Last week Assembly Bill 19, which creates more hurdles for victims of asbestos poisoning seeking justice and fair compensation from asbestos corporations, was signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker. This law will shield asbestos corporations that knowingly poisoned Wisconsin workers and veterans from liability. Wisconsin Republicans have chosen to side with asbestos corporations instead of the victims and their families.

This legislation is so offensive that when Walker signed it into law, he did it in private. For Wisconsin asbestos victims, the impact will be felt immediately as their access to justice is delayed and for some even denied.

Workers, many of whom are veterans, were poisoned on the job by asbestos corporations, which knew for decades the deadly effects of asbestos. In fact, there are some startling facts in Wisconsin regarding workers, veterans and asbestos.

It has been well publicized that veterans account for 30 percent of mesothelioma-related deaths but only 8 percent of the population. And 62 percent of asbestos cases filed in the past five years in Wisconsin were by veterans. What has not been well publicized is the fact that after they returned home to civilian life, many veterans worked in rail yards, factories, ship yards, plants, mills and construction sites. It was at many of these workplaces where workers and veterans were poisoned by asbestos.

Because of its well-known use as a fire-retardant and heat insulator, asbestos was used to insulate factories, schools, homes, and ships, and to make automobile brake and clutch parts, roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, cement, textiles and hundreds of other products. It is easy to see how workers in the manufacturing, railroad, sheet metal or construction industries are particularly at risk of asbestos exposure.

A study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine showed the harmful effects asbestos has had on sheet metal workers and uncovered some disturbing statistics. The study showed that 21 percent of sheet metal workers tested positive for pleural scarring, a prime indicator for an asbestos-related disease. Workers who were on the job for at least 40 years saw the number jump to 33 percent. In Wisconsin, almost 400 sheet metal workers have had positive results on an asbestos test.

AB 19 will create more hurdles and limit the compensation for victims of asbestos poisoning and their families. When asbestos trusts were created to help compensate victims, they were appallingly underfunded. Asbestos corporations filed for bankruptcy, creating these trusts to avoid additional legal accountability for killing thousands of Americans. AB 19 forces victims to file against these underfunded trusts, which will result in pennies on the dollar in compensation. This process will also serve to delay the legal process, and many victims of asbestos poisoning will die before they see their day in court. 

It's shameful that Walker sided with corporations that poisoned Wisconsin workers and veterans. Our workers and veterans who have given so much to our state and country deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Craig Peachy is legislative director for the Wisconsin Transportation Division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Union (SMART).

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