Tag Archives: WILG

Alternatives to Workers’ Comp: Paranoia or Possibility

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

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.

Examining the Reality of Workers’ Memorial Day

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm and Emily Wray Stander, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

We write this blog post to bring attention to an article that was a big dose of perspective about all the recent Workers’ Memorial Day celebrations. The official day is April 28 for Workers’ Memorial Day, and many groups spend a lot of effort in organizing events, discussing safety, and holding memorials. Unfortunately, as the article points out, those efforts don’t always translate into safer workplaces and fewer fatalities.

What Karen C. Yotis and Robin E. Kobayashi did was talk to “a few thought leaders in the workplace safety arena” to get the reality of the situation by asking the question: “Has worker safety improved at all during the past year?” The experts they spoke with included “Tammy Miser, Founder/Executive Director of United Support & Memorial For Workplace Fatalities; Kim Bobo, Executive Director for Interfaith Worker Justice; Charles R. ‘Chuck’ Davoli, 2014 President of Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group and a Louisiana Workers Advocate; and Rebecca Shafer, attorney, author, and a workers’ compensation/risk management maven who has spent her professional life advocating for safe workplaces.”

There is often a disconnect between thought and reflection and then taking action to change a situation. The blog post treads into the waters of holding people and businesses accountable and also taking action that leads to long-term change in the form of safer work environments.

Attorneys Rod and Jon Rehm are members of WILG’s Board of Directors, which is currently led by Mr. Davoli, and the other attorneys at Rehm, Bennett & Moore are all members of WILG because of the group’s efforts towards both accountability for businesses and safety for workers.

While we urge you to read the entire blog post that’s linked to in the first paragraph, here are a couple of thought-provoking highlights.

First, it is striking that a “cost containment expert” like Ms. Shafer describes how businesses must focus on safety. Although it’s at the end of the linked article, Ms. Shafer’s commentary is excellent – the article says that she “speaks out so passionately on the employer’s obligation to keep an unrelenting focus on safety.” Here’s a partial quote that she gave to the article: “ … the bottom line is that each employer needs to make safety the #1 priority. … Until worker safety is TOP priority, a company will continue to have very little success in achieving a balanced workers’ compensation insurance program.” She writes about making safety a higher priority than profitability, but realistically, companies would be much more profitable if they were also much safer.

Finally, Mr. Davoli shared a list of “nine safety elements” for “the construction and building trades” that a Workplace Safety Task Force created in Louisiana with WILG’s help.

Here’s that excellent list:

“1. A designated safety budget as part of the normal operating budget.

 2. A formal safety committee that meets on a regular schedule.

 3. An employer that pays employees for the hours they spend attending voluntary off-duty safety training sessions.

 4. A formal personal protective equipment training program.

 5. Written and formal safety goals that are updated periodically.

 6. Safety training for subcontractors.

 7. Detailed safety reports to employees on a regular basis.

 8. Regularly scheduled safety training programs for existing employees.

 9. A disciplinary procedure for employees who commit unsafe acts.”

The reflection portion of Workers’ Memorial Day must turn to action. The reality is that until businesses buy into and change their work culture to be safe, there will always be a need to remember those who were killed at work.

Thanks to Ms. Yotis and Ms. Kobayashi for writing such an excellent piece.