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WorkSafe

Kazan Law Attorney Frances Schreiberg Honored with Annual Award

Frances SchreibergA passionate Kazan Law attorney just received a special honor from a workers safety group and all of us at our mesothelioma law firm feel honored and proud. Frances Schreiberg, a longtime Kazan Law Of Counsel attorney who works on pro bono cases for us, has just had a new annual award launched in her honor. It is aptly called the Frances Schreiberg Pro Bono Award.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines moral compass as “a natural feeling that makes people know what is right and wrong and how they should behave.” In the workday world, where workers continue to be put at risk for death, disease and injury whether due to asbestos exposure, faulty machinery, chemical fumes or myriad other causes, Fran serves as a moral compass for the community. She gives a voice to those who are too fearful to speak up and she empowers the unempowered.

Before I convinced her to work for Kazan Law in 1991, Fran worked for:

  • the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, training administrative law judges, attorneys and investigators
  • the State of California, Department of Industrial Relations, and among other tasks, managed the criminal Bureau of Investigations at Cal/OSHA where she prosecuted companies when workers were killed or maimed as a result of unsafe or unhealthful conditions on the job.
  • the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California, developed an occupational safety and health program for them, and was involved with a variety of construction trade union issues

Since 1984 she has been an active member of numerous Cal/OSHA regulatory advisory committees, including ones for asbestos, lead and other workplace safety hazards. In 1987, Fran and I were part of a concerned group trying to restore Cal/OSHA when powerful business interests temporarily succeeded in dissolving it. That group was the nucleus of WorkSafe and Fran has been involved with WorkSafe ever since.

WorkSafe, headquartered in Oakland, California, remains dedicated to eliminating workplace hazards. It is fitting that the group has created an annual Frances Schreiberg Pro Bono Award to be presented at their annual anniversary celebration. This year’s inaugural recipient at WorkSafe’s 31st anniversary celebration was Julius Young, a partner at the Oakland firm Boxer & Gerson.

Sophie Noero, Worksafe’s program administrator commented afterwards, “It was a wonderful event, and I am so thrilled that we were able to acknowledge and celebrate Fran’s and the firm’s invaluable support of Worksafe in front of so many members of our community.”

We are too.

Workers Rights Summer Brown Bag Series

workers rightsOur mission at Kazan Law to defend those harmed by workplace asbestos exposure keeps us focused on worker safety and workers’ rights.  Manufacturing may have declined in the United States in recent years but blue collar work – whether in agriculture, automotive or service industries – has not. A 2012 survey finds that in California blue collar workers outnumbered white collar workers 61% to 39%.  For that same year, Worksafe, a California nonprofit that Kazan Law has supported for many years, reported that 451,500 of those blue collar workers were injured or made ill at their jobs. An additional 339 were killed.

Therefore we feel that it is important to educate our summer asbestos law clerks as well as new employees of the firm who have recently graduated not just about the law and our practice, but also about our deep commitment to justice for all and defending workers’ rights to safety and health on the job as well as other important workers’ rights.  One of the ways we do this is with a weekly brown bag lunch series throughout the summer. The summer law clerks and any staff who choose to attend bring their lunch at noon to our conference room. There we provide cookies and beverages along with short documentary films and/or in-person talks from administrative law judges, attorneys, union representatives, and others involved in advocating for workers, including attorneys on our staff.

This inspiring series is coordinated by Fran Schreiberg, Of Counsel staff attorney who has made a career safeguarding workers rights on a state and federal level.

Topics include:

Meet Arthur Bryant and Sarah Belton of Public Justice Bryant, President of Public Justice and the Public Justice Foundation, has won major victories and established new precedents in several areas of the law, including constitutional law, toxic torts, civil rights, consumer protection, and mass torts.  The National Law Journal named him one of the 100 Most Influential Attorneys in America. Sarah Beltonjoined the Public Justice Oakland office in June 2013 as the first Cartwright-Baron Attorney. She was previously an Equal Justice Works fellow and a staff attorney at Legal Services for Children in San Francisco, California.

Report Back from Dhaka, Bangladesh Protecting Bangladesh Garment Workers from Factory Fires and Building Collapses with Garrett Brown, MPH, CIH. Brown worked for Cal/OSHA for 20 years as a compliance officer and Headquarters staff, and is now full-time volunteer Coordinator of the Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network.

Making a Killing: Philip Morris, Kraft and Global Tobacco Addiction with discussion by Ted Pelletier This half-hour film shows how the tobacco giant uses its political power, size and marketing skill to spread tobacco addiction internationally, leaving in its wake a trail of death and disease. Pelletier, Of Counsel to the firm, earlier in his career handled the first two appeals v. Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds in California, and will share some litigation-specific stories of those cases and how they played a part in cracking Tobacco’s long-asserted lack of liability.

Those Who Know Don’t Tell A powerful documentary about the history of the struggle to rid the workplace of occupational hazards, including asbestos.

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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