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Rocky Mountain News - Feds Warned on Nuke Workers

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Rocky Mountain News - Feds Warned on Nuke Workers

Perlmutter, Udall want response to Rocky report

If the Labor Department doesn't improve the way it treats sick nuclear weapons workers and survivors, officials there may be subject to an investigation, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., said Friday.

"I don't want to have to ratchet it up," Perlmutter said. "But if that's what it takes for them to see that we mean business, then that's what we'll do."

Perlmutter, whose constituents include many former workers at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons site northwest of Denver, joined fellow U.S. Rep. Mark Udall in asking the Labor Department to respond to the findings of a Rocky Mountain News investigation into failings of the program.

This week, the Rocky reported that the Labor Department, which oversees the 8-year-old compensation program, derailed aid to workers by keeping reports secret, constantly changing rules and delaying cases until sick workers died.

Perlmutter said he would research punishment for "willful disregard for the law or recklessness or gross negligence on the part of any individuals.

"There's going to be an investigation by somebody," he said. "I don't know if it's going to be the inspector general or an independent body or the Justice Department."

Udall, whose district includes the former Rocky Flats site, echoed Perlmutter's frustration.

"To have DOL stonewalling, stalling and literally running out the clock on people's lives, it's infuriating," he said.

The two Colorado congressmen said it was "completely irresponsible" for the Labor Department to fail to explain decisions that make it more difficult for sick workers - or their survivors - to qualify for compensation.

The Rocky detailed the problems in a special report called "Deadly denial." The newspaper sent details of its findings to Labor Department executives. Those officials didn't respond.

On Thursday, Perlmutter and Udall sent a harsh letter to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao asking for answers.

The letter said: "Federal agencies are established to serve the taxpayer. . . . It is simply not acceptable to not respond to requests to explain decisions made regarding this program."

DOL also is under fire for attempting to write a "secret rule" to make it more difficult to limit American workers' exposure to chemicals on the job.

On Friday, about 20 former Rocky Flats workers met with a staff member for U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., to discuss legislation Salazar introduced this week to overhaul the weapons workers' compensation program. Jerry Harden, former president of the Steelworkers union at Rocky Flats, said new laws might be helpful, but wouldn't guarantee that officials would follow them.

"I'd ask someone to hold these scoundrels accountable," he said.


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