Industry leaders asked Congress yesterday to pass legislation that would require the government to share the cost of establishing a multimillion-dollar trust fund for workers with asbestos-related diseases.
But union representatives opposed the plan, with some officials telling a Senate Finance subcommittee that ailing workers should not be denied the right to sue manufacturers for compensation.
The current system of relying on workers' lawsuits to win compensation from their employers is unfair to both the employes and the industry, said John McKinney, chairman of the Manville Corp. The system also has allowed the government to dodge responsibility for its negligence, he said.
"Private industry is being asked to shoulder the burden for the government's own negligent acts," said McKinney, also chief executive officer of the Denver-based firm.
Asbestos, widely used for years in fire-proofing material and insulation, is blamed for a variety of respiratory problems.
The legislation calls for creating an Asbestos-Related Disease Trust Fund to be financed by the government and through assessments on certain suppliers of asbestos products and their insurers.
Frederick Ross, president and chief executive officer of Raymark Corp. of Trumbull, Conn., told the subcommittee more than 70 percent of the asbestos-related claims against his company were filed by workers exposed to the substance during wartime shipbuilding efforts.
Jay Power of the AFL-CIO opposed the bill, favoring a House proposal that would deal with all long-term occupational diseases, not just those tied to asbestos.