Saving Our Benefits – How Public Outcry Saved Workers’ Compensation in New York

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Some of you may recall that injured workers and their families were used as political scapegoats by big business and insurance interests who blamed them for the high cost of doing business in New York.  Workers’ Compensation benefits became an easy target as those who needed these benefits were hardly in a position to fight against the deep pockets and political clout of these lobbying groups.  

As a result of political pressure during New York State budget negotiations, there was a direction to update the existing impairment guidelines under the guise of reducing costs to employers while still protecting injured workers. The final budget contained a provision directing the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) to put together a task force with input from labor, the insurance industry, medical providers, and the NYS Business Council to revise impairment guidelines to reflect “advances in modern medicine that enhance hearings and result in better outcomes”.  These impairment guidelines determine the amount of compensation payable to an injured worker for a permanent injury.

Unfortunately for injured workers, the WCB unilaterally revamped and rewrote the guidelines and released them during a holiday weekend with a 45-day public comment period. These proposed guidelines bore very little resemblance to the recommendations made by labor groups and the Orthopedic Society, and were an outrageous abuse of power. As a result of a very public outcry, the New York State Assembly Labor Committee held a public hearing during which it became very clear to labor groups, injured workers’ advocates, and members of the State Legislature that the Board’s egregious actions would result in a slashing of benefits to injured workers at a time when they are most vulnerable.

Public outcry led to action. Workers’ advocates showed up at a number of WCB locations across the state, including Hauppauge, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, for Days of Action. More than 100,000 postcards objecting to the proposed changes were delivered. Members of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the AFL-CIO, NYCOSH, New York City District Council of Carpenters, DC37, and countless others all publicly railed against these changes. Members of the Legislature called out the WCB for overstepping its authority and for proposing changes that would vastly favor the Business Council over the injured worker. 

The Worker’s Comp Board subsequently issued amended revisions, and while there are still some reductions, it was a significant improvement over the initial version. The final version was released last year on December 29. It is clear that grassroots efforts sometimes do work. Governor Cuomo and the WCB Chair clearly listened, and for that we are grateful. We are also grateful to those State legislators, union groups, and medical providers who submitted their insight on the impact the original proposals would have on injured workers.

Lastly, it is clear that those who may have been past or current recipients of Workers’ Compensation benefits – those who have known injured workers or those who just saw an injustice and wanted to help right a wrong – took the time to make a phone call, send a letter, or sign a petition. The outpouring of support took many by surprise, including those interests that were financed by big business groups.   One of my favorite quotes is from Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Truer words were never spoken.

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.

BuzzFeed News: At Tesla’s Factory, Building The Car Of The Future Has Painful And Permanent Consequences For Some Workers

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Wright.

Tesla wants to change the world by selling eco-friendly electric vehicles to the masses. But some of the workers laboring to build that dream have been hurt along the way.
FREMONT, CALIFORNIA — Terrill Johnson was installing car trunks at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, when he heard the sound that would define his next few years, if not the rest of his life. “It was a big, loud pop,” he said. In one movement, Johnson had blown out his elbow and his shoulder. “Once the pop came, the pain came.”

That was September 2015. Johnson went on leave for his injury, but on workers’ compensation he earned considerably less than the roughly $1,700 he had earned every two weeks while on the job. Now, two surgeries and more than two years later, he’s still waiting for his workers’ compensation case to be resolved, and trying to make ends meet in one of the country’s most expensive metropolitan areas with just the earnings from his workers’ comp check plus Social Security disability payments from the state. He can’t work out or play sports, and when he walks around, he keeps his injured hand in his pocket because otherwise it swings around and causes him pain.

“I can’t even lift no more than 10 pounds with my left arm, and I’m left-handed,” he told BuzzFeed News. “It took a lot from me. The arm is not going to ever get back to where it was, never.” He said he doesn’t know how he’ll make a living in the five years before Social Security kicks in.

Tesla is the largest and highest-profile electric car company in the world. It’s a $57 billion business built on a message of innovation, ambition, and social good. Its cars, the Model 3, Model S, and Model X, retail for between $35,000 and $79,500, and confer on their buyers not just financial status, but also a certain eco-futurist sheen. Tesla’s founder, Elon Musk, is as famous for wanting to colonize Mars as he is for his ambitious production schedule and boundless idealism. Stenciled over the entrance to the company’s Fremont factory are these words: “Our mission: to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

But while Tesla may eventually reinvent the automobile, it hasn’t yet reinvented automobile manufacturing. Here in Fremont, at the only nonunion US-owned automotive plant in the country, the people who labored to build the future of transportation have done so by working long hours with lower-than-industry-average pay, according to workers, and higher-than-industry average risk of injury according to a prolabor nonprofit.

In the last year, amid a union drive and a string of negative allegations about its working conditions, Tesla has raised starting hourly rates by $2; today, it says, its production line workers are paid better than any other US autoworkers, and its injury rate is roughly equal to the national average.

But 15 people who worked in Tesla’s factory within the last five years describe it as a backbreaking job that placed workers under tremendous pressure to produce — a result of the company’s ambitious production targets — that they say led, in some cases, to lifelong injuries. Between 2012 and early 2017, 180 Tesla employees applied for compensation for partially or permanently disabling injuries, according to a database obtained via a public records request by BuzzFeed News from the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). In interviews, several of these injured employees described doing repetitive tasks with little opportunity to rotate positions — in violation of Tesla’s own stated policy, as well as industry norms. Most of these workers were making around $17 an hour before they were injured; several said they ended up losing their homes afterward, unable to pay their rent.

 
Read the full story and see all of the photos here.
 
Posted on February 4, 2018

 

Photo by BitBoy on Foter.com / CC BY

 

 

 

Small Businesses Don’t Have Workers’ Compensation Insurance

Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

In a new study by Insureon, less than 1 in 5 small businesses carry workers’ compensation.  Although all State regulations require that small businesses have workers’ compensation, this study indicates that workers’ compensation is the least purchased insurance by small businesses.  (In Wisconsin, employers must have workers’ compensation if they hire only one employee paying more than $500 in a quarter or hire any three employees at any one time.)  The President of Insureon Jeff Somers said in an interview with workerscompensation.com that “small businesses often fail to carry workers’ compensation because they truly do not understand their insurance need; there is a major lack of awareness and education which insurers and brokers can alleviate.  One reason for this protection gap is a misplaced anxiety around how much workers’ compensation coverage actually costs, but when you compare the small price. . . the protection workers’ compensation provides makes an investment worth it.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 3 million workplace injuries were reported by private industry employers in 2016, with nearly one-third resulting in time away from work.  The Insureon statistics showed that one in three businesses reported an incident that could have been covered by a workers’ compensation insurance policy and that one-fifth of all small businesses that filed for bankruptcy in 2016 did so because of lawsuits.  Workers’ compensation protects an employer from a lawsuit.  (In Wisconsin a worker injured by an uninsured employer has access to the Uninsured Employers Fund.  After the Fund pays workers’ compensation benefits, the Fund then pursues reimbursement from the employer.)

The Workforce Recruitment Program: Where Success Comes Full Circle

Today’s post was shared by US Dept. of Labor and comes from blog.dol.gov

ODEP staff pose with colleagues in front of a sign at a USBLN public event.
Lauren Karas (center front) poses with colleagues at the USBLN 2016 annual conference.

During my junior year at Elon University, I was searching for a summer internship in the District of Columbia, reviewing job openings, and pursuing numerous leads when I had a breakthrough. I reached an incredibly helpful job placement coordinator in the U.S. Social Security Administration, who told me about an initiative called the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP).

The job placement coordinator walked me through the virtues of the WRP, explaining that it helps place college students and recent graduates with disabilities, like me, in internships and permanent jobs in the federal and private sectors.

Here’s how it works: The WRP serves as a pipeline for employers to find qualified employees. Students are pre-screened and interviewed before being accepted into the database, which is updated annually. Employers can choose to hire students for permanent positions or summer jobs. Of course, internships enable employers to determine whether a student’s skills and abilities are a good fit before making a decision about whether to hire permanently.

Students benefit, too, since the program offers greater exposure to a wide range of employers, provides real-world work experience, and gives them a foot in the door to permanent employment.

This tip from the job placement coordinator led me to an internship in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy…

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Find Opportunities

Today’s post was shared by US Dept. of Labor and comes from www.dol.gov

If you are interested in exploring apprenticeship as the next step in your career, there are many ways to find opportunities in your area. Many businesses advertise their apprenticeship openings in local media and commercial job search sites. You can also access apprenticeships through your local American Job Center; often, American Job Centers partner with local businesses to match job-seekers with available opportunities. You can find the telephone number and location of the nearest American Job Center by typing in your ZIP code using the search tool at https://www.careeronestop.org/site/american-job-center.aspx.

You can also access listings of apprenticeship opportunities by using the Apprenticeship Finder Tool or by contacting your state apprenticeship agency.

For additional information about the program, please see our Apprenticeship Frequently Asked Questions.

Benefits for an Apprentice

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Americans’ Optimism About Job Market Hit Record High in 2017

Today’s post was shared by US Dept. of Labor and comes from news.gallup.com

  • 56% viewed job market positively in 2017, up from 42% in 2016
  • Confidence in job market buoyed by Republicans since Trump’s inauguration
  • 40% of unemployed adults seeking jobs rated job market as good

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans’ optimism about finding a quality job averaged 56% in 2017, the highest annual average in 17 years of Gallup polling and a sharp increase from 42% in 2016. Coinciding with rising optimism, the U.S. unemployment rate fell from an average 4.9% in 2016 to 4.4% in 2017, the lowest rate since 2000.

Since October 2001, Gallup has asked Americans monthly if it is a good time or a bad time to find a quality job. Historically, Americans’ perceptions of the job market have tracked closely with the monthly unemployment figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. When the unemployment rate is low, public perceptions that it is a good time to find a quality job rise. Conversely, when the unemployment rate is high, views of the job market get worse.

Prior to this year, Americans’ assessments of the job market were most positive in 2007 (43%) at the start of the Great Recession and least positive its last year, 2009 (10%). Since the job market bottomed out in 2009, Americans’ ratings of it have improved steadily, rising to the highest level yet in 2017.

Sharp Republican Reversal on Job Market in 2017

Positivity about jobs among all U.S. adults began to rise on a monthly basis in January 2017, reaching 54% in February 2017. By the end of 2017, it hit 62%…

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U.S. Department of Labor Investigations Help Retirement Plans Recover Nearly $16 Million After Losses from Fraudulent Loans

Today’s post was shared by US Dept. of Labor and comes from www.dol.gov

CHICAGO, IL – The U.S. Department of Labor has entered into a settlement agreement with U.S. Fiduciary Services and three of its subsidiaries that provides for payment of more than $7 million to 42 retirement plans that suffered losses as a result of investments in fictitious loans made by Florida-based First Farmers Financial LLC (FFF).

The agreement and anticipated future payments from a pending Receivership Estate case involving FFF are expected to compensate the retirement plans fully for approximately $16 million in losses.

FFF created the fictitious loans and forged documents stating that the loans were guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Forty-two retirement plans invested in a fund exposed to the fraudulent FFF loans through subsidiaries of U.S. Fiduciary Services.

EBSA’s Chicago and Atlanta regional offices conducted investigations of the subsidiaries – Salem Trust Company, Pennant Management Inc., and GreatBanc Trust Company – for potential violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) in connection with the plans’ investments in a fund exposed to the fictitious FFF loans.

After its investigations, the Department entered into the settlement agreement with U.S. Fiduciary Services and the three subsidiaries, resolving its claims of ERISA violations. Representatives of the ERISA-covered retirement plans that are due to receive settlement proceeds were also parties to the settlement agreement….

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Statement by U.S. Secretary of Labor Acosta on January Jobs Report

Today’s post was shared by US Dept. of Labor and comes from www.dol.gov

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta issued the following statement regarding the January 2018 Employment Situation report:

“Our strong economy continues to grow, as 200,000 new jobs were added in January 2018. Since Election Day 2016, American job creators have added 2,553,000 new jobs. The unemployment rate remains at a 17-year low of 4.1%. Job growth in construction was strong in January, with 36,000 new jobs created.

“January saw the third consecutive monthly rise in the wage growth rate, with a 2.9% 12-month increase in average hourly earnings. December 2017 wage growth rate was revised up to 2.7%; November 2017 was 2.5%. This may be the start of a welcome trend in wage gains, and marks the highest percentage increase in average hourly earnings since 2009. Average hourly earnings data excludes bonuses.

“The reaction to the President’s landmark tax reform law has been overwhelmingly positive. Job creators across the nation have announced billions of dollars in bonuses, higher wages, and new benefits for employees. Many have also announced new investments in facilities and equipment. All of this is welcome news.”

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