The Depths of Silicon Valley
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Polluting our bodies

We had a temporary shutdown one morning when the computers were having some difficulties. Ana did not want us roaming around so she called for a line meeting. She asked Mike, the head of the new safety committee (a committee I asked if we could form), to conduct a meeting on safety rules. Mike said to wear steel-toed boots at all times.

To get the conversation rolling I asked Dorothy what sort of health and safety problems people were experiencing. Dorothy said she believed her nosebleeds and coughing were work-related. It was common to have nosebleeds when first starting to work at the plant. Barbara raised her hand and said she had bronchitis and heavy asthma. The momentum caught on. About half of the room gave personal accounts of breathing troubles, chest pains, and skin problems. The conversation naturally led to a hypothesis about the cause—most people thought it was poor air quality. The rotation issue also came up, bringing a rush of emotionally charged commentary. Management theoretically prevented worker injury by rotating workers—which of course rarely happened since workers are faster at jobs to which they are accustomed.

Mike intervened to regain control of the group, which clearly was going beyond reinforced boots. He said, "Now this here is our line, if we want a safe line it is up to us to make it safe." This temporarily stunted the heightening voices. I added, "Actually a safe work place is the responsibility of the employer. They have to make sure we are safe when we do our job!"

This position was much more logical for people and they clapped to show their support. The line mentor, Raquel, called an end to the meeting and we went back to our stations to wait for the resurrection of the computers. Later, we asked for an air quality check, which was our right according to California labor law. MSL (Management Services Limited) and Manpower management said that a test was not warranted.

"Pollens," they said, were to blame for our ailments.

Later, in the small print of a Materials Safety and Data Sheet form, I saw that "Carbon Black," from the toners, is a "possible carcinogen."

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Next page: the poison called suspicion, American-style