My name is Nguyen
Lan. My experience is not unusual, but I want to share it so that others in
the community may learn something from it. I escaped from Vietnam when I was
17. When I first came to the United States, I lived in a bedroom with a woman
and her son. I was almost never at home anyway. I would go to work at a donut
shop at five in the morning; go to English conversation and job training during
the day; and at night I cleaned buildings. I earned minimum wage and barely
slept at all. But I never stopped thinking about my family, especially my father.
I was very happy when I finally got a permanent job with benefits at electronics
company. I did everything I could to make the company happy with me. For ten
years, I was never late, and I worked very very hard. My husband and I really
wanted children. But each time I got pregnant, I lost the baby. This was very
painful for me. One day, my co-worker confided in me about a special class on
how chemicals can cause women's health problems like miscarriage. The class
teaches how to prevent health problems and keep your job.
So when I got pregnant again, I went to see that teacher at SCCOSH. The teacher
asked me what my goals were, so I said I wanted to keep my job and keep my baby.
She asked me questions and said I might need to reduce the chemicals getting
in my nose and on my skin. First we identified my chemical exposures. I read
labels and wrote down the CAS numbers because I was afraid that my supervisor
would think I was making trouble if I asked him directly. We used the CAS numbers
to obtain scientific information in a report. The report said exposures like
mine increase the likelihood of miscarriage and birth defects. So I said, "what
The teacher, my husband, and I worked together to identify all our options.
We considered financial need, health insurance, health risks, my legal rights,
as well as my desire to keep my job and be thought of as a loyal employee. My
husband and I felt the most important thing is to have a healthy child, but
we couldn't make it financially if I quit my job. The teacher said there is
no right or wrong answers only informed choices to make. She said we could get
a doctor's letter to qualify for state disability benefits (about 2/3 of salary)
We looked at the company personnel policy. It provided that pregnant women
may have a temporary transfer to a non-hazardous job assignment. The teacher
asked whether anybody uses the policy. I said I never heard of anybody trying
that. The teacher asked what happens when a person asks for health and safety
protection. I told her usually nobody brings it up, and in the past, workers
who say chemicals make them sick end up getting fired for some reason or another.
So we concluded there was a risk of retaliation if I asked my supervisor to
I learned it is against the law for a worker to suffer retaliation for raising
a health and safety concern, like asking for a transfer. Winning the legal battle
means you get back pay and reinstatement to your job. I think reinstatement
is not a real solution after the upset of being fired, because people already
think you are a troublemaker. And all the other workers with health and safety
questions after that become even more afraid to ask. The law should provide
a practical solution for workers like me.
So my husband and I chose to take a temporary leave of absence and to go on
state disability benefits. It eases my mind to give this baby the best health
I can give, and to rest until the baby comes. SCCOSH is helping me arrange the
leave of absence with the company. I hope to return to my job without any negative
consequences from my supervisor, especially because my co-workers are watching
to see how I am treated when I come back. I hope the company's treatment of
me will not discourage them from trying to protect their health. But whatever
happens, I feel I am doing the right thing for my husband, my baby, and myself.
I wan to thank the members of WATCH for supporting me.