Ex-RCA staffers get support in US for poisoning charges

By Charles Snyder, Taipei Times, 8 June 2002

The workers' representatives visited the US to seek compensation for deaths and injuries resulting from what they call corporate negligence.

Workers’ representatives from the former RCA TV plant in Taoyuan have wound up a two-week visit to the US, gaining broad support from unions and environmental groups to get General Electric, RCA’s parent company, to pay to clean up the site and compensate the victims for the pollution at the site.

The group traveled to the US to publicize their fight and to seek US congressional help in forcing GE to take responsibility after years of frustration in trying to get action in Taiwan. The group visited San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Washington.

We must tell the whole world and the American people what RCA company has done to us. They did it on purpose, said Liang Ko-ping, the president of the Self-Help Association of Former RCA Employees in Taiwan, and the head of the delegation, as she fought back tears.

A company like this, we should punish them, she said.

In Washington, the group met with Representative Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a co-chairman of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus and the leading congressional champion of Taiwan’s bid to enter the World Health Organization.

At a press conference on Thursday, the former RCA workers said Brown is considering trying to get a congressional hearing on the issue.

But the group was unsuccessful in arranging a meeting with General Electric and its affiliate, Thomson Multimedia, to whom GE sold the Taoyuan site after the plant was closed. The companies at first agreed to a meeting yesterday, but cancelled at the last minute.

However, GE spokesman Gary Sheffer said the group did not request a meeting until last week and that company staffers could not rearrange their schedules in time. He said the company is always open to reschedule a meeting with them.

Delegation members said that more than 30 US unions and environmental groups have signed a petition supporting their efforts.

Several member unions of the AFL-CIO, the largest labor umbrella organization in the US, have joined their fight, including a coalition of 14 international unions representing most GE workers.

In a letter to GE Thursday, the coalition’s chairman, Edward Fire, slammed GE’s cancellation of the planned meeting and urged the firm to meet with the workers.

In the letter, Fire said the coalition and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), another major union, fully support the efforts of your former Taiwanese employees to resolve these critical issues.

RCA built the Taoyuan plant in 1970 and closed it in 1992, but the extent of the pollution was not uncovered until 1994.

The Self-Help Association says that the toxics dumped at the plant in the soil and groundwater in those years resulted in the deaths of 216 workers and former workers, more than 1,375 cancer cases and 102 cases of tumors.

It says that during those years, RCA discharged the toxins into a secret well and that workers had to handle the chemicals, including trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene, and drink the water contaminated by it.

This is one of the worst cases of global corporate irresponsibility that has been uncovered around the world, the CWA, which hosted the Washington press conference, said.

However, in its original letter accepting a meeting with the group, GE said it has concluded that workers at the plant were not adversely affected by the presence of solvents in groundwater near the plant. We will not be negotiating compensation for your alleged injuries, but will simply explain the scientific basis for our conclusion that you have not been harmed by the activities at the Taoyuan plant.

Sheffer told the Taipei Times that studies conducted both Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Agency and by the company have found no connection between conditions at the plant and the workers’ deaths and cancers. He said an EPA study showed that the incidence of cancer in the plant’s vicinity was actually lower than in Taiwan’s population as a whole. y The delegation’s trip came less than two months after the Taoyuan County Government declared the plant area a pollution control site containing serious level of contaminants under the Soil and Ground-water Pollution Remediation Law passed in November 2001.