In the waning hours of the special overtime legislative session, Gov. Chris Gregoire and legislative leaders have reached an agreement to cut workers’ compensation benefits by more than $800 million in the next four years, on top of the $330 million in system savings agreed to by both business and labor interests. The plan includes legalizing “settlements” for older workers where employers can negotiate buyouts of less than what injured workers would otherwise receive. That element alone will cost injured workers nearly $550 million and is considered a first step to privatization of the system, which Washington voters overwhelmingly rejected last fall.
Gov. Gregoire and legislative leaders call it “the largest reform in the workers’ compensation system’s 100-year history.” But it has no bill number yet because IT ISN’T PUBLICLY AVAILABLE. Nonetheless, they plan to vote on it in the House and Senate later today and tomorrow — without a public hearing.
TAKE ACTION: Legislators have received thousands of emails from union members and advocates for injured workers urging against legalizing any form of lump-sum buyouts for injured workers. Apparently, legislative leaders believe lowering business taxes are a bigger priority. Please CLICK HERE to contact your Representatives and Senators and tell them: “Vote NO on the Governor’s workers’ comp reform! It is shameful — government at its worst — to ram through the biggest changes in the system’s 100-year history, including hundreds of millions of dollars in benefit cuts, without so much as a public hearing.”
The unions that comprise the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, are unequivocally opposed to legalizing workers’ compensation settlements — in any form — in place of the guaranteed benefits necessary to provide a real safety net for people injured on the job.
Having reviewed Gov. Chris Gregoire’s latest workers’ compensation proposal for what she calls “settlement hybrids” that spread out lump-sum buyout payments that are significantly less than what injured workers would otherwise receive, organized labor stands united in opposition. The WSLC and all of its affiliated local unions and councils, including the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, strongly oppose these settlements because they undermine the security our system has provided for more than 100 years.
“The bottom line is, workers who are injured on the job should not have to ‘settle’ for something less than the ‘sure and certain relief’ they are guaranteed by law,” said Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council. “The instability in the workers’ comp system has been caused primarily by the recession – a recession that has disproportionately harmed working-class people. And now, just as the economy is showing signs of rebounding, the recession is once again being used by powerful business interests as an opportunity to change the entire nature of our workers’ compensation system.”