The Life and Mysterious Death of Karen Silkwood
Meeting With the Union Reps in Washington
On September 26, 1974, Silkwood and two other union board members, Jack Tice and Jerry Brewer, flew to Washington, D.C., to meet with the two of the union's national officials, Anthony Mazzocchi and Steve Wodka.
One of the main points of their meeting was to discuss strategy for the next union election. Because the union membership had been decimated during the strike (out of the original 150 employees, only 20 were left) and because most of the new employees were non-union, the union's status at Kerr-McGee hung in the balance. A vote for decertification was looming, scheduled for December 1974, and they needed to mount an aggressive campaign to keep the union on-site and to get new members.
Part of convincing employees to join the union was explaining to the staff just how unsafe the conditions were. Most of the employees did not have the science background that Silkwood had. Kerr-McGee had downplayed the dangers of plutonium exposure, and didn't explicitly say in its handbook that plutonium caused cancer.
The union held a meeting for prospective new union members with Dean Abrahamson and Donald Geesamen, nuclear scientists from the University of Minnesota who explained to the crowd that plutonium causes cancer. They told a horrific story of a man who had spilled some radioactive liquid solution on his arm and developed cancer on his hand which then spread up his arm, which needed to be amputated. The man later died. Karen spoke up at the meeting: "If there is something going, if we are going to be susceptible to cancer and we're not going to know about it for twenty years, then something's got to be done."
The decertification vote failed.