Category Archives: Government

Alternatives to Workers’ Comp: Paranoia or Possibility

I joined a national organization of lawyers representing injured workers (the Work Injury Law and Advocacy Group) twenty years ago when it was first formed. Then, I heard horror stories about legislators messing with an otherwise stable workers’ compensation system after every election cycle. My colleagues in other states were constantly fighting battles over workers’ compensation “deform.” 

I thought we were insulated in Wisconsin because we had a workers’ compensation advisory council composed of labor and management who every two years fought out a compromise bill and submitted it to the legislature, which automatically rubber-stamped the proposed bill without changes. That changed in Wisconsin in 2014. For the first time in nearly 50 years, the Republican legislature rejected the “agreed upon” bill proposed by the workers’ compensation advisory council, despite the approval of the bill by management members.

Governor Scott Walker’s most recent budget contains a provision to dismantle the workers’ compensation system as we know it. Those of us representing injured workers (and those rational members on the management side) are busy lobbying to remove the workers’ compensation dismantling provisions from the budget.

It is no secret that many major corporations dislike workers’ compensation, despite statistics indicating premiums are at their lowest for employers, and profits at their highest for insurers. However, nearly two dozen major corporations including Wal-Mart, Nordstrom’s and Safeway are behind a multi-state lobbying effort to make it harder for workers hurt on the job to collect workers’ compensation benefits. The companies have financed a lobbying group the Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation (ARAWC) that has already helped write legislation designed to have employers “opt out” of a State workers’ compensation system. ARAWC has already helped write legislation in Tennessee. That group’s executive director Richard Evans told an insurance journal in November that the corporations ultimately want to change workers’ compensation laws in all fifty states. Lowe’s, Macy’s, Kohl’s, SYSCO Food Services, and several insurance companies are also part of the effort. The mission of ARAWC is to pass laws allowing private employers to opt out of the traditional workers’ compensation plans that almost every state requires businesses to carry. Employers who opt out would still be compelled to purchase workers’ compensation plans, but would be allowed to write their own rules governing when, for how long, and for which reasons an injured employee can receive medical benefits and wages. Two states, Texas and Oklahoma, already allow employers to opt out of State-mandated workers’ comp. In that state, for example, Wal-Mart has written a plan that allows the company to select the physician and the arbitration company that hears disputes. A 2012 survey of Texas companies with private plans found that less half the companies offered benefits to seriously injured employees or the families of workers who died in workplace accidents. 

Oklahoma passed an opt out measure in January 2014 and the oil and gas industry along with major retailers such as Hobby Lobby pushed hard for the change. ARAWC wants to take that Texas and Oklahoma model nationwide. Seeing the workers’ compensation provision in Wisconsin’s budget bill as part of this overall “scheme” may seem paranoid, but the history of recent “deform” legislation suggest the connection is at least a possibility. 

See the complete article at http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/03/arawc-walmart-campaign-against-workers-compensation.

Small Increase Predicted for Social Security COLA

Today’s post comes from guest author Todd Bennett, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Social Security benefits are slated to go up, but not by much. “The cost-of-living adjustment in Social Security for 2014 is likely to be very small, marking the fourth year in the last five that recipients receive little or no increase in benefits,” according to a recent CNNMoney article

The American Institute for Economic Research estimates the increase to be 1.4% to 1.6%.  Last year’s increase was 1.7%, and the 2012 increase of 3.6% was the only “significant rise in benefits in recent years,” according to the article.

If there are questions about your specific legal situation, please contact the firm.

9/11 Fund Starts Making Payments To Victims

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman, from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

The Zadroga 9/11 Victims Claim Fund has started to make payments to victims of the World Trade Center attack. First Responders andthose who lived or worked in the immediate geographical site near “ground zero” may be entitled to the payment of benenfits for illness and injuries that they suffer as a result of the terrorist attack.

Those eligible include, individuals present at  a 9/11 crash site at the time of or in the immediate aftermath, who suffer physical harm as a result of the crashes or debris removal. Also the personal representatives of individuals who were present at a 9/11 crash site, who died as a result of the crashes or debris removal, are eligible to file claims.

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Report: Poor Health Costs Cost U.S. $576 Billion Yearly

The U.S. loses more GDP to poor health than Sweden’s total GDP

Today’s post comes from guest author Nathan Reckman from Paul McAndrew Law Firm.

The Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), a nonprofit health and productivity research organization for businesses, recently reported that poor health costs the U.S. economy $576 billion per year. Of this amount:

  • $227 billion is lost due to sick days or reduced productivity due to illness,
  • $232 billion is spent by employers on medical and pharmacy treatments, and
  • $117 billion is spent on workers’ compensation and short- or long-term disability wage replacement.

To give you a sense of the scale of this loss, it is larger than the entire gross domestic product (GDP) of all but the top 20 countries. Our $576 billion loss dues to poor health costs would fall directly behind the GDP of Saudi Arabia (2011 GDP: $577.6 billion) and in front of the Swedes (2011 GDP: $538.2 billion). For comparison, the U.S.’s $15,090 billion GDP was the largest in the world, followed by China at $7,298 billion.

…for every $1 employers invest in improving their employees’ health and wellness they save $3…

Sean Nicholson, Ph.D., quoted in the IBI report, has stated that for every $1 employers invest in improving their employees’ health and wellness they save $3 (quite a good return on their investment!). As wisely pointed out by IBI’s President, Thomas Parry, Ph.D., this report puts employers on notice that their investment in workers’ health and wellness will benefit both the workers and their employers.

This report, in addition to  pointing out the dual benefits posed by increased employer investment in their employees’ health and wellness, points out one of the important choices facing our country’s healthcare system.

Source for 2011 GDP information: CIA World Factbook

Workplace Violence and Sandy Hook Elementary School

Today’s post comes from guest author Kristina Brown Thompson from The Jernigan Law Firm.

While this post occurred some time ago, the issues related to workplace violence remain relevant.

In light of the horrific elementary school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut last week it may be time to re-evaluate workplace violence, which seems to be increasing at an alarming rate. Technically, workplace violence is any act where an employee is abused, threatened, intimidated, or assaulted in the workplace. It can include threats, harassment, and verbal abuse, as well as physical attacks by someone with an assault rifle. 

Two million American workers are victims of workplace violence every year. What’s worse is that workplace violence is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths in the United States. Last year, for example, one in every five fatal work injuries was attributed not to accidents but to workplace violence,  and  some employees are at an increased risk for harm. For example, employees who work with the public or who handle money are more at risk (i.e. bank tellers, pizza delivery drivers, or social workers). According to the 2011 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries by the U.S. Dept. of Labor, robbers were found to be the assailants in almost a third of homicide/workplace violence cases involving men, whereas female workers were more likely to be attacked by a relative (i.e. former spouse or partner) while at work.  

Preventing workplace violence is a challenging task and OSHA advises employers to create a Workplace Violence Prevention Program. Creating a safe perimeter for employees is crucial. Likewise, having an emergency protocol in place should reduce the number of fatalities in an attack, and that’s exactly what happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut when the school’s protocol saved the lives of many children.

Let OSHA Do Its Job

OSHA is being prevented from fulfilling its mission.

Today’s post comes from guest author Paul J. McAndrew, Jr. from Paul McAndrew Law Firm.

In 1970, Congress passed the Occupational Safety & Health Act (the Act), which created the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Among other things, the Act requires every employer to provide a safe workplace. To help employers reach this goal, OSHA promulgated hundreds of rules in the decade after it was created. OSHA’s rulemaking process has, however, slowed to a trickle since then.  

While the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health recently identified over 600 toxic chemicals to which workers are exposed, in the last 16 years OSHA has added only two toxic chemicals to its list of regulated chemicals. This is because Congress, Presidents and the courts have hamstrung OSHA. For example, in March 2001 the Bush Administration and a Republican Congress effectively abolished OSHA’s ergonomics rule, a rule the agency had worked on for many years. 

These delays and inactions have caused more than 100,000 avoidable workplace injuries and illnesses.

These delays and inactions have caused more than 100,000 avoidable workplace injuries and illnesses. Workers are being injured and killed by known hazardous circumstances and OSHA can’t act.

Congress and the President need to break this logjam – we need to free OSHA to do its job of safeguarding workers.

Reversing A Century Of Progress – Are We Back In Upton Sinclair’s Jungle?

Many workers no longer have paid sick days.

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

We echo the sentiments of our colleague in Nebraska,

Health Care Is Just The Beginning

At a time when a flu epidemic is exploding out of control, killing thousands of people, forty-two million Americans have no sick leave. Many of these people are lower paid, often work part time, and continue to work when ill because they can’t stay home to recover without losing their income. I am shocked and dismayed that many hard-working folk are forced to work when sick because staying home is not economically possible. Making matters even worse, these highly vulnerable workers often have no employer-provided health insurance so even serious illnesses go untreated, putting us all at a higher risk for infection from a contagious worker, like a server in a restaurant, for whom taking an unpaid day off is impossible.

…the trend toward low pay, long hours and few benefits is getting stronger.

I fear that if the current trends continue, the lives of the millions of Americans who struggle at low-paying jobs will remain miserable, desperate and be lacking in real hope. It appears that the trend toward low pay, long hours and few benefits is getting stronger. At the turn of the 20th century when Upton Sinclair wrote “The Jungle,” describing immigrants struggling in Chicago, the jobs were more physical, dangerous and just plain disgusting. However, millions of “New Jungle” workers still struggle and suffer today.

Class Warfare

After over 100 years of progress, the American middle and lower classes are under constant attack. The efforts to limit rights of workers are ongoing and supported by big business. Every day I read of measures being introduced in state legislatures to limit access to and decrease the benefits of workers’ compensation. The right to collective bargaining is being attacked as well. Local elections are overrun by anonymous innocent-sounding Super PACs funded by 21st Century versions of robber-barons who are using their wealth and power to squeeze out a few more dollars in profits to add to the tens of billions of dollars already sitting in their bank accounts. These are not job creators, they are their own personal wealth creators. Income equality is at an all-time low in the United States, and the trends are getting worse.

How can this be happening in 21st century America? How can we call ourselves civilized? Can we really allow such maltreatment of workers and disregard public health in what we call an “advanced,” “modern,” and frequently, an “exceptional” county? 

A Path Forward

We are not without hope, though. Crusaders like Senator Elizabeth Warren are working hard to reverse the trends and preserve the American Dream for future generations. But our protectors are few. We cannot assume that someone else is looking out for us. We must engage with government at the local, state and federal levels so that the voices of regular working folk are not drowned out by a cabal of rogue billionaires trying to keep score by increasing their own personal fortunes at the expense of working people. I fear that if we sit by passively, our children will all be working in the New Jungle, America will have lost its middle class, and with it, the American Dream will be a distant memory. The time to act is now. 

Hurrah for the Wisconsin Workers' Compensation Advisory Council

Every time I read an article about the extreme contentiousness between employers and employees that manifests itself in many States’ legislatures concerning worker’s compensation legislation, I am again reminded of the workings of Wisconsin Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council. Recently, the Republican-controlled Washington State Senate passed three contentious measures intended to save businesses money by changing worker’s compensation rules. Essentially, the bills would overhaul compromise settlement agreements, lowering the age of eligibility from 55 to 40, and allow businesses to schedule medical evaluations so that business can move injured workers through rehabilitation more quickly. Republicans took the Senate in Washington.

The Council aims to maintain the overall stability of the workers’ compensation system without regard to partisan changes in the legislature or executive branches of government

The Wisconsin Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council was created in 1975 to advise the Department and legislature on policy matters concerning the development and administration of the worker’s compensation law. The Council aims to maintain the overall stability of the workers’ compensation system without regard to partisan changes in the legislature or executive branches of government (given the contentiousness of recent Wisconsin executive and legislative elections, this is a real blessing for injured workers and for worker’s compensation practitioners). The Council provides a vehicle for labor and management representatives to play a direct role in recommending changes in the worker’s compensation law to the legislature.

The Council, composed of five management, five labor, and three non-voting insurance members appointed by the Secretary of the Department of Workforce Development and shared by a Department employee meets regularly at different sites around Wisconsin. It occasionally assigns special topics to study committees on such issues as medical cost, permanent disability rates, and attorney fees. The medical committee assigned in the mid-1990s to report on minimum permanency percentages for surgical procedures, for example, issued its findings which resulted in the schedule contained in the Administrative Code. The Council obtains input from various worker’s compensation constituents including interested members of the legal, medical, labor, management, insurance, and employer communities. Public hearings on proposed changes are held, followed by Advisory Council deliberation. The Council has always produced an “agreed upon bill” which results in annual changes and benefit rates and substantive law. This system works in Wisconsin and would be a good template for other states as well.