Uber: A Tale of Two Cities

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

While London’s ban of ride-hailing service, Uber, seems poised to continue for the forseeable future, Lincoln, Nebraska may soon lessen formal regulation for Uber drivers.

The Lincoln City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance on October 16th that would formally eliminate a requirement that Uber and Lyft drivers pass a physical, background check and test about Lincoln that taxi cab drivers currently have to pass in order to drive a taxi in Lincoln.

According to city officials, this requirement is not currently being enforced. The ordinance has the public support of Mayor Chris Beutler and at-large City Councilwoman Leiron Gaylor-Baird. Supporters of the ordinance cite a decrease in drunken driving from ride hailing as well as a decrease in traffic and increase in downtown parking.

Taxi cab companies state the ordinance lets unqualified drivers on the street and presents unfair competition to traditional taxi cab companies. What hasn’t been eluded to in the debate over ride hailing litigation in Lincoln, but has played more prominently in the London debate, is the fact that ride-hailing companies treat their drivers as contractors which excuses them from paying basic employee benefits like unemployment and workers compensation insurance. This allows services like Uber to undercut traditional taxis on price.

The City of Lincoln doesn’t have a workers’ compensation ordinance. But allowing Uber competitive advantages over taxi cab companies indirectly impacts workers compensation because if Uber takes market share away from traditional taxi cabs fewer drivers will be covered under workers compensation.

Lincoln does a have a human rights ordinance that covers more employees than either state or federal anti-discrimination laws. By allowing Uber a competitive advantage over traditional taxi cab companies, Lincoln is potentially excluding workers from coverage of that ordinance since Uber denies it is an employer. Traditional taxi cab companies are subject to Lincoln’s human rights ordinance.

Many business observers have argued that Uber’s biggest innovation is “regulatory arbitrage.” Regulatory arbitrage is a fancy word for lobbying. Uber hired former Obama advisor David Plouffe. In the United Kingdom, Uber’s chief lobbyist is the godfather to one of the children for former Prime Minister David Cameron. It’s safe to state that a lot of Uber’s supposed innovation stems from old-fashioned lobbying.

Other cities, most prominently Austin, Texas, have attempted to regulate Uber by imposing the same requirements on ride hailing drivers that they do on taxi drivers. Uber was able to successfully lobby the Texas Legislature to pass a state law that preempted municipal regulation of ride-hailing services.

Though the tech sector is regarded by some as an advocate for LGBT rights, Uber was willing to accept an amendment to the Texas preemption legislation that promoted discrimination against transgender individuals.

Wisconsin Workplace Deaths on the Rise

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

There is a bad trend in Wisconsin: Deaths on the job are on the rise.

Specifically, OSHA (on December 18, 2017) issued a release that there were five Wisconsin worker deaths in the last 22 days!:

  • (Madison):  On November 27, 2017, a 26 year old employee was abrasive blasting and cut his inner thigh (femoral artery) with the abrasive blasting nozzle.  Reference OSHA’s Abrasive Blasting web page for safety and health related information regarding abrasive blasting operations.
  • (Eau Claire):  On December 1, 2017, a 60 year old employee working on a logging site was struck by a backing forwarder (skidder) machine.  Reference OSHA’s Logging web page for safety and health related information regarding logging operations.
  • (Milwaukee Area Office):  On December 5, 2017, a 32 year old employee was struck in the head when an approx. 50 lb. part being worked on flew out of a CNC machine. 
  • On December 5, 2017, a 59 year old employee was struck in the abdomen by a piece of wood that had kicked back from a table saw.  Reference OSHA’s Woodworking web page for safety and health related information regarding woodworking operations.
  • (Milwaukee Area Office):  On December 9th, 2017, a 36 year old employee was struck-by a materials van and pinned between the van and loading dock the van was being backed up to. Employers are encouraged to review dock areas to identify hazards and take necessary corrective actions.  Reference OSHA’s e-Tool on Powered Industrial Trucks (Forklift) for information on dock safety.

These recent workplace deaths are in the same year as the devastating plant explosion in Cambria, Wisconsin, on May 31, 2017, resulting in the death of 5 workers and injuring many more.  OSHA proposed a $1.8 million fine related to this fatal explosion.

Sadly, these workplace deaths are on the rise in our country as a whole.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its latest report on fatalities in the workplace, with data through 2016.  Unfortunately, the number of fatalites is the highest ever since 2008.  An informational chart can be found here.

While employers indicate there are ever-increasing safety measures at workplaces, accidents–even catastrophic ones–still happen.  And they are happening with more frequency.

Under Wisconsin worker’s compensation law, there are no pain and suffering damages for those family members left behind by the deceased worker.  A dependent (generally a surviving spouse or children under the age of 18) can bring a claim for death benefits–which are four times the worker’s annual earnings.  This amount can be (and can feel) woefully inadequate following a worker’s death.

U.S. DOL and TX Pottery Manufacturer Reach Settlement Following Worker Fatality

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

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Marshall Pottery, Inc., have reached a settlement agreement including a penalty of $545,160, after the death of an assistant plant manager.

On April 16, 2017, investigators determined that the manager was servicing a kiln and became trapped inside when it activated. The company was cited for six willful violations and 21 serious violations. Citations were issued following OSHA’s investigation into failures to implement confined space and lockout/tagout programs.

“This company was cited for similar violations in 2008 after another fatality at the plant,” said OSHA Area Director Basil Singh, in Dallas. “Failures to implement lockout/tagout and confined space programs are unacceptable. Employers must use all required safeguards and procedures to prevent the recurrence of similar tragedies.”

The company had 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Upon receipt of the citations and penalties, the company scheduled an informal conference with the OSHA area director.  At the meeting, OSHA and the company reached a settlement. As part of the settlement, the company also agreed to abate the violations. 

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

OSHA News Release: 11/28/2017
Contact Names: 

Chauntra Rideaux

Phone Number: 
Contact Name: 

Juan Rodriguez

Phone Number: 
Release Number: 
17-1383-DAL

Workers Compensation for the Work Camper

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

The Washington Post ran a feature story about “Work Campers” – senior citizens who live in campers and travel around for temporary jobs. The story noted that many, if not most, work campers were forced into the lifestyle by inadequate retirement savings and Social Security retirement benefits that have lost 30 percent of their purchasing power since 2000. The story also noted that the number of senior citizens working has increased from 4 million to 9 million during that same time period.

The idea of a growing number of senior citizens essentially acting as migrant laborers strikes many as odd and even dystopian. But work campers will present interesting challenges to the workers compensation system.  Though some studies show that older workers are less likely to get hurt on the job, this finding is attributed to older workers having more experience on the job. Since work campers tend to hop from temporary job to temporary job, their chances of injury could increase as temporary workers are more likely to get hurt.

This growing development in the workforce raises many issues for work campers who are hurt on the job because workers compensation laws are state specific so benefits and eligibility for benefits vary from state to state.

Here are some questions that will face work campers when they are injured on the job.

Which states and jurisdictions can you collect benefits?

Employees may be eligible to claim benefits in the state where they are injured, their state of permanent residence, the state their employer is based or the state they were hired. Employees may also be able to claim benefits in multiple states. Employees may also be able to bring claims under the Jones Act or Longshore Act if they were hurt on a ship or a navigable body of water. It helps to get advice from a qualified workers’ compensation lawyer as the decision as to where an employee should claim benefits should be driven by where they have the best chances of recovery.

Which states limit permanent benefits for older workers?

Iowa recently limited workers over the age of 67 from receiving permanent disability benefits for more than 150 weeks. A work camper who was covered under Iowa law and seriously injured could only receive 2 ½ years of benefits.

What is the law on pre-existing conditions?

Many elderly workers have preexisting conditions. In some states those preexisting conditions may impair the ability of an injured work camper to collect benefits. In Missouri employees need to show an injury is a “prevailing factor” in the disability whereas in Nebraska employees merely show the work injury was a “contributing factor” to the disability. In other words, it would be more difficult for a work camper to collect benefits in Missouri for the aggravation of an old injury than it would be in Nebraska.

How do you determine earnings?

Disability benefits are based on earnings or what is called average weekly wage.  The work campers profiled in the Washington Post were fairly low wage employees. However some work camping contracts include provisions for benefits like lodging that have a real monetary value. In some states, like Nebraska, those non-cash benefits can be included in the average weekly wage. Short term work assignments also present difficulties in determining average weekly wage because they might not accurately reflect an employee’s actual earning capacity. There could also be questions as to whether employment is seasonal or weather dependent which could also alter the average weekly wage.

Again, calculations of earnings can vary state by state, so work campers injured on the job should contact a member of WILG who specialize in workers compensation and regularly communicate with workers compensation specialists in other states.

Investigative Report Highlights Difficulties for Injured Workers in Wisconsin

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

A Wisconsin investigative article just hit the news, showing the major issues faced with litigating work injury claims in the state. (Injured Wisconsin Workers Face Higher Hurdles When Seeking Compensation).  The story highlights the unfortunate litigation process of one of Domer Law’s clients.  I’d urge readers to review the article for the full details of that process.

Signigicantly, the story goes further in-depth into the appeals process of a Wisconsin litigated case.  Following a hearing in front of an adminsitrative law judge, the losing party may appeal to the Labor and Industry Review Commission, or “LIRC.”  This body consists of three political appointees, who essentially are the final decision-makers on worker’s compensation claims.  The article highlights the alleged employer-friendly drift to decisions in recent years.

These articles are so important in revealing the human toll exerted by work injuries.  While there are no pain and suffering damages under worker’s compensation law, that fact does not diminish the real physical, economic, and emotional toll felt by the injured worker and their family.  That real world impact pushes us to keep fighting for the rights of workers each and every day. 

News Tribune: El Gaucho Restaurant Agrees to pay $1.5 million to Settle Lawsuit

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

 

El Gaucho has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle claims it improperly withheld wages and tips from employees working at some of its high-end restaurants, including the Tacoma location.

The proposed settlement is in response to a 2016 lawsuit originally brought against the company by a former server at the Tacoma restaurant, who alleged managers withheld tips and required off-the-clock work, among other labor-law violations.

About 400 current and former employees at the Tacoma, Bellevue and Seattle restaurants are affected and will be notified, according to the settlement, which was preliminarily approved by Pierce County Superior Court Judge G. Helen Whitener Nov. 17. Whitener will decide whether to finalize the settlement at a hearing April 20.

Chad Mackay, CEO of El Gaucho’s operating company, said in a statement Tuesday: “Our company consistently strives to be a great place for our employees to build their careers and we provide excellent compensation, benefits, training and work environment. Our decisions are always based on what is right for our team, our guests and our company. Therefore, we chose to settle this lawsuit rather than continue to spend company resources on legal fees.”

The former Tacoma server, Matthew Blasco, alleged El Gaucho gave employees cards with restaurant credit in lieu of payment for off-the-clock work, such as prep work or cleaning, and that servers were sometimes required to work without being clocked in.

His lawsuit also accused the company of giving management a percentage of the tips, and denying or not paying workers for breaks that are required by state law.

Read the rest of The News Tribune story here…

Photo by sniggie on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

 
 
 
Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article186987933.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article186987933.html#storylink=cpy

Dangerous Toys Remain Serious Concern, CPSC Under Attack

Dangerous toys remain serious concern, especially with CPSC under attack. New York personal injury attorney Matt Funk explains.

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

Dangerous toys remain a serious problem, even though the Consumer Product Safety Commission has focused on banning unsafe toys since the CPSC was created 45 years ago, thanks to repeated warnings by attorneys focused on consumer safety.

But the CPSC and its power to recall dangerous toys are now under attack, according to New York attorney Matt Funk, president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and a partner at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP.

Last year, 240,000 people were hurt by dangerous toys, according to CPSC statistics. The CPSC also issued 28 voluntary recalls for dangerous toys, according to the CPSC.  But since the recalls are voluntary, many dangerous toys remain in households throughout the country.

That’s why attorneys play such a vital role in removing dangerous toys from the marketplace. Examples of dangerous toys that attorneys have pressured the CPSC to recall include:

“With the prospect of the federal government reducing its already inadequate consumer protection activities, the task of defending the public will once again fall on consumers. And their lawyers,” Funk wrote in the New York Law Journal.

The power of the CPSC is under attack in two major ways. First, President Trump has proposed cutting the CPSC’s budget by 17 percent, according to The New York Times. Second, Trump has nominated attorney Dana Baiocco to run the CPSC, according to the New York Daily News. Baiocco has reportedly “represented companies accused of selling dangerous and defective products—including toy manufacturer Mattel when it was facing lawsuits because of lead in its products… Can consumers be sure that she will be looking out for them the next time a company is accused of selling a dangerous product,” Funk wrote.

“As lawyers, we have a special opportunity to make sure the toys and other products on the store shelves are safe,” Funk added. 

Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton and Romano LLP

 

Study: Work Injuries Could Increase Risk of Losing Job

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

“Compared to colleagues reporting no injuries, workers who were hurt were more than twice as likely to be fired in the next six months. … After one year, 30 percent of workers had been injured at work and about a quarter were no longer employed at that job after 18 months.”

Can you guess specifics about the quote above, or at least start with figuring out which industry the quote is talking about?

The answer may surprise you (or maybe not, if you or a loved one have worked in this industry): it’s results that “used data from a study done by the Work, Family and Health Network involving direct care workers from 30 nursing homes across New England,” according to the study’s lead author. Cassandra Okechukwu, the lead author, offered that the study’s “original goal was to examine workplace policies meant to improve workers’ health, safety, and wellbeing.”

I am glad that Okechukwu and her team followed the data where it led, even though that wasn’t the original intent of the study. I am also glad that Madeline Kennedy wrote about the study’s results at this link via Reuters Health.

“The results also indicate that federal and state-level regulations, which are supposed to protect workers from being fired after injuries and to give workers compensation and sufficient time to recover from an injury, may not always be followed,” Kennedy wrote.

The study included 1,331 nursing home workers who completed interviews at six-month intervals and reported injuries and job changes for the previous six months in each interview, according to Kennedy. “Nine in 10 of the participants were women, and more than two thirds were certified nursing assistants.”

“Workers who had been injured multiple times were also twice as likely to quit their jobs in the next six months as colleagues with no injuries, the study found. … Compared with people who were not injured, injured workers were 30 percent more likely to no longer be in their jobs within six months of the injury, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.

“People who were injured more than once were more likely to choose to leave their jobs than people with no injuries, while people injured only once were more likely to be fired.”

Why workers are being fired is a question that needs to be examined in another study, according to Okechukwu. I would add that additional research always needs to be done, and I hope someone addresses this issue, as I think it is very important to know about for injured workers and those of us who work with and care for them.

Another researcher Kennedy quoted in the Reuters article who wasn’t involved in the study was Peter Smith, from the Institute for Work and Health at the University of Toronto.

Smith suggested that “workers may be fired because their employers feel they can no longer perform the job duties, or due to worries that they will be injured again,” or that workers elect to leave their jobs because they’re scared of being hurt.

“‘Work is not supposed to lead to injury,’ Smith said, and employers should give workers resources to protect their health and earnings. ‘Measures must be put in place to ensure that employers do not fire or discipline workers because they have had a work-related injury,’ he said.” 

If you or a loved one have questions about a work-related injury or suspect you’ve been fired because of an injury at work, please speak with an experienced lawyer.