DECEMBER/JANUARY 1986-1987 - VOLUME 7 - NUMBER 15 / VOLUME 8 - NUMBER 1
U P D A T E S
Heinz Limits Pesticides In Baby Foods
Officials at H.J. Heinz Co. notified food growers in November that the company will no longer purchase fruits and vegetables grown for their babyfood products if they are treated with pesticides under special review by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Although the pesticides the company has singled out are not banned under U.S. law, the EPA is presently evaluating the 12 products banned by Heinz for possible health hazards.
"It was a decision based on the uncertainty of regulatory agencies and regulations concerning tolerances," said Harry Carroll, a Heinz spokesperson.
The impetus for the move was the fear that liability actions might be brought against the company if the EPA should decide to take the chemicals off the market in the future, he said.
"If some governmental body chooses to impose after the fact some sort of tolerance level on a particular agricultural chemical, you're far better off avoiding the use [in the first place] than taking the risk," Carroll said.
When the agency puts a chemical under "special review" it is usually because of evidence that the chemical may pose a serious environmental or health danger, explained Sandra Marquardt of the Washington -based National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides.
Environmental groups argue, however, that limiting the restrictions to only those under review by the EPA may not ensure a company adequate protection against future liability. "We applaud [Heinz's] decision but we hope that they take it one step further and start monitoring the other pesticides that are also in their products because it is only a matter of time before those chemicals are on that same list," said Marquardt. In the past, she said, the EPA has taken chemicals off the market suddenly, and without such a review process.
"The EPA is very severely backed up on their review of those chemicals," she said. "More and more data are coming in demonstrating that these chemicals that we once thought were essentially safe are extremely toxic."
Heinz has made no plans to extend the restrictions to crops used for other Heinz products, Carroll said. "Baby food is the extreme case, the one that is the most sensitive in the marketplace."
He says the decision was also based in part on announcements made earlier this year by Safeway, Giant Foods, Kroger's and Grand Union supermarket chains that they will no longer purchase apples treated with the chemical Daminozide, commonly known as Alar, which is a carcinogen.
Consumer groups had called for the banning of Alar, a chemical which regulates the growth and enhances the color of apples, pointing to evidence gathered as early as 1973 that it causes cancer in laboratory animals. Once apples are treated with Alar, the chemical cannot be washed off.
The pesticides used on the baby food crops that Heinz is restricting are alachlor, aldicarb, captan, linuron, cyanazine, captafol, carbofuran, carbon tetrachloride, daminozide, ethylene oxide, TPTH and dinocap.
- Marcy Bursaner
No One Sweats Unemployment Like GM Workers
On November 6, General Motors announced plans to close 11 of its automobile manufacturing plants in the United States by 1990, putting an estimated 29,000 people out of work.
If the plants are closed the United Auto Workers (UAW) stands to lose approximately 8 percent of its 340,000 members who work for GM. But with contract negotiations scheduled for September, 1987, the UAW is anxious to avoid confrontations with the giant automaker. Many fear, however, that the union's silence has merely weakened its already limited bargaining position.
"We naturally regret this decision," said UAW Vice President Donald Ephlin, after GM announced the layoffs. But he added that the root of the problem was the failure of the U.S. "government in the whole area of trade and industrial policy."
UAW President Owen Bieber's response has been to call for further voluntary restraints on Japanese exports, increased pressure on Japanese plants in the United States to buy U.S.made parts, and trade legislation to both reduce the U.S. trade deficit and recognize worker abuse abroad as an unfair trade practice.
Others, however, both within and outside the union are more critical of General Motors.
"This is an irresponsible decision on the part of GM," charged Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan. "These individuals have spent a good part of their lives investing in the community, investing into the business and GM is just going to displace them abruptly."
Workers should not have to pay the price, he argued, for declining profit margins due to poor management decisions and in particular GM's failure to reinvest in its existing plants. Conyers speculated that the layoffs and the threat of layoffs may be part of a strategy to give the automaker the upper hand in next year's contract negotiations.
Larry Self, a UAW member who last year formed the Michigan Citizens for Tax Justice in response to GM's demands for tax abatements, agrees. "It's just part of a national trend [of] forcing American workers into making more and more concessions," Self says. "It's corporate blackmail."
But GM officials and many industry analysts have cheered the shut-downs and layoffs as long overdue cost cutting moves. Labor leaders, however, fear that the company is merely seeking to rid itself of its operations in the United States so it can invest its money in places where labor is cheaper and heal ih, safety, and environmental standards are less stringent. GM already has dozens of plants in 35 countries outside the United States and Canada. Late last month 7,500 workers at GM's Delco Electronics Corp. plant in Indiana went on strike to protest the company's "outsourcing" of production contracts to a Delco plant in Mexico.
But the company, which has sustained a $338 million operating loss this past year, says it must cut costs. "GM is a high-cost producer compared to [other] domestic producers and certainly compared to foreign producers," explained labor specialist Sar Levitan who heads George Washington University's Center for Social Policy Studies. "It is obviously an economically defensive action which I think General Motors had to do in order to reduce its costs."
"This is one step General Motors has taken to become leaner and more productive," said Levitan. "Whether General Motors could retain its position in the automobile market without taking any drastic steps to reduce costs is not clear."
But critics argue that GM's substantial overseas investments - $500 million was invested in a plant in Aewoo, South Korea alone - could have been used instead to upgrade existing plants and make them more productive.
Although GM officials say many of the laid-off workers will be retrained, for many of the workers retraining may not be enough. "What are these people being trained for?" Self asked. "What happens when they finish their training if there are no jobs out there?"
In Pontiac, Michigan, where 4,500 workers will lose their jobs when GM closes down two plants, there is already more than 14 percent unemployment - more than twice the national average. Hardest hit will be Flint, Michigan where 7,000 employees - or one out of every 10 GM workers - will soon be out of work. Flint already faces an unemployment rate of 15.9 percent.
Even where the company has reinvested in new plants domestically, significant budget cuts have taken place. At GM's new Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee - which GM chairman Roger Smith had hailed in 1985 as the company's leap into the future - plans have already been scaled back, according to Saturn president Richard G. LaFauve.
At least for the next several years, the plant will produce only 200,000 to 250,000 automobiles and the number of workers employed will reach only 3,000, LaFauve said. In 1985, Smith promised that the plant would produce as many as 500,000 automobiles and employ 6,000 workers within five years of operation. Although the number of workers is half of what was originally pledged, both the UAW and the county government are being asked to keep their end of the bargain.
After a bidding war between several states over the Saturn plant, GM extracted agreements from the Spring Hill community for reduced property taxes. In an unprecedented 40year deal, the Spring Hill and Maury County governments agreed in 1985 to forego property taxes and instead accept a set annual fee paid by the company to the county. It has been estimated that in the first decade alone the plan will cost Maury County nearly $57 million in property taxes. In paying only $3.5 million yearly over the 40 years, GM will save twothirds of the taxes it would otherwise be assessed.
And the UAW, to ensure that it would represent at least 80 percent of the Saturn workforce, agreed to set aside certain seniority rights and grievance procedures.
Using Japanese-style production and management techniques adopted through a partnership with Toyota Motor Company in a plant in Fremont, California, the Saturn plant was to operate with the efficiency of foreign automobile companies and produce compact and subcompact cars to compete with the Japanese-dominated small car market.
Now, GM officials are saying that their design for the Saturn cars will also be changed. The Saturn models will be somewhat larger than originally planned and instead of an all aluminum engine, the company is looking at more traditional i iron-block engines. Rather than producing the lowest-priced American car as had been promoted, the company is now ' targeting the higher priced car market. Finally, company ' representatives are now expanding the list of components that ' will be imported, once again raising the ire of UAW officials, who had been told that the cars produced at the plant would be assembled almost entirely from U.S.-made components.
Although the community of Spring Hill has been anxious to avoid confrontations with the giant automaker, the Michigan townships - which just last year were fighting against the threat of plant closures if the company did not receive substantial reductions in property tax assessments - are already organizing for the fight to save jobs.
- Marcy Burstiner
Court Upholds Ortho Damages
On November 10, 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a $4.7 million damage award against Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp., the manufacturer of Ortho-Gynol Contraceptive Jelly. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp. was appealing a May, 1986 federal appeals court decision finding Ortho Pharmaceutical liable for damages in the case of Katie Wells v. Ortho Pharmaceutical. (See "A Contraceptive Casualty?," Multinational Monitor, October 1986)
Mary Maifer, Katie Wells' mother, used Ortho-Gynol Jelly before and after she became pregnant in November, 1980. When her daughter was born with no left arm, a deformed right hand, a cleft lip and a blind eye, Maifer sued the spermicide maker charging that her use of the product while pregnant caused her daughter's severe deformities.
As early as 1976 studies pointed to a link between birth defects and spermicide use in pregnant women. These studies, charged Maifer, should have prompted the company to include a warning on the label advising pregnant women of the potential risks involved.
A spokesperson for Ortho Pharmaceutical said that despite the Supreme Court ruling, the company has no plans to change the warning label on its spermicide. Ortho Pharmaceutical continues to maintain that there is insufficient evidence to support the link between birth defects and spermicide use.
In light of the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood Federation of America convened in New Orleans in October, 1986, to determine the group's policy stance on the health hazards of spermicide use. According to Dr. Louise Tyrer, vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood, the group concluded that spermicide products remain a safe and effective method of birth contol.
To date, three additional cases have been filed against Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp. alleging a link between birth defects and spermicide use.
- Patricia Kelly