Labor History in 2:00

October 15 - Meager Compensation for the Loss of Life

October 15, 2020

On this day in Labor History the year was 1990. 

That was the day that President George H. W. Bush signed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. 

Worker safety at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site had been sacrificed during the Cold War era, as the United States rushed to keep pace with the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal.

The result was an increase in cancers including leukemia from workers being exposed to deadly radiation. 

For more than a decade these workers tried to get congress to pass legislation for compensation for radiation sickness. 

Uranium miners from states including Nevada, Utah, Arizona,New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming also joined the effort filing a suit against the government. 

The courts ruled against the workers, ruling that national security needs trumped worker safety.

Democratic Representative Wayne Owens, from Utah, sponsored a bill to give the workers compensation. 

In a statement carried by the New York Times, Representative Owens called the bill “an apology to those people and their heirs on behalf of the Government and the American people that they were subjected and sacrificed for the Cold War nuclear weapons.”  

President Bush explained the scope of the act at the signing ceremony saying quote, “The bill provides compassionate payments to persons with specified diseases who fear that their health was harmed because of fallout from atmospheric atomic testing at the Nevada test site, regardless of whether causation can be scientifically established. The bill entitles each person meeting specific criteria to a payment of $50,000. Uranium miners meeting separate criteria will be entitled to compassionate payments in the amount of $100,000.”

The bill established a $100 million fund for workers and residents who lived down wind of the Nevada test site.

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