Elizabeth Warren stood beside asbestos union workers Tuesday and accused Senator Scott Brown of running a distraction campaign, hours after the senator said that she served as a “hired gun” for two corporate clients.
“I’m not opposed to people making a living and representing businesses,” Brown, a Republican, told reporters in front of South Station. “But when you’re out there saying, by the way I’m representing the little guy and the middle class and in fact, we find out that’s not true, that’s an issue. That’s an issue of honesty and character.”
Warren, his Democratic opponent, accused Brown of trying to distract voters from his record with a constant barrage of attacks.
“He will talk about anything not to have to talk about his own voting record,” Warren said.
The comments came as news surfaced that Warren had been paid $10,000 in 1995 to help LTV Steel write a petition to the US Supreme Court to avoid paying into a fund that provided health care to retired coal miners. Brown also upped his criticism of Warren for representing Travelers Insurance in a separate case in which she was fighting to unlock a settlement fund for asbestos victims in exchange for immunity from future lawsuits.
In both cases, Warren, who built her reputation on a long career as a consumer advocate and bankruptcy expert, said she was fighting for broader principles that she said would protect future victims and workers. She said one of the problems in bankruptcy law, which she teaches at Harvard Law School, is that there is usually no one there to represent future claimants.
Her event Tuesday was held at the Insulators and Asbestos Workers Union, Local 6, in Dorchester, with a handful of workers and union officials behind her.
“I have been working for these guys all my life,” she said.
“I don’t see Scott Brown doing anything for us,” said Scott Curry, international organizer for the Heat, and Frost and Asbestos Workers, who represents workers in New York and New England. “If Mr. Brown, Senator Brown, ex-Senator Brown wanted to pick a fight, he picked it with the wrong people.”
Warren said in the Travelers case, it was insurance companies facing off against each other and that she stood with the workers. At the time, most asbestos victims were on her side of the case. She helped secure a ruling that required Travelers to pay out $500 million to victims in exchange for immunity from future lawsuits. But in a later ruling, secured without Warren’s help, Travelers won an order to avoid paying out the $500 million.
Brown said that her fee on the case of more than $200,000, compared with the small payouts that many workers got, shows she is falsely claiming to be an advocate for the little guy.
Warren said she was in fact fighting to make sure that companies that go bankrupt because of large-scale health problems such as asbestos leave behind enough money to pay out all victims fairly.
In the LTV case, she said she wanted to make sure future retirees and other claimants in bankruptcy cases would have access to the company’s assets. LTV lost the case. But Warren asserted that even if the company had won, the workers’ health care payments would not have been jeopardized because the Coal Act protected their benefits. But attorneys and advocates at the time said the fund that paid those benefits could be in jeopardy – and workers’ benefits put at risk—if companies like LTV were able to find legal arguments to avoid paying into it.Noah Bierman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.