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Railroad Labor: Bill No Relief For
Asbestos Victims

April 13, 2004

The Senate will take up next week an asbestos bill that labor unions argue is weighted in favor of corporations and insurers instead of victims suffering from diseases caused by the deadly material.

Because it would restrict the right of victims to sue for injury compensation, the measure is opposed by the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO. Today, railroad workers, who are not covered by workers compensation laws, must seek relief for on-the-job injuries under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). This 1907 law was passed to ensure safe working conditions in the railroad industry. The TTD argues that the legislation under consideration by the Senate will nullify some injury compensation rights for rail workers under FELA.

"FELA is the only way you can be fairly compensated for a work-related injury or disease," said a TTD flyer circulating among members of the affiliated railroad unions. "There is no asbestos lawsuit crisis in the railroad industry. Their large profits are in no danger, even though railroad workers are."

The legislation, "Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act," establishes a pool of money with contributions from asbestos producers, insurance companies and other targets of lawsuits for asbestos-related claims. Its aim is to shield the companies from civil liability in exchange for payments from the $100-billion fund. Asbestos was widely used in insulation for years before its long-term effect on lung health was discovered.

Transportation labor proponents argue that the railroad companies pushing for the legislation are attempting to evade financial responsibility for the work-related illnesses. Organized labor has also long contended that the pool of money under consideration, now at $123 billion, will not fairly cover all of those eligible for payments under the legislation. Democrats have estimated the cost of lawsuits at $275 billion.

"We will do all that we can to avoid passing legislation that is not fair, that does not address the problem and that will only compound the problems of those who are victims today," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Dashle (D-South Dakota).

IBEW members can urge their senators to oppose this bill through the Congressional Action Center.

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