Boosted by unscrupulous abatement contractors in LIUNA’s Mid-Atlantic Region, asbestos continues to plague workers and the public, according to new information released November 16, 2011, by the Laborers’ Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition (MAROC).

Asbestos abatement is strictly regulated and requires significant worker protections.

The scathing report, replete with first-person accounts of workers employed by unprincipled asbestos abatement contractors, charges a number of named companies with blatant disregard for their workers’ safety. It also highlights the inability of the federal government – the owner of many of the buildings mentioned in this report – to adequately enforce asbestos abatement regulations.

“In contrast to these shoddy and illegal operatives, our members and signatory contractors are well-trained and consistently follow the letter and spirit of the asbestos abatement regulations,” says LIUNA Vice President and Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager Dennis L. Martire, who also serves as a LHSFNA trustee. Despite adherence to the rules, union contractors still win the majority of asbestos abatement contract bids in the region. Nevertheless, MAROC issued the report in order to protect the market share of union employers who play by the rules and to protect the lives of all abatement  workers. “It is absolutely reprehensible that these contractors flout the rules that protect workers and the public,” Martire said.

Scott Schneider, the LHSFNA’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health and a asbestos expert who attended the MAROC media conference at the National Press Club, points out that, although the production and use of asbestos products has decreased tremendously since the 1980s, tens of thousands of workers are dying today from inhaling asbestos more than 30 years ago. The fibers lodged in their lungs, causing the slow, irreversible development of asbestos is and mesothelioma in ensuing years. “After all these deaths, we hope that we will not have to sacrifice another generation of workers as we clean up all the places where asbestos-containing materials were installed,” Schneider says.” Our regulations require adequate protection for abatement workers and the public.”

But, as the MAROC report makes clear, a number of contractors in the Mid-Atlantic region are subverting fair competition and sacrificing the future lives of their workers by removing asbestos without required protection. Among the failures highlighted by the report:

  • Workers are routinely dispatched to abatement jobsites without licenses or training.
  • On their jobsites, many companies operate with open disregard of well-known, well-established safety standards.
  • Many companies routinely cheat workers – many of whom are Hispanic immigrants – by shorting their hours, failing to pay legally required wages, failing to pay overtime, charging fees to receive paychecks and charging workers for the cost of safety equipment and licenses.
  • Asbestos abatement training centers in Virginia and Maryland, which issue required licenses, commonly provide answers to examinations to ensure that they will be passed, regardless of whether proper lessons have been learned.

To curb malpractice in the industry and region, Martire and the MAROC demand tighter enforcement and more effective regulation:

  • Increase maximum fines.
  • Establish minimum fines.
  • Add license revocation as a penalty.
  • Make license revocation applicable to all companies with substantially related ownership.
  • Use fines to fund agency enforcement.
  • Give asbestos workers a list of their rights at the beginning of every job.
  • Independently administer asbestos licensing examinations.
  • Make asbestos notices available online.

The MAROC report is the result of a year-long undercover investigation by college student and organizer Ernest Ojito (video presentation) at six different contractors. Working for these companies, Ojito organized the workers to stand up for their rights by publicly exposing the conditions they faced. Seven of these workers provided published testimonials of their experiences of abuse and hazardous conditions. The employers cited in the report include Southern Environmental Services, Inc., L&M Construction, Bristol Construction, Asbestos Specialists, Inc., Team ACP, Potomac Abatement, Barco Construction and WMS Solutions, Inc. Two training centers were exposed: Global Environmental Solutions (a.k.a., Nilda’s) and Princeton Industrial Training Institute.

The full report is available here.

[Steve Clark]