Multinational Criticized Over Worksite Safety
Becky McClain, a biological researcher, claims that her former employer was not attentive to worksite safety.
By Kang Shin-whoStaff ReporterAn American scientist criticized Pfizer for its inattention to worksite safety, expressing her support for an effort by workers at the U.S. pharmaceutical firm’s Korean branch to set up a union to protect their rights.
In an email letter to The Korea Times, Becky McClain claimed that she became seriously ill and was hospitalized as a result of being infected with a virus while working at Pfizer’s lab in Connecticut . McClain’s case was taken by some as a case illustrating the lack of adequate care by big pharmaceutical firms regarding the safety of biotech workers. “I feel for Shim Dong-hee. I know what he has experienced. I acknowledge him for trying to help other co-workers,” McClain told The Korea Times. The newspaper previously reported on Shim’s weekly protest in front of Pfizer Korea headquarters in downtown Seoul . Shim was fired for trying to organize a union at Pfizer Animal Health with his colleagues.
“This issue is about the powerful against the weak. Pfizer is just a big bully,” McClain said. She said the culture at Pfizer is such that workers raise public health, safety, or any other issues at the risk of being kicked out. McClain, who was a safety officer at the firm’s lab, claims that she was exposed to biological hazards, specifically viruses and embryonic stem cells. “These are cells that can make animals sick, so they can make humans sick as well.” She has requested the company release related records so her healthcare expenses can be covered to get compensation for her illness, but Pfizer has refused.
In response to the Times’ inquiry, Lee Eun-jeong, communications manager of Pfizer Korea said they were unaware of the case in the U.S. “Shim’s protest is significant,” Lee said, but didn’t elaborate further. A union group, which Shim belongs to, welcomed McClain’s message. “It is not a problem only for Pfizer Korea but for all Pfizer branches around the world, so we hope to fight the firm in conjunction with employees around the world,” said Kim Jong-yeon, director of the Korea Clerical Workers Union for Solidarity.