CLEVELAND – Forty protesters, some wearing “Hazmat” suits, picketed the federal building here Jan. 16 in support of legislation to protect consumers from toxic imports.

Initiated by the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), the action, calling for support for the Food and Product Responsibility Act (S. 2081), was one of 100 demonstrations held simultaneously at congressional offices across the country.

At a rally prior to the demonstration, Gary Steinbeck, representing the USWA, gave numerous examples of unsafe and substandard goods imported from China, India and other countries, including drugs, food, toys, tires, lipstick, toothpaste, structural steel and electrical parts that have been recently recalled.

The Food and Drug Administration, he said, inspects only one percent of regulated imports.

Harriet Applegate, executive secretary of the North Shore AFL-CIO, called the poisonous consumer products “wages of sin” stemming from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other similar treaties.

Despite strong warnings and protests by organized labor, she said, free trade deals have resulted in the export of jobs and the import of inferior goods.

With these agreements in place, consumer protections are labeled “barriers to trade” by the World Trade Organization, said Maria Wilkinson of Cleveland Jobs With Justice.

As the pickets chanted and beat a drum, a delegation went into the office of Sen. George Voinovich (R-Oh.) to ask his support for the pending legislation. The Food and Product Responsibility Act would require importers to carry insurance to cover the cost of recalls and damage claims on behalf of individuals harmed or killed by toxic imports.

They presented the senator’s staff with a box of letters in support of the bill collected door-to-door by Cleveland Working America.

In recognition of the national actions, Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) introduced companion legislation on the same day in the House of Representatives.

“I am very proud to join my Steelworker brothers and sisters and other union members from all across this country to work on an issue so important to our families,” Sutton said in a statement warning against the dangers of weakened safety standards imposed by free trade agreements.

“Astonishingly, these agreements eliminate the ability of our own federal officials from vigorously inspecting imported goods,” Sutton’s statement continued. “It’s truly amazing that our policies have prioritized expanding trade over our responsibility to protect American citizens from tainted products and food.”