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High-Risk High-Tech GAIL WOODS BY KENT PATERSON Albuquerque An S THE NATION CONTINUES its drift away from smokestack industries, ecoomic planners are looking to high technology to provide the jobs of tomorrow. Building on a 20-year phase of high-tech development, Southwestern cities from Austin to Albuquerque to Phoenix are aggressively seeking new computer-chip, printed-circuit-board and aerospace manufacturing firms. But like California’s Silicon Valley, many of these communities already have suffered the side effects of what once was promoted as a clean industry: polluted groundwater’, worker illness, rising housing costs and a widening gap between a well-paid managerial-tech nical class and a poorly paid produc tion force. A national campaign is underway, with grassroots organizers in high-tech centers like Albuquerque and Austin try ing to redirect the industry toward an environmentally sensitive framework and to get the industry’s companies to /4=7 guarantee clean, stable employment in -minority communities where much of the production goes on. Christened the Electronics Industry Good Neighbor Campaign, it is a collaboration of the Campaign for Responsible Technology and the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, an Albuquerque-based organization now working in seven western states. “We’re not against employers coming into the community. This is a campaign for responsible technology,” said Frank Campos of Austin’s People Organized in Defense of the Earth and Campaign affiliate. “We’re not against economic development. There has to be a balance between the type of industry that comes in, the benefits to the community, protection of the environment. All that is a package deal.” PODER, along with grassroots groups in five other states, conducted a summer-long organizing drive that included public forums, meetings with current and former workers and lobbying elected officials. In October, the campaign issued a number of demands to the semiconductor industry, as well as state and federal regulatory agencies, calling for increased research in methods to produce computer chips without the use of hazardous chemicals; greater attention to health and safety training; commitments to provide employment for local res Kent Paterson is a radio producer and a freelance writer in Albuquerque. idents first; caps on executive salaries in a business where individual compensation sometimes exceeds $1 million; a ban on the use of temporary agencies in employment; and respect for workers’ rights to organize. “We’re all going towards the same goal and we’re finding out the same things,” said Albuquerque organizer Aida Franco. Franco, who works for the Southwest Organizing Project, another campaign affiliate, has researched the health and environmental impact of large computer-chip makers and criticizes the high-tech industry for routinely giving the best jobs to white males while locking line workers mainly women of color into the most dangerous jobs. “There’s no promotional avenue. There’s no way of becoming technicians,” said Franco. “If you’re hired in the labor force, that’s all you’re going to stay a laborer.” Last year the Good Neighbor Campaign won a victory when Congress authorized $10 million to be included in the budget of Sematech, the Austin-based computer-chip research consortium, for research into development of an environmentally benign chip. Campaign organizers had lobbied Congressman Ron Dellums, a California Democrat, to include the money in the 1993 Defense Reauthorization Act. The legislation requires Sematech to consult with environmental and labor groups to decide how to spend the money. Elated, leaders of the Southwest Network and the CRT then called on individual computer companies to match Sematech’ s upcoming expenditure. Formed by 12 of the largest chip producers, including Intel, Motorola and Digital, Sematech’s goal is to regain the edge in the worldwide computer chip market for United States-based corporations. A fundamental objective of the Good Neighbor organizers is to move Sematech away from its relationship with the Department of Defense and, now that the Cold War has ended, to redirect Sematech toward environmental and civilian technological research. So far, the industry’s response has been a mixture of reluctant discourse and outright refusal. Sematech, for instance, has conducted an on-and-off dialogue with campaign members, allowing activists to tour the consortium’s facility in Austin on at least one occasion. Sematech spokesman Scott Stevens said the research consortium supports the campaign’s ecological goals and employs people who have a knowledge of environmental issues. He cites Sematech-backed research into equipment safety guidelines and minimization of gases and solvents in the production of silicon wafers as examples of the Sematech’s leadership in the environmental arena. “So those folks who come to us are already environmentally versed,” Stevens said. Traditionally, high-tech industries have used solvents, toxic gases and acids to clean circuit boards or clean material from silicon wafers used in the production of chips. Medical research has linked these substances, and the heavy metals also involved in the process, to cancer, miscarriage, central nervous system damage, severe headaches, memory loss and other ailments. The campaign is pres suring the industry which in its production facilities employs predominantly women of color of child-bearing age to devote more attention to employee safety. Concern about pre-natal risks increased after last year’s release of a preliminary report of a Johns Hopkins University study of IBM chip workers in New York and Vermont. The study found a high rate of miscarriages, as did a similar study conducted at a Digital factory in Massachusetts in 1986. Nationally, the Semi-Conductor Industry 1977 to represent U.S. corporations in the global marketplace, is sponsoring a health study of 18,000 workers at computer companies across the country. Results should be released sometime this winter. Yet already a growing number of workers claim illness as a result of exposure to toxic materials at high-tech work sites. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Albuquerque, a city already known in occupational-health circles for having the worst cluster of poisoned high-tech workers in the United States. 18 JANUARY 29, 1993 ‘.-“.