YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A Japanese labor union is threatening a sit-in if the U.S. Navy doesn’t take action on a Yokosuka worker’s asbestos-related medical leave claim.

Members of Zenchuro Yokosuka, the local branch of the Japan Garrison Forces Labor Union, handed out more than 2,000 fliers from 6:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. to those coming through Yokosuka Naval Base gates Thursday.

The fliers call for a sit-in if progress isn’t made quickly in the medical-leave claim of a Naval Facilities Engineering Command Far East worker diagnosed in April with malignant pleural mesothelioma believed to be caused from asbestos exposure on the job, said the group’s secretary general, Hiroki Otogawa.

The worker was approved by the workers’ accident compensation insurance system in mid-August, but whether his medical leave will be counted as “on-duty” or “off-duty” is still under review by the Navy. On-duty medical leave gives workers full summer and year-end bonuses, 90 days of paid leave and up to three years of unpaid leave. Off-duty leave is restricted to one-fifth of bonuses, 90 days of paid leave and 180 days of unpaid leave.

The worker in question currently is in off-duty medical leave status, which has caused “disadvantages,” Otogawa said. He has been off work for a year and his symptoms have progressed, he said. The union wants the Navy to change the personnel status to “on-duty” medical leave.

But while Commander, Naval Forces Japan “highly values” the service and support of the master labor contractors in Japan, this process takes time, CNFJ spokesman Cmdr. David Waterman said in an e-mail. “To ensure the best possible outcome, legal processes and medical procedures have been meticulously observed so that the end result will be the best solution that can be provided,” Waterman said.

The Navy, the government of Japan’s Defense Facilities Administration Agency and the union have worked together for months on this issue, he added.

The three parties will meet again next week and the Navy is due to give a response or tell the group when a response can be expected, Otogawa said. The union then will decide whether to plan a sit-in, he said. About 4,000 workers belong to Zenchuro at Yokosuka Naval Base.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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