The union members who have been exposed to asbestos in the workplace
There are no words to describe the extent of asbestos exposure taking place in industrial settings during the last century. As a consequence, over 10 million employees were exposed to the mineral on the job between 1940 and 1978, among whom plenty of union workers. Asbestos exposure, particularly when it occurs over the course of several years and involves a high level of airborne fibers, can lead to the development of serious, fatal diseases. The hallmarks of diseases caused by asbestos exposure are that they mostly affect the respiratory system, especially the lungs, and that they take between 20 and 50 years to come to light.
Since the beginning of the last century, dozens of unions have begun forming, many of which still exist today. While they are best known for their bargaining to improve wages, benefits, and working conditions, unions have been equally instrumental in protecting employees from hazardous conditions and toxic materials such as asbestos. Unions were warning workers and companies about the dangers of asbestos exposure nearly 70 years ago, but their voices were not loud enough. This is because companies had always been putting profit over workers' safety, which led to employees being continually exposed to asbestos.
Although every union in the country is important and plays a crucial role in protecting workers, the following have been the most vocal with regard to the dangers of asbestos exposure during the last century:
- the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers
- the United Auto Workers
- the Utility Workers Union of America
- the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers & Allied Workers
- the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen
- the International Longshoremen's Association
- the United Mine Workers of America
- the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers
- the International Union of Elevator Constructors
- the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots
- the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters
- the Sheet Metal Workers International Association
- the National Association of Retired and Veteran Railway Employees
- the Laborers' International Union of North America
- the International Brotherhood of Electricians
- the International Association of Firefighters
- the United Steelworkers
- the Transportation Workers Union of America
For instance, the United Steelworkers Union has lobbied Congress for decades in the hope of amending the current Toxic Substances Control Act to better protect workers. The union presented its latest case in 2013 to a House of Representatives Subcommittee, citing the ineffectiveness of the Environmental Protection Agency and the laws that have prevented the complete ban of asbestos in the workplace. The agency had banned asbestos in 1989, but the decision was overturned in federal court in 1991. "As a result, asbestos is still in commercial use in the United States. The EPA has not tried to ban a substance since the ruling on asbestos 22 years ago," says the official report submitted to Congress in 2013.