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Attend L&I’s workers’ compensation rate hearings Oct. 25-28

In September, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) announced a proposed average rate increase of 2.5% to workers’ compensation premiums in 2012. Each year, L&I must review premium rates and make adjustments to cover the anticipated costs of claims that will be filed in the next year. The proposed rate increase is an average for all employers in the state. Individual employers will see their rates go up or down, depending on their recent claims history and any changes in the frequency and cost of industry claims.

The rate increase is significantly lower than what state officials predicted earlier this year. That was before the Legislature passed a major benefit cut for injured workers to keep business costs down. The corporate lobbying groups and other advocates for the benefit cut pointed to low L&I reserves as a reason to legalize compromise-and-release lump-sum buyouts of injured workers.

Now, L&I has scheduled a series of public hearings on its 2012 rate proposal, and business groups are expected to turn out to complain about any rate increase at all. In other words, after fretting that reserves were too low last legislative session, they will say avoiding premium increases — however small — is more important than that. Then, a few months from now, they’ll be back in Olympia once again fretting about low reserves and calling for even more benefit cuts.

That’s why union members and other advocates for injured workers need to attend these rate hearings and urge the state to maintain responsible reserves. Here is the schedule for the hearings:

Vancouver, Oct. 25, 9 a.m., Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay
Bellingham, Oct. 26, 1 p.m., Bellingham Public Library
Renton, Oct. 26, 1:30 p.m., Renton Pavilion, 233 Burnett Ave. S.
Richland, Oct. 27, 1 p.m., Red Lion Hotel Richland Hanford House
Spokane Valley, Oct. 28, 10 a.m., Spokane CenterPlace Event Center
Tumwater, Oct. 28, 10 a.m., L&I Headquarters

Tell L&I that the responsible action is to adopt a rate increase that will help us rebuild the system’s contingency reserve a safe level as soon as possible. Injured workers didn’t cause the current fund situation, the recession and subsequent long-term unemployment combined with plummeting investment markets pushed the reserve fund to low levels. Last session, state lawmakers reacted inappropriately by penalizing workers and cutting their safety net for when they are injured on the job. Given continued economic volatility and uncertainty around the effects of the 2011 benefit cuts, now is the time to act responsibly by raising rates to build back up the contingency reserve.

More information regarding the rate proposal is available at here. The final rates will be adopted in early December and go into effect Jan. 1, 2012.

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