While we believe every member contributes to our cause, there are those that go above and beyond the call. The Famous Members section highlights the two that we consider to have stood out in their commitment, and ultimately their sacrifices, to create a better world for us all.
Karen Gay Silkwood (1946 - 1974)
Karen Gay Silkwood, union activist, the daughter of William and Merle Silkwood, was born on February 19, 1946, in Longview, Texas. She was raised at Nederland and studied medical technology at Lamar State College in Beaumont on a scholarship from the Business and Professional Women's Club. In 1965 she married William Meadows, with whom she had three children. She left her husband in 1972 and went to Oklahoma City, where she was employed briefly as a clerk in a hospital before being hired as a metallography laboratory technician at the Cimarron River plutonium plant of Kerr-McGee Nuclear Corporation. She lived for a time with Drew Stephens, who introduced her to auto racing through the Sports Car Club, and soon joined the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union; she participated in the union's strike against the company.
In 1974 Silkwood became the first female member of the union bargaining committee in Kerr-McGee history. On her first assignment to study health and safety issues at the plant, she discovered evidence of spills, leaks, and missing plutonium. As environmental concerns increased in the 1970s, Kerr-McGee faced litigation involving worker safety and environmental contamination, and Silkwood testified to charges before the Atomic Energy Commission that she had suffered radiation exposure in a series of unexplained incidents. On November 13, 1974, she was killed in an automobile crash while on her way to meet with an Atomic Energy Commission official and a New York Times reporter.
Speculations over foul play in her death were never substantiated, but led to a federal investigation into plant security and safety, and a National Public Radio report about forty-four to sixty-six pounds of misplaced plutonium. An autopsy showed Silkwood's body had been contaminated by plutonium. Her case, which began in 1974, emphasized the hazards of nuclear energy and raised questions about corporate accountability and responsibility. According to the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, the Kerr-McGee plant had manufactured faulty fuel rods, falsified product inspection records, and risked employee safety.
Eventually, Kerr-McGee closed the plant. Silkwood was the subject of a motion picture, Silkwood, released in 1984. In 1986 her family settled an $11.5 million plutonium-contamination lawsuit against Kerr-McGee for $1.38 million. Kerr-McGee did not admit liability in settling the case. Karen Silkwood was buried in Danville Cemetery, Kilgore, Texas.
For more information on Karen Silkwood, try wikipedia.
PACE International Union Mourns Loss of Labor Activist and Health & Safety Pioneer
Nashville, Tenn.—Working people lost one of their greatest champions of workplace and health and safety rights with the death of Tony Mazzocchi, 76, of pancreatic cancer on October 5. Mazzocchi was a member of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers (PACE) International Union and the former Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union (OCAW) for 52 years.
“Tony Mazzochi was one of the most dedicated trade unionists I have known,” said PACE International President Boyd Young. “There were few people in this world like Tony—he was true to his belief and a champion of whatever cause he chose to undertake. Some of his best work was in the area of agitating for national health care for every man, woman and child in the United States. To be sure, he was a trailblazer for national health care and for safe conditions in the workplace. Both causes will sorely miss Tony’s leadership, and the entire labor movement mourns his passing.”
Mazzocchi played a key role in the legislative struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, including passage of the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). A founder of the Labor Party, he continued organizing support for the party’s national health care program up until his death.
Known for his activism on health and safety issues, Mazzocchi worked with OCAW member Karen Silkwood, who blew the whistle on Kerr-McGee’s falsification of quality control data on nuclear fuel rods. Silkwood was killed mysteriously on her way to meet a New York Times reporter, and Mazzocchi continued the effort to make public the truth about her case.
Becoming an OCAW member in 1950 on May Day, Mazzocchi was elected to local and national positions within the union. As a local union president, he negotiated a number of firsts, including the first dental insurance program ever in private industry. He also served as an OCAW international executive board member, legislative director, health and safety director, vice president and secretary-treasurer. The OCAW merged with the United Paperworkers International Union to form PACE in January 1999. At the time of Mazzocchi’s retirement in 2001, he served as an assistant to the president of PACE.
“Tony influenced several generations of union members across the labor movement,” said Young. “He left a legacy that will be carried forward by PACE.”
Headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., PACE International Union represents over 320,000 workers in the paper, oil, chemical, atomic, pharmaceutical, corn milling, kaolin and auto parts industries.
For more information on Tony Mazzocchi, try wikipedia.