Coalition Fights Against Tobacco Settlement
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, March 2) -- The Coalition for Workers' Health Care Funds held its first conference Monday to hear from senior lawmakers, litigators and other experts about how they can fight the tobacco companies and last year's tobacco deal.
The group was formed in reaction to the June 1997 tobacco agreement which, they say, excludes private, union, and health care funds from receiving any settlement proceeds.
The coalition said the deal would also eliminate their pursuit of 31 class-action lawsuits in 31 states, keeping such health care plans from getting any kind of reimbursement for tobacco-related medical expenses. And keeping workers covered by the plan from pursuing compensation collectively, often the only way economically do so.
"Where do they get off cutting off blue-collar, working class Americans and saying to them that you no longer have the right to go into court and sue for damages that were done to you? That's un-American and we're very, very angry and we're making that anger known to our members of Congress" David Jewell, director of communications for the coalition, said.
The coalition represents 2500 labor-management health and welfare funds in the U.S., about 33 million union workers. Those blue collar workers smoke cigarettes at twice the national average and suffer at least twice the mortality rate of the average worker, according to the coalition.
Aside from hearing from its speakers, including political heavy-weights like Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III, the group's delegates are spending time up on Capitol Hill lobbying Congress against the tobacco agreement of last year.
Humphrey, whose state's lawsuit against tobacco companies is at the forefront of the anti-tobacco movement, was particularly outspoken.
"We hear every single day how terrible suicides are, automobile accidents are, how terrible cocaine and heroin are, murders, homicides, all of them. You put them all together, they don't come close to what this drug nicotine combined in tobacco does. Four hundred and forty thousand people a year, the equivalent of three 747s dropping out of the sky every single day of our lives. It's time we changed this folks," Humphrey said.