OLYMPIA (Jan. 24, 2013) — On Wednesday, the labor committee in the Republican-controlled State Senate held hearings on several bills to cut workers’ compensation benefits and to hand more authority over injured workers to businesses.
Although hundreds of workers showed up to oppose the measures — on short notice in just the second week of the 2013 legislative session — there is every reason to believe that the Senate’s new conservative majority intends to move quickly to advance these bills that undermine the safety net for injured workers.
1) Please sign an online petition urging your State Senator to OPPOSE these bills.
2) Download and print the petition so your co-workers, friends and family can sign it, too.
3) Download and distribute a flier (at right) urging people to call the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 and leave a message urging your State Senator and Representatives to OPPOSE Senate Bills 5112, 5124, 5126, 5127 and 5128. Tell them: “Protect the safety net for injured workers! Don’t mess with benefits or make other “reforms” until the 2011 changes take full effect and we can see how they work.”
BACKGROUND — Our workers’ compensation system is a critical safety net for workers. Nobody expects to be injured at work. But if it happens in Washington state, we expect to get the care we need to recover, and the protections our families need if we have to miss work. It’s OUR system because workers pay into the system, too!
But rather than focus on making workplaces safer and reducing injuries, some want to shred this critical safety net. In 2010, voters said “no” when they tried to privatize it. In 2011, legislation was approved that cut system costs by $1.5 billion, some $300 million more than originally anticipated. The savings have enabled the state to keep workers’ compensation rates for employers and workers frozen for two straight years.
But now in 2013, before those changes have been fully implemented, the Republican-controlled Senate is pushing to slash benefits. Here is a quick summary of the bills undermining our safety net for injured workers:
SB 5112 gives certain employers more authority over injured workers’ claims, such as choosing their doctors and scheduling their exams. These employers get rebates, so they have a big financial incentive to rush injured workers back to work and close their claims before they are fully healed.
SB 5124 cuts benefits by excluding the value of health benefits, imposing a cap at the state’s average wage, and ignoring the fact that injured workers with dependents have higher costs. Bottom line: it cuts benefits.
SB 5126 allows the state to “recover” legal damages — economic (lost wages) and non-economic (pain/suffering) — awarded to injured workers when a third party is responsible for the injury. Current law only allows recovery of economic damages.
SB 5127 removes all age restrictions on settlement buyouts of injured workers’ claims. These buyouts, now allowed only for workers 55 and older, would be expanded to all.
SB 5128 expands settlement buyouts and allows buyouts of future medical costs. This only saves money if workers settle for less than they would otherwise receive in benefits.