Kazan Law Pro Bono Attorney Frances Schreiber Fights to Protect Workers
Fighting for mesothelioma patients who were exposed to asbestos at work is what we do at Kazan Law. Seeing first-hand every day the senseless tragedy of honest hard-working people facing death because of neglect and carelessness by those who manufactured, designed, sold and installed asbestos- containing products inflames our sense of justice. Our outrage inspires us to work not only to seek justice for our clients coping with asbestos-caused mesothelioma but also to strive to prevent other people from dying or ever becoming afflicted with work-related injuries or illnesses.
Frances Schreiberg is how we do that. Fran is a brilliant attorney who just happens to be passionate about workers’ rights, specifically their right to a safe and healthy workplace, and who also has an impressive track record in working with both the legislative and executive branches of California state government to protect workers from safety and health work place hazards of all kinds. Fran provides free advice to unions and other worker organizations that might not be able to afford an attorney of her experience and caliber. We pay Fran so they don’t have to. We let Fran work for them for free also known as pro bono.
In 1980, during Governor Jerry Brown’s first administration, the Governor asked the Director of the Department of Industrial Relations who then asked Fran to find out why the Division of Occupational Safety and Health better known as Cal/OSHA was not bringing criminal cases against companies killing workers as a result of exposure to toxic materials. Fran accepted the challenge.
“Once I became involved,” Fran recalls, “I found it very compelling.”
While working at Cal/OSHA Fran looked into every fatality that occurred in California. Fran recalls, “I reviewed those reports. Always someone on that jobsite knew that so-called “accident” was going to happen. But either they spoke up and were told to shut up or they didn’t say anything because they didn’t want to lose their job.”
I first met Fran in 1985 when she asked me to provide supporting exhibits for a legislative proposal being authored by then Assembly Member – later to become Governor – Gray Davis to protect workers from asbestos.
In 1987 when powerful industry interests succeeded in having Governor George Deukmejian eliminate Cal/OSHA, I was honored to be a part of a group that banded together to fight back. We called ourselves WORKSAFE! and supported an initiative to restore the Cal/OSHA program, Prop 97. It was a tough fight but we succeeded. Cal/OSHA was restored. WORKSAFE continues to advocate for worker safety and health and to this day our law firm supports their work with annual grants and significant in-kind contributions of office space. Fran continues to work closely with the organization she helped found.
When Fran left the State Building Trades in 1991, I realized Fran needed to focus full-time on work designed to prevent folks from dying. I invited her to work for Kazan Law.
“This firm tries to do everything possible to prevent people from ever having to come to see us in the first place,” Fran comments. “So I do trainings for legal services programs, worker centers, unions, and even for businesses. I give workers and their representatives the tools they need to speak up for a safe place to work and to fight retaliation.”
Fran also spends a lot of time in Sacramento on policy work. This year she’s worked on three bills to protect workers. One is SB 193. It would permit the California Department of Public Health to require manufacturers and others to provide information about toxic materials being shipped into California workplaces so that the Hazard Evaluation System & Information Service (HESIS), when there is new scientific or medical information, can assist both employers and employees in protecting against the risks from those chemicals.
“We are hopeful we can get it out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee early next year. We need to overcome the pressure being exerted by various companies – members of the American Chemistry Council – who see it as interfering with their business – their right to make money,” Fran says.
Every year over 66,000 American workers are injured or die from preventable workplace hazards or exposure to toxic chemicals.
“And Cal/OSHA cannot do it all, nor can they do it alone,” Fran acknowledges. “Cal/OSHA only has 146 inspectors for 18 million workers. Who are we kidding? It’s a constant struggle. So laws that facilitate prevention, such as SB 193, are critical.”
“I’m very proud of the bill by which that and numerous other changes were achieved. That’s why I keep doing this,” Fran says.
And that’s why Kazan Law keeps Fran doing this important work. Thank you, Frances Schreiberg.