Compensation Bill ...
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.)
INSIDE THE BELTWAY
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
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
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
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.