Four Press Statements On Becky McClain Case Against Pfizer Inc.
-For Release On 3/15/201
CCWMD Press Statement On the Suit By Becky McClain Against Pfizer Inc.
By Steve Zeltzer , Chair
California Coalition For Workers Memorial Day
Today is an important day in the efforts to defend the public safety of biotech
workers in the United States and to make the public aware that serious public health hazards are growing in the biotech industry.
Becky McClain, an injured biotech worker at Pfizer who was also a health and safety committee member. She fought for the health and safety of herself and her fellow workers about serious health and safety lapses and dangers. She followed the Pfizer Corporations rules and no action was taken to protect her and other Pfizer biotech workers.
She also was sickened by the lack of proper health and safety protections and went to OSHA to make reports about these conditions. OSHA refused to have one on site investigation of the conditions at her work site and whether they had been alleviated. This failure of OSHA is not a mistake or accident. Not only Pfizer but the drug industry has prevented the establishment of biological/biotech standards and also serious oversight of the industry.
OSHA is presently incapable of properly protecting the health and safety of workers in the biotech industry because of the failure to have effective health and safety standards in the industry and the right for workers and OSHA as well as the worker compensation system to obtain cloning and production records of viruses and the designing of tests. These are absolutely crucial for investigating and understanding how workers may have been contaminated in this industry.
The refusal of Pfizer to provide these records to Becky McClain and their likely refusal to provide these records to other injured Pfizer workers is a health and safety threat not only to the injured workers but to the public at large who maybe potentially threatened with genetically engineered viruses produced under these conditions.
At the same time we charge Pfizer Inc. with retaliating against Becky McClain for raising these heatlh and safety issues with company management and with Federal OSHA officials. We believe that this firing of Becky McClain should be pursued by the US Attorney’s Office as a criminal conspiracy to cover up health and safety issues and to limit the companies liabilities. Injured workers not only in McClain’s case and many others in the biotech industry are left without compensation and health care as a result of this corporate conspiracy to cover up their illegal actions and to limit their liability.
Today in the United States, millions of workers have ended up on SSI or other government aid as a result of this massive cost shifting in workers compensation from the employer to the Federal, State and Local government.
We also believe that the failure of OSHA and the US government to do it’s job is directly connected the the death of six building trades workers at the Middletown power plant in Connecticut. The destruction of OSHA and its failure to provide health and safety protection for workers in the United States is resulting in the deaths of workers throughout the country.
Although OSHA through the general duty clause has the authority to take action to rectify health and safety dangers the agency has refused to use this tool. The agency has become a fig leaf for Pfizer and other biotech corporations to pretend that workers and the public are protected.
The reality as we now see in the case of Becky McClain and other biotech workers such as David Bell who was injured at Agraquest Inc. in Davis, California is that this issue is a dangerous development and must be confronted by all those who are concerned with protecting the health and safety of workers and the public at large. If these corporations cannot protect the workers at these laboratories how will they protect the American public?
Our coalition also supports
1.Protecting America’s Workers Act (H.R. 2067)
2. H.R.635 which will Create a US Commission on State Workers' Compensation Laws and the affect of deregulation on this industry.
3. We call for the elimination of secret and confidential settlement agreements between Pfizer and other corporations for workers injuries on the jobs.
4. We call for the right of all workers to get all records including the the DNA sequence and genetic map of the viral inserts at all chemical and drug companies for workers injured on the job.
5. We call for biotech and nano-tech health standards of these new technologies and an a labor/independent investigation of the potential dangers of these products before they are released in the public.
6. We call for federal felony criminal penalties for retaliation against workers who make health and safety complaints on the job and a Congressional investigation of the biotech industry with testimony of workers in the industry about these issues.
7. We also urge the US Attorney’s office to investigate pursing a criminal prosecution under RICO against Pfizer Inc. for a cover-up of Becky McClain’s injuries and retaliatiation by Pfizer against Becky McClain to limit their liability for workers compensation. This is a felony fraud issue and any injured worker who committed such workers compensation fraud would certainly be prosecuted. Pfizer Inc. should not be above the law for the crimes they have committed.
Chair, California Coalition For Workers Memorial Day
Statement Of Injured Agraquest Biotech Worker
David Bell on the Case of Becky McClain
My name is David Bell. And I support Becky McClain in the American biotechnology workers’ right to a safe workplace and the pursuit of justice. I was injured in a biotech laboratory over ten years ago. I have seen janitors use a mop and bucket to clean a biological laboratory and then go mop the break room floor where people eat. Laboratory safety in America is a laughing joke. “Franken Science” is escaping from the laboratory every day and it could be prevented.
In 1984, the CDC/NIH published the first edition of the BMBL (Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories). This document describes combinations of standard and special microbiological practices, safety equipment, and facilities that constitute Biosafety Levels 1-4, which are recommended for working with a variety of infectious agents in various laboratory settings. Twenty six years later, these handling practices for infectious agents are still just recommended and NOT REQUIRED.
Additionally, Worker Right To Know is granted in OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard and does include biological hazards. HAZCOM is still not enforced today in biotechnology and employers regularly withhold exposure information from ill employees. Dan Reich, an insurance defense lawyer for Warren Buffet’s Liberty Mutual, denies that HAZCOM laws even exist and says if they do exist that they must be overbroad. This guy is still practicing law today and defeating injured workers with this absurd rhetoric. Employers and insurers are knowingly and illegally impeding worker’s due discovery in state courts in blatant defiance of established procedures.
Workers in America ultimately do pay the premium for their workers compensation insurance. What good is Warren Buffet’s billions of dollars if the policy he wrote me is no good? Insurance companies and employers conspire against the workers and the unions while cutting backroom deals with doctors. There is NO relief for Americans if workers compensation insurance has become nothing better than state supported racketeering.
I support President Obama’s Health Care Plan because injured workers will not be afraid to seek medical attention. Injured workers want our constitutionally granted rights honored so we can maintain some dignity.
I pray that Connecticut sends a strong message to the rest of the United States that Connecticut does care about worker safety, community safety, and the environment.
Statement Of Dr. Larry Rose MD
OSHA Doctor/CCWMD/ M.D., M.P.H., 28 years as the senior Public Health Medical Officer at Cal-OSHA, Occupational/Environmental Medicine Assistant Professor at UCSF.
The exposures that Becky sustained during her employment at the Pfizer laboratories probably is the cause of her profound disability illness. The virus she was working with, (lentivirus), in October 2003 is a genetically engineered virus containing a genetic missile (shRNA), that targets the destruction of potassium channels. Associated with repeated malfunctions of the biologic safety containment hood that Becky worked physically close to, Becky experienced episodes of acute illness due to the malfunction of the containment hood.
Regarding her ongoing illness, an adequate medical workup of Becky would have required Pfizer to release the experimental records regarding the identity of the lentivirus and then it could have been possible to do antibody testing and PCR, and possibly other testing to prove her infection. Pfizer refused to release the genetic sequence information of this genetically engineered virus. This genetic information is necessary to show the infection of Becky.. Pfizer has not been required to provide this critical information. There are serious public health implications and laboratory safety issues if indeed Becky's illness was caused by this laboratory exposure.
Statement on Pfizer Case and Becky McClain from Dr. Adam Finkel,
former senior executive at OSHA
March 14, 2010
Having served proudly as a senior executive at OSHA for 11 years, I see
Becky McClain’s case as emblematic of the utter failure of OSHA to achieve its
mission. When employers, workers, and especially other parts of government
believe—mistakenly—that we have an effective federal agency helping to
ensure safe and healthful workplaces, they relax their vigilance, sometimes
with devastating consequences. OSHA actually has three complementary
missions: to protect workers from safety and health hazards, to promote the
collection and sharing of information on safety and health, and to prevent
employers from retaliating against workers who bring these hazards to light.
By failing at all three, especially with respect to health hazards (as opposed to
safety hazards), OSHA has created a vicious circle—it cuts off its supply of
information about where hazards are, because employees are rightfully wary
of coming forward. Worse yet, because OSHA is also supposed to administer
the whistleblower provisions of 13 other environmental, safety, and financial
laws that are supposed to protect workers from retaliation, agencies from
EPA to FAA to Treasury are deprived of their “eyes and ears on the ground” to
danger and misconduct. I know as a former supervisor of OSHA
whistleblower investigators that there are some frivolous disclosures, and
that once in a while an employee even blows the whistle to avoid an
impending action for cause, but of course you can only tell one from the other
if you investigate without malice, which OSHA seems increasingly
uninterested in doing.
I recognize first-hand all three of the “missions not accomplished”
banners in Becky’s case, as I was once the chief regulatory official at OSHA,
later was retaliated against by my colleagues and my political supervisor for
blowing the whistle on a health hazard (inhalation of beryllium dust)
affecting OSHA’s own inspectors, and ultimately won a case for occupational
exposure data under the Freedom of Information Act where bogus claims of
trade secrets were made. With a new Secretary of Labor and a new Assistant
Secretary for OSHA now in place, I am somewhat optimistic that there is
indeed “a new sheriff in town.” However, the new leadership faces internal
and external challenges beyond their most pessimistic expectations, as they
seek to reverse 30 years of decline.
What happened to Becky McClain shows above all that OSHA is not an
occupational health agency—that there’s a very small “H” in OSHA. It is
beyond dispute that health hazards dwarf safety hazards in terms of their
death toll. Although fatal industrial accidents have remained relatively
constant at roughly 5,000 per year, the best independent estimates of the
number of premature deaths caused by occupational overexposures each
year run between 40,000 and 60,000, making worker health hazards the
eighth leading cause of death in the nation. And yet, OSHA devotes less than 5
percent of its resources in rulemaking, enforcement, and education to health
hazards as opposed to safety hazards. OSHA has only promulgated one health
regulation since 1998, that one only because of a court order, and that rule
(which governs inhaled chromium in the workplace) is the weakest toxic-
substance standard ever issued by a U.S. federal agency. It allows employers
to comply with the new standard while imposing lifetime excess cancer risks
on their workers higher than one chance of death per 100 workers (by
contrast, EPA generally strives to reduce cancer risks to the general
population to one chance per million).
So OSHA’s health rulemaking apparatus let Becky and the nation’s
other laboratory workers down. The laboratory standard and the Hazard
Communication standard cover chemicals only, not biological materials, and
the Bloodborne Pathogens standard does not cover airborne hazards. And
none of federal OSHA’s enforcement covers public-sector workers, including
those who work in labs at state universities, which is why it’s so important
that Congress pass the Protecting America’s Workers Act to give local, state,
and federal workers needed protections. Nevertheless, OSHA has substantial
authority under its General Duty Clause; OSHA Region I, in my opinion, should
not have refused to inspect Becky’s lab. Responding to formal complaints is a
sacrosanct obligation of the Agency; any employee should be taken seriously,
but especially one who happens to be a member of the company’s safety
Next, OSHA failed to help her gain access to her own exposure records.
So the combination of OSHA’s lack of progress on health rulemaking and on
information disclosure and right-to-know paints a gloomy picture of its
ability to stay abreast of emerging hazards. OSHA is still floundering to
properly regulate silica, known in the time of Caesar Augustus as a cause of
occupational lung disease, but Becky’s case shows it is also unequipped to
handle somewhat less ancient hazards—be they the biological hazards of the
1960s and later, the “popcorn lung” chemical and other food-industry
additives of the 1990s and 2000s, or the nanotechnology products of today
and tomorrow. In my FOIA case, OSHA claimed that for at most a few
thousand of the 2 million air sampling results I sought, manufacturers had
asked for trade-secret protection, but argued that no one should see any of
the data because the Agency had mistakenly failed to mark the “secrets”
differently in the database than the “non-secrets.” A federal judge ruled that
this argument was completely without merit.
Finally, OSHA failed to help Becky defend herself against retaliation.
This surprises me least of all – when I challenged OSHA as my own employer,
I was unaware until a federal judge required the Agency to release e-mails
about my case that its most senior career officials were writing to each other
about how my making a complaint about retaliation was a “declaration of
war,” that they were joking (I think they were joking…) about solving the
“problem” I posed by flying to Denver (where I was OSHA’s Regional
Administrator for the Rocky Mountain states) with “a working weapon,” and
that they were congratulating each other for playing “hardball” during
settlement discussions and (so they thought) scaring me into accepting a
settlement 1/10 the size of what they ultimately agreed to. Until OSHA
publicly repudiates its attitude of contempt for those who file complaints, and
stops acting like the employers the whistleblower laws it administers are
designed to rein in, it cannot begin to be a credible judge of these cases, and
the vicious circle will never be broken.
Adam M. Finkel, Sc.D., CIH
[for purposes of identification only, a faculty member at the University of
Pennsylvania Law School and at the School of Public Health at the University of
Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, but offering this statement as an individual]
(609) 258-4828 (voice-mail)