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Cal/OSHA

New Troubles At Cal/OSHA Could Increase Worker Asbestos Exposure

asbestos exposureA mesothelioma diagnosis means asbestos exposure occurred.  Probably not just once but many times. The asbestos exposure most likely occurred on the job because business interests were considered more important than the safety of workers and their families. In our most recent “Throwback Thursday” post commemorating Kazan Law’s 40th anniversary, we revisited a time in the 1980s when big business interests orchestrated the shutdown of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), better known as Cal/OSHA. That meant there would be no trained inspectors safeguarding workers against dangers like asbestos exposure.

Our story had a happy ending.  A group of us got together to form a group called WorkSafe California that succeeded in helping to get Cal/OSHA back up and running. But as the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

No sooner was that anniversary post up on our website when I received a disturbing email from Fran Schreiberg, a labor attorney who was part of the group that helped restore Cal/OSHA with me about 30 years ago and started working at Kazan Law doing pro bono work in this area in 1991.

“A whistleblower complaint charging the Department of Industrial Relations with misuse of state and federal funds designated for Cal/OSHA, the state workplace health and safety agency, was filed with the California State Auditor on Tuesday, April 1st by a 20-year veteran of the agency who retired in January 2014,” it said.

The whistleblower complaint contains 16 items describing improper, and possibly illegal, use of DOSH funds by DIR in three key areas ­- budget and funding, real estate and personnel.

“This is terrible,” Fran Schreiberg said to me when she briefed me on this new development. “This means that funds intended to protect workers from asbestos exposure were used for other things.”

The lack of resources, caused by DIR’s misuse and mismanagement of Cal/OSHA funds, means that there are fewer compliance officers available to conduct on-site inspections, fewer inspections of high hazard workplaces where many low-wage and vulnerable workers are employed, fewer consultants to assist small employers, and fewer resources to develop new regulations to protect the health and safety of California¹s workers.

We hope that this misuse of funds is thoroughly investigated and halts this latest attempt to weaken protection for workers from hazards like asbestos exposure.

Kazan Law’s 1988 Victory: Proposition 97 and the Restoration of Cal/OSHA

Cal/OSHA

A younger Barack Obama shakes hands with Kazan Law’s Fran Schreiberg

At Kazan Law, most of our clients who are suffering from the devastating effects of asbestos exposure were hard-working trusting people all their lives.  That is until mesothelioma or other illnesses caused by asbestos exposure deprived them of their ability to work. All because an employer or parts manufacturer exploited their work ethic and loyalty.

My advocacy work on behalf of these workers and their families, some of who are also suffering from asbestos exposure, has made me very committed to the rights to protection of working people. For today’s “Throwback Thursday” post commemorating Kazan Law’s 40th anniversary, I am going to tell you about a special time in 1988 when we really had to stand up for those rights.

I was appalled when in 1987 California Governor George Deukmejian, in apparent cooperation with big business interests closed California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (DOSH or Cal/OSHA).

Workers have a right to a safe place to work.   They should be able to work without risk of workplace injuries, illnesses and death. Clearly Gov. Deukmejian didn’t think so.

In 1983 Deukmejian fired 83 staff members of Cal/OSHA and the following year he ordered a hiring freeze. During his first term in office work-related injuries increased more than 20% as Cal/OSHA’s on-site inspections decreased by 74%.  Then after four years of weakening California’s worker safety, he dismantled Cal/OSHA. Not coincidentally, Deukmejian had received $8 million in political contributions for his reelection campaign from big business. It was no surprise when he shut Cal/OSHA’s doors, returning the program to Federal OSHA despite the knowledge that the federal government’s worker safety program was not nearly as effective as the California program.

California’s outraged attorney general John Van de Kamp was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “What the governor is proposing is nothing less than a lethal game of buck-passing. It sends a message of indifference bordering on contempt to California’s working men and women.”

I thought so too.  And I wasn’t the only one. I volunteered on behalf of Kazan Law to represent the California Trial Lawyers Association (now known as Consumer Attorneys of California) on a coalition to restore Cal/OSHA.

We called ourselves WORKSAFE! .  Representing the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California was a very dedicated labor attorney named Frances Schreiberg. The coalition worked with the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO and the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California to draft an initiative that became Prop 97.  It called for the legislature to restore Cal/OSHA program with  a budget sufficient to minimize the risk to workers from industrial injuries, illnesses and exposure to toxic substances including exposure to asbestos. It was a tough fight but we succeeded. Cal/OSHA was restored. I hired Fran Schreiberg as a pro bono counsel to advocate for worker safety on a policy level.  Worksafe continues to advocate for worker safety and Fran, as a founding mother, still works closely with the organization.

 

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.

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