|THE MORAL COURAGE
Courage to stand up for one's beliefs.
An interview with Per Segerback.
12 june 2001
Per Segerback was awarded "The Moral Courage Award" by the trade union SIF. (The Swedish Union of the Technical and Clerical Employees in Industry)
He fought the dismissal by Ericsson (with the aid of his union SIF) in the Swedish Labour Court (Arbetsdomstolen).
Ericsson claimed that due to Per Segerbäck's electromagnetic hypersensitivity, he was no longer able to perform work of any value to the company. Per lost the case in the Labour Court. Their judicial decision cannot be appealed.
FEB: How long did you work for Ericsson and what kind of work did you do?
PER: I started working for Ericsson in 1977, and with the exception for the period 1984-1985 when I worked in California at AMD, I worked for Ericsson for more than twenty years. My work there span from high frequency signal transmission to ASIC and Full Custom integrated circuit design.
FEB: Since you are so handicapped by your electrical hypersensitivity, you could easily have obtained a government disability pension for life. Some would have chosen this path. Why did you decide to fight to keep your job?
PER: Because I think you have the right to keep your job, even when this job has disabled you. Despite my electrical hypersensitivity I continued working for Ericsson AXE R&D as an integrated circuit designer for about ten years. During this period in a department "benchmark" by my managers, I was deemed to belong to the "upper echelon" of the experts in circuit design at the company. The reason someone wanted to fire me was "pure politics".
FEB: Were you ever a manager of your department?
PER: No I was never a department manager. In 1989 when I was struck by this malady, I was group manger, team manager and project leader for Full Custom design projects at ELLEMTEL. Later (in the middle of 90ies and forward), I was team manager and technical expert. During this period, I was for some time also member of the "management section" of our department.
FEB: Did you like your work?
PER: Yes, I loved every minute of it! I like to work hard, and Ericsson gave me good opportunities for that...
FEB: When did you first notice that you had become hypersensitive to electromagnetic fields?
PER: The very first warning I got was back in 1986 working in front of a high radiation "FACIT Twist" computer monitor (later designated "Tjernobyl" by the employees). The symptoms where eye irritation and dizziness. At that time all I had to do to get rid of the problems where to move further away from my work mates monitor (that was placed four inches from my head) and to start using anti-static fluid.
FEB: What sorts of measures were taken in the office and at home to help you work?
PER: When all hell broke out in 1990, and I had to call in sick, a complete "electrical sanitization" was performed, first at home then one year later in the office. This included a completely shielded room and a special LCD monitor both in the office and at home.
FEB: You are extremely sensitive to electromagnetic fields. This might be hard for others to understand. Can you describe to us how this limits your life?
Well, I am only one of around two hundred thousand in Sweden...
FEB: You have three children. How have they been affected by your situation?
PER: I think they have managed to cope with the extreme situation, but it has been hard times.
Why do you think Ericsson wanted to fire you?
FEB: One of the crucial questions during the trial was whether you could perform your work from home or not. Had you not worked from home via modem for some years? Why did they decide this could not continue? What arguments right or wrong, were presented in court?
Yes I worked from home and also from my special shielded room for almost
ten years, much to the satisfaction of my managers. Some of them where
my witnesses during the "trial". As I said before, it was and is all "b...t
FEB: It has been said that the orders to fire you must have come from someone high up in the corporate structure. Do you have any evidence of this?
PER: Only the obvious fear and nervousness shown by many of the company officials...
FEB: Ericsson has based many patents on your work. How does that make you feel now?
PER: Sigh - As a designer I was proud of what I invented. I still am. I hold no grudge against Ericsson as a company. It's people who do bad things and let you down.
FEB: Where any of your work mates hypersensitive?
PER: Yes, many. I don't know the exact numbers, but according to official statistics, about 12.5 percent of the engineers in the electronics industry, of which Ericsson is a part, are hypersensitive to electricity.
FEB: Ericsson is a large company and much has been written about you. Has this meant that you have been contacted by many electrically hypersensitive work mates and asked for advice?
PER: Yes, often.
FEB: You have worked in the US and you have a lot of international contacts. What does the situation look like in other countries as regards electrical hypersensitivity?
PER: I think the electrically hypersensitive have an even worse situation in other countries. Here in Sweden, most employers try to help and I have had good support from assorted authorities. I could feel that they where on the side of the victim and not on the side of big money.
FEB: What do you say if anyone tries to argue that electrical sensitivity is psychological or imagined?
Well, most of those who say this do it because they are paid to. I would
not waste too much time on them... Some are just ignorant, for those a
good starting point is a meeting face to face. I always recommend them
to read a number of reports such as those available on www.emfguru.com
and our own site www.feb.se.
FEB: What kind of support did you get from your (nonsensitive) work mates?
PER: First class support - in every aspect of my private and working life.
FEB: The Moral Courage Award gave an honourable mention to your previous bosses and work mates who risked a lot in testifying for you. Why do you think they dared to do this in an age when people in big companies choose to keep a low profile in matters of controversy?
PER: Because they're good people. I am proud to have worked with them and I would have done the same for them.
Was the court procedure a heavy burden for you?
FEB: The Labour Court consists of many non-technical lay people. Many of the arguments from you and Ericsson were technical in nature. Do you think the court really understood any of the technical aspects?
PER: No they did not. At least I hope so. The alternative, that they understood the arguments of Ericsson to be false, and still come up with this verdict is just too awful to consider…
FEB: Do you feel morally courageous for having fought and lost against Ericsson?
PER: I do not think along those lines. I was brought up to be what I am. I just did what I had to do, although I was scared of the consequences at times.
FEB: What do you long most for just now?
To get well.