THIS WEEK IN LABOR

Asbestos bill toxic

The interests of asbestos makers and their insurers “have become paramount and the needs of victims have become secondary” in the asbestos bill being debated in the Senate, said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney in a Feb. 2 letter to lawmakers.

The bill would establish a trust fund that is supposed to pay medical claims for the more than 200,000 construction, auto, shipyard and other workers exposed to the material. But, say asbestos victims groups, it sets high hurdles for workers to qualify and bars asbestos victims from court — even if funds run out. “This program will benefit the very companies that caused the problem,” said a letter from the victims’ groups.

Workplace asbestos exposure is linked to mesothelioma, cancer, asbestosis and other lung disease.

DuPont’s Teflon protections don’t stick

Workers and residents around DuPont plants have already been exposed to high levels of PFOA, a potential carcinogen, but the Environmental Protection Agency’s newly announced program on PFOA allows the company to continue to conduct business as usual, says the Steelworkers Union.

The chemical is used in the manufacture of many heat- and chemical-resistant materials including Teflon.

“The level of PFOA in the blood of DuPont employees is significantly elevated and continues to increase,” says a statement from the union.

The union cited examples in Parkersburg, W.Va., and Fayetteville, N.C., where PFOA has turned up in groundwater and drinking water despite the company’s commitment to the EPA to reduce emissions.

The EPA should not trust DuPont, the union statement continued without “regulations, specifications, rigorous oversight and consumer awareness of what products expose us to PFOA.”

Teamsters in Brazil

When workers at the Quebecor World Inc. printing plant in Recife, Brazil, shut down the plant’s morning shift Jan. 30, Teamsters union members from the U.S were there in support. A 20-member international delegation also included leaders of graphical unions from Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Canada and UNI, the global labor federation that represents QW workers in 16 countries.

The shutdown forced an agreement by the company to address longstanding safety problems that resulted to severe injuries to three workers this month. “Worker solidarity is priceless,” said Iraquitan da Silva, general secretary of the local of SINDGRAF, which represents the Brazilian workers.

International companies think they can get away with forcing employees to work in unsafe conditions and lose fingers and limbs, said Barry Bryant, president of GCC/Teamsters Local 527M at the Quebecor World plant in Jonesboro, Ark. “We’re here to tell our union brothers and sisters in Recife that we support them in this fight.”

ILWU hits pollution

The Longshoreman’s union joined with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to issue a call last week to reduce air pollution at West Coast ports. The seaports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the two largest in the U.S., are also the largest polluters in Southern California. Several recent studies have linked port pollution — chiefly from diesel fumes given off by the ships and the trucks and trains carrying goods to and from them — with smog, cancer, asthma and other health problems in nearby communities.

This Week in Labor is compiled by Roberta Wood (rwood@pww.org).

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