The Pantex Saga

A task force led by Metal Trades Department (MTD) Special Representative for Nuclear Weapons Workers Health, Shel Samuels, is petitioning for workers at Pantex to be granted a Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) under the Energy Employees Occupational Disease Compensation Act. Samuels along with claimant’s representative Sarah Dworzack Ray, and Professor Lar Fuortes, MD, of the University of Iowa’s occupational health program have requested that the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius include those employed between 1951 and 1957 under the SEC. On October 30, 2013, workers in the ’84 to ’91 class were admitted to the SEC.

A SEC is a uniquely defined category of employees established under the EEOCPA, which would allow Pantex workers’ to bypass the lengthy process called radiation dose reconstruction.

On November 6, the MTD petitioners called for a special review of the exclusion of workers employed from ‘51 through ’57, the latest chapter in the sad saga documenting the struggle of unions to protect their members that began more than a generation ago.

The MTD’s original petition for an SEC dates back to 2006. That petition was filed on behalf of former Pantex workers and their unions, claiming that dose reconstruction by NIOSH was not feasible, triggering the default provision of the Act and enabling an SEC. The claim was based upon the absence of an adequate records base. The Advisory Board to the NIOSH program initially recommended denial of the petition, but the MTD’s representative filed a reply that indicated that NIOSH had fundamental scientific flaws in its interpretation of the dose reconstruction process.

Special exposure cohort status has been granted to a number of federal nuclear facilities around the country, including K-25 in Oak Ridge and the earliest work years at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, but worker advocates have been calling for the designation to apply to all plants associated with production of nuclear weapons.

Ayotte, Shaheen express concern about sequestration's impact on shipyard

WASHINGTON — Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., on Thursday continued to express concern about the impact of sequestration on Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

During a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on which both senators serve, Shaheen cited a letter from Paul O’Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council at the shipyard, in asking Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of Naval Operations, to elaborate on the long-term impact of sequestration, the automatic, across-the-board cuts in federal discretionary spending that kicked in last March.

Barring an agreement by Congress, another round of sequestration is slated to take place in January under a 2011 legislative deal that paved the way for an increase in the federal debt ceiling.

Questioning Greenert, Shaheen read verbatim from the O’Connor letter, in which he asked: “With nine and a half more years of sequestration hanging over our heads, nine and a half more years of furloughs and layoffs, how will we attract the best and brightest men and women to our technologically sophisticated, complex, precision-based industry?'”

O’Connor’s letter continued: “The security, instability and volatility of sequestration on our shipyard and national work force cannot be understated. The personal impact, mission impact and national security impact are real, and contrary to the best interest of America.'”

Replied Greenert: “I’m glad we get to see that letter, because it very clearly states the debilitating effect of doing this year after year. … We think we are saving costs, (but) we’re just avoiding costs.”

Greenert, who appeared at the Armed Services Committee hearing along with the top uniformed officers for the U.S. Army, Air Force and Marine Corps, went on to express his concern for the state of nuclear shipyards such as the Kittery, Maine, yard, whose mission focuses on repair and modernization of nuclear-powered submarines.

“I’m concerned about the shore infrastructure,” Greenert told Shaheen. “We’re deferring work that’s going to come to roost.”

Ayotte’s inquiry on the overall size of the Navy’s fleet led to a discussion of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard’s loss of the USS Miami project this past summer. The Navy announced in August it had decided not to repair the submarine, which was damaged in a fire set by civilian worker Casey Fury, citing the impact of sequestration and cost of the repairs.

“Unfortunately, due to sequestration, we lost the USS Miami, which was a project Portsmouth had,” Greenert said. “But the overruns, the furloughs, and the need to have to go to a commercial work force instead of using a federal work force … it was just too much, and we couldn’t afford that submarine and continue to do the others.”

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, also a member of the Armed Services Committee, echoed Shaheen and Ayotte’s contention that sequestration has compromised the capabilities of the U.S. military.

“It seems to be that we’re telling you that you have to cut a finger off and you get to decide which one,” he said. “That’s an unattractive form of having to make decisions.”

Veteran's Day Message from ALF-CIO President Trumka and AFGE President and Union Veterans Council Chair Cox

Please read the following message from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and AFGE President and Union Veterans Council Chair J. David Cox.

On November 11 we celebrate Veteran’s Day, and it’s important to take this opportunity to honor the men and women who have served our nation to protect and defend the liberties and freedoms we all enjoy.

And yet it isn’t enough to speak words like “honor.”

America’s veterans need action, not words.

America’s veterans need a funded and functioning federal government. And veterans need us to protect Social Security, disability benefits and military pensions.

Think of the Vietnam veteran who travels for hours to the nearest VA clinic to get a hearing aid to help compensate for the endless ringing in his ears from a long-ago grenade explosion. To the 22 million veterans in America, the VA is more than “the government.” It’s a vital earned benefit. And when Congress fails to fund the government and closes the VA, it’s people like that Vietnam veteran who pay the price.

Because of the budget cuts last year known as “sequestration,” more veterans are homeless and fewer veterans get help looking for work, and tens of thousands of veterans have been furloughed.

The budget shutdown earlier this fall kept veterans from visiting war memorials.

And think of the members of our armed services who gave their lives in service of our country and of our 3.2 million disabled veterans. And think of their families, the 350,000 spouses and children who live with a disabled veteran or who lost a loved one in battle. For those heroic individuals, earned Social Security benefits are a lifeline.

Any cut to Social Security would make life harder for those families.

Lately, we have heard talk of “chained CPI” as a middle path for reforming Social Security. Don’t believe it. Chained CPI is just another way to say “cut” Social Security. For the average worker retiring at age 65, the Chained CPI would cut Social Security benefits by $650 a year by age 75, and by roughly $1,130 a year at age 85.The picture is actually worse for military retirees, who would get hit multiple times by chained CPI. Military pensions, Social Security and VA disability benefits would all be cut by chained CPI.

Congress should never balance the budget on the backs of the men and women who already sacrificed for our country. And we should honor our sacred obligations to the spouses and children of our wounded and dead veterans by protecting their benefits, not cutting them.

Let’s resolve this Veterans Day to do more than talk. The AFL-CIO’s Union Veterans Council stands alongside the VFW, the American Legion and the Vietnam Veterans of America in opposition to chained CPI.

Let’s make a stand together to end the sequestration cuts and to keep our government open, and let’s reject any cuts to Social Security, under any name and by any politician or any political party.