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Saturday, December 15, 2001

Brush Wellman trims CBD-related program

Staff writer

ELMORE -- The nation's economic state is forcing Brush Wellman to eliminate 16 jobs in a program designed to help victims of chronic beryllium disease, a spokesman said Friday.

The plant uses beryllium to make parts for the electronics, cellular and automotive industries, and also has contracts with the military and government.

The program to be eliminated was developed for workers who have contracted chronic beryllium disease as a result of working at the plant, said Dave Cahill, human resources director at Brush Wellman.

"The aim of the (program was) to try and help as much as we can for (CDB carriers) to make a transition to other careers and jobs that takes them out of the exposure path," Cahill said. "We are in the same kind of challenging business situation that many others are in right now. We have had an ongoing work force reduction of 170 people and business is down 60 percent.

"We regret this decision, but it's something we're compelled to do."

He said 16 of the 32 enrolled in the program were given two options this week, Cahill said. They can quit the company and find a new job by Jan. 1, or return to the plant by bumping someone with less seniority than themselves, he said.

If the CBD victim chooses to leave the company, he or she will continue to receive pay, benefits and educational assistance for one year, Cahill said. The cut employee has a possibility of getting 12 weeks of additional pay on top of that as well, Cahill said.

CBD is caused by exposure to the dust from beryllium metal if a person has a sensitivity to the disease. The disease worsens with continued exposure, and is sometimes fatal.

Cahill said there are 625 people working at Brush Wellman now, down 240 from last year.

Among the 32 enrolled in the program, Cahill said the 16 who had been in the program the longest or had the most seniority were selected for the reduction because they were considered to have the best options.

The program, called the Small Business Unit, was developed in the late '90s. It allowed workers who developed chronic beryllium disease to hold jobs outside of the plant or inside the plant's "white zone" -- the plant's beryllium-free area.

The 32 workers CBD victims currently receive educational assistance, pay subsidization and benefits from Brush Wellman at two off-site plant locations and at other businesses, or in the white zone.

Two Brush Wellman off-site locations, in Elmore and Oak Harbor, will be shut down by the end of this year. Sixteen workers at other job sites remain in the program.

Elmore resident Mike Schack is one of those affected by the layoffs.

"My husband was told (Thursday) he had to start going back into the plant to do his job or leave work in January," said Debbie Schack of her husband, who had been working in the white zone ever since he was diagnosed with CBD about a year ago.

Schack, a senior environmental engineer, has been working at the plant for 16 years.

"I'll tell you, he's 57 years old and with CBD he's looking at 10 years until he's dead," Debbie Schack said of her husband who is displaying early signs of the disease. "We've got a son in college and another graduating from high school this year. He's 57. Where's he going to get another job?"

"At this stage, he's not disabled, but who's going to hire him at this age when he has beryllium disease?"