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May 23, 2003 12:10 AM
Labor Calls Senator Hatch’s Asbestos Bill Too Weak

 The AFL-CIO is deeply disappointed by Senator Orrin Hatch’s decision to introduce a weak asbestos bill at this time, when negotiations between the interested parties were continuing. The business and insurance communities had promised to make a new offer to the AFL-CIO in negotiations today, but announced this morning that they have been instructed by Senator Hatch to cease their private negotiations with the labor movement.

The labor movement entered into these negotiations because the scourge of occupational exposure to asbestos has deeply affected millions of working people and their families. We believe that a no-fault system that provides fair compensation, is securely funded, is based on sound medical criteria, and is implemented through a well-designed administrative system would be of mutual benefit to business and victims alike, as well as to the public at large. 

The Hatch bill is none of these things. Rather, it is merely a vehicle to relieve businesses and insurers of hundreds of billions of dollars of liability while significantly short-changing the asbestos victims of the fair compensation they are due. 

In substance, the Hatch bill is a step backward. On appropriate medical criteria, exposure definitions, and compensation, the Hatch bill’s positions are more restrictive than those contained in the Manville and other existing bankruptcy asbestos trust funds, and even more begrudging than the position taken by the business groups and insurers in these negotiations four months ago.

These developments are most discouraging in the face of a genuine opportunity to reach consensus on a global solution to the so-called asbestos litigation crisis. Nonetheless, we remain committed to continue our efforts to find such a solution, but will not be able to do so if the goal has shifted to being one of a mere corporate bailout at the expense of hundreds of thousands of poisoned workers and retirees.

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