When a communications tower painter fell to his death, his family was given a death benefit lump sum of $250,000. This was from an alternative to worker's compensation, because in some states, the company can opted out to save money. Had it been worker's compensation program, the family would have gotten as much as $1 million dollars. That family is now struggling on food stamps and whatever they could get from Social Security.
And that's the rub. Our social safety nets are being used by employers as a dumping ground for employees who have been killed or injured from work place injuries. They can save money, while taxpayers pick up cost.
Wisconsin is now going to cut workers comp even more than its already has, which means Republicans are not done attacking labor. The Progressive:
Wisconsin has the distinction of being the birthplace of the Worker's Compensation system: The benefit for the worker is that they don't have to go to court if they are injured. Next week, Wisconsin Republicans plan to throw all that out the window.
Rep. John Spiros in the Wisconsin Assembly and Sen. Duey Stroebel in the Senate (plan): Under the new system, worker's still will not be allowed to sue their employers for workplace injuries, but will be required to prove that the workplace injury wasn't their fault to receive their full compensation-- which is still codified at the meager rate.
Wisconsin Republicans have actually figured out a way to make things worse for workers than before Worker's Compensation came along-- because at least in the bad old days of the Gilded Age, a worker might get justice in court.
Allow the employer to choose the treating doctor for workers who don’t have group-health insurance coverage. This means they can send you to an unskilled “company doctor” for low quality treatment and a certain denial of your claim.
Allow the employer to avoid paying lost wages for a legitimate, conceded, claim by firing the employee while they are recovering. Require an employee to tell an employer, when they are hired, about any medical conditions they may have, or risk being denied benefits later on for any work injuries.
Democratic politicians in D.C. want to put a stop to the cost shift, and save Social Security and Medicaid money the worker's compensation system should be paying out:
Ten ranking Democrats on key Senate and House committees are urging the Labor Department to respond to a "pattern of detrimental changes in state workers' compensation laws" that have reduced protections and benefits for injured workers over the past decade. The lawmakers cited an investigation by NPR and ProPublica, which found that 33 states have cut workers' comp benefits, made it more difficult to qualify for benefits or given employers more control over medical care decisions. Democrats says the benefits cutbacks make federal action necessary, even though workers' comp is legislated and managed by states.
The lawmakers wrote. "The race to the bottom now appears to be nearly bottomless. ..."
"These workers … end up getting benefits under Social Security Disability or Medicaid [and] food stamps because they're not working," said Rep. Bobby Scott. "And so there is a strong federal interest in making sure that the workers' comp programs pay appropriate benefits."
Employers are draining Social Security:
The federal trust fund that pays for Social Security disability benefits is expected to end up short of funds next year, and cost-shifting from workers' comp is partially blamed.Some businesses are banking on it, like Ashley Furniture's CEO:
The Center for Economic and Policy Research is releasing a study Wednesday that estimates that more than 20 percent of the increase in federal disability cases is due to cuts in workers' comp programs.
Federal intervention may also come as the result of the "opt out" movement in Texas and Oklahoma ... South Carolina and Tennessee are considering opt-out laws now.
Rep John Kline (R-MN), said, "shouldn't be designed to deny workers basic protections or shift costs to taxpayers." But Kline also defended "reform" ... The opt-out system saves employers 40 to 90 percent in claims costs. The opt-out alternative to workers' comp "harkens so unabashedly back to before the Industrial Revolution in terms of attitudes of employers."
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, announced a new set of fines for Ashley Furniture for unsafe working conditions. The Wisconsin-based company has already received almost $2 million in penalties this year and OSHA has now issued $431,000 in new penalties. In a press release, Ashley Furniture officials said they "strongly disagrees with and will vigorously challenge the proposed citations."
Ashley CEO Ron Wanek grabbed a flyer decrying federal regulations, including environmental, workplace and health care rules, saying, “This is what’s going to kill industry in the United States.”