Some workers said they are worried that beryllium dust would leave the dryers through the vents and expose workers, and that workers who touch the clothes might be exposed to beryllium.

Ms. Burnett said she isn’t sure if union members would refuse to wash the uniforms. "Those are issues we feel we need to get addressed," she said.

Derek Longshore, a spokesman at Aramark’s California headquarters, said in a written statement that the company hired an independent occupational health expert to study the safety risks before it considered taking on Brush as a client. The decision whether to clean the uniforms will be made after the study is done, he said.

"Our employees’ safety is of the utmost concern to us and we would never take on any business that would endanger our employees," he said.

Mr. Longshore said the company has discussed the situation with workers and assured them no decision has been made. Ms. Burnett and several workers said the company didn’t tell employees until after the potential contract was made public.

Amy Ryder, director of the Cleveland office of Ohio’s largest environmental group, Ohio Citizen Action, said there is reason to be concerned. She said her agency studied the homes and cars of beryllium workers and found that beryllium is carried off site, so it is logical to assume there will be beryllium on the uniforms that could be left in washers and dryers.

"I think there’s absolutely a risk to those workers," she said.

But Patrick Carpenter, a spokesman for Cleveland-based Brush Wellman, Inc., said the company believes Aramark can launder the clothing safely and said the company might be able to do it more efficiently than Brush Wellman.

He released a statement that said: "Aramark uses proven, highly modern technology that allows it to launder clothing from many different industries in a cost-effective, safe, and environmentally responsible manner."

"We have to be convinced they can do it in a safe and responsible way," Mr. Carpenter said. "They have a long and distinguished history."


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