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.