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Asbestos (Company)
Compensation Bill ...
Part II

UE News, April 2000

I am happy to report that I made an error in this column last month, in the article entitled "Asbestos Compensation? A Killer Idea." Of course, I’m not happy to have made an error, any error, but in this case the error gives further opportunities to asbestos victims, their families and their labor union allies.

In the March UE NEWS, I reported that the so-called "Fairness in Asbestos Compensation Act" (HR 1283 and S. 758) had been passed by the U.S. Senate late last year. It wasn’t. So we can and should direct our lobbying efforts against it both in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. (Thanks to my colleagues in the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health for checking this out and spotting my error — apparently I misinterpreted a legislative report on the Congressional webpage.)

As I noted last month, this asbestos compensation bill would deny compensation for up to 70 percent of workers and their families who previously would have had valid asbestos-related claims in state courts. This would be done by establishing one federal compensation agency for all U.S. compensation claims, and by excluding on arbitrary "medical" grounds all but the most serious cases of asbestos-related illnesses.

The bill would also eliminate punitive damages entirely, despite massive evidence on the record that asbestos companies purposely kept evidence of asbestos diseases from asbestos workers. The bill was written by and for the asbestos industry, specifically by Harvard Professor Christopher Edley Jr., whose services were purchased by the Coalition for Asbestos Resolution, organized and financed largely by the GAF Corp. (See the New York Times, Oct. 17, 1999.)


Given the blatantly unfair nature of this legislation, how did it get so far in the U.S. House and Senate, with sponsors not only among anti-labor Republicans, but among so-called "pro-labor" Democrats? For example, Senators Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Robert Torricelli (N.J.), both Democrats elected with strong labor support, are co-sponsors of this bill.

The key to this was insider lobbying and lots and lots of election campaign cash to smooth the way. This was revealed in a remarkable piece of investigative reporting by Stephen Labaton in the New York Times on Oct. 19, 1999. In the article Labaton follows the money given in recent election campaigns by billionaire GAF Board Chairman Samuel J. Heyman, his wife Ronnie, their children and his parents:

  • In 1998, the three generations of Heymans donated $130,000 to election campaigns and soft-money political lobbying. Of this money, $62,500 went to Charles Schumer during the last, desperate week of his successful campaign to unseat former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato. Schumer is an important sponsor of the GAF bill now, but as a member of the House Judiciary Committee he had never sponsored or actively participated in asbestos legislation.

  • In 1999, the family donated $115,000 to political friends, of which $41,000 went to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, chaired by Senator Torricelli.

  • The Republican Party wasn’t overlooked. Labaton reports $10,000 donated by the Heymann family to the campaign of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah). Also, as part of its campaign, GAF hired the well-placed lobbying firm of Parry, Romani and DeConcini, to the tune of $360,000 in recent years. On the staff of this firm is Scott Hatch, the Senator’s son, Thomas Parry, Hatch’s former chief of staff, and Dennis DeConcini, former Democratic Senator from Arizona.

During the past four years, GAF and the Heyman family have made donations to more than 100 legislators. Most of the money in recent years has gone to "members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, which would have to approve any [asbestos compensation] measures," according to the Times report.


Samuel Heyman is an alumnus of Harvard, a major donor to Professor Edley’s Law School, and a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board to the Law School. Another witness before Congressional committees on Heyman’s behalf was Dean Paul Verkuil of Cardozo Law School in New York City. The school was recently the beneficiary of a $1 million grant from the Heymans to establish the Samuel and Ronnie Heyman Center on Corporate Governance. Mrs. Heyman is a member of the Law School’s Board of Directors. Dean Verkuil told the Times that "The fact that the Heyman Center and Sam and his wife have been supportive of the school is more coincidence than anything else."

Heyman’s net worth exceeds $1 billion, most of it tied up in the GAF Corp. He stands to lose a significant amount of this money unless he can put a cap on his company’s court costs. But the workplace victims of asbestos diseases stand to lose a lot more.

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