A seat at the table for an injured worker?!

The “special” overtime legislation session is scheduled to end a week from today on May 23. As speculation mounts whether that’s enough time to pass the operating budget and other bills necessary to implement it, the Senate continues to hold the operating budget hostage to imposing House-opposed cuts in the workers’ compensation system and the capital budget hostage to lowering the state’s debt limit.

In other words, the Senate’s hardball tactics on legislation not related to the budget are increasingly likely to force a second overtime session.

Meanwhile, negotiators on the workers’ compensation issue recently got a gentle reminder of the real-life consequences of legalizing lump-sum buyouts for less that what injured workers would otherwise receive. Gov. Chris Gregoire recently called a stakeholders meeting that included two folks from Boeing, two from the Association of Washington Business, two from the trial lawyers, and two from the Washington State Labor Council to be briefed on her latest ideas.

As public radio reporter Austin Jenkins blogged on Friday, one of the WSLC representatives sitting in for WSLC President Jeff Johnson turned out to be an “unexpected guest:” Steve Marquardt, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a 1987 logging accident.

“The problem with voluntary settlements is somebody who has had a catastrophic injury doesn’t know the road ahead,” says Marquardt. “They are in no position to negotiate the terms under which they’re going to live the rest of their life.” In an open letter to lawmakers Marquardt writes: “If my employer or his attorney had pressed me to settle for a lump sum, I would very likely have taken it.”

Marquardt’s participation was a gentle reminder that the decision legislators could soon make in the haste of concluding the first (or second?) special session will have a dramatic effect on real people’s lives, and is not simply a program that needs to be cut so employers can pay less for it.

Jenkins, however, seemed more interested in the question of whether protocol had been broken in inviting a wheelchair-bound injured worker to the governor’s meeting.

Was it appropriate for the Labor Council to send an injured worker in place of its president?

The WSLC makes the case that not only was it appropriate given Marquardt’s experience doing policy work for the Laborers union, it was downright necessary in the context of the direction the debate has turned in Olympia. Says WSLC Communications Director Kathy Cummings: “Everybody in that room needed to hear (from) someone … who has been through a huge injury that totally changed his life and was helped immensely by the system as it stands now.”

Watch Marquardt tell his own story here, and then ask yourself, “Is this momentous decision on workers’ compensation one that should be made in haste at the end of special extended session, as the entire state budget is held hostage?


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