Wednesday, July 4, 2007, 10:33 PM - Political developmentsThe Fourth of July. From the East Bay hills I've just finished watching spectacular displays at San Francisco's distant Crissy Field and the closer booms over the Berkeley marina.
Who creates fireworks in the comp system? Is there a group that is creating excitement for change? That was the hope of organizers of Voters Injured at Work (VIAW). In Oklahoma and some other states such groups have been a powerful voice for disabled workers.
Excitement does matter in the political process. In the run up to the 2004 reforms, hordes of small employers deluged the Sacramento capitol building and district legislative offices, complaining of a workers' comp crisis and demanding change.
It hasn't been easy for VIAW to get off the ground in California. VIAW has been ably served by its President Mark Hayes, its former executive director Peggy Sugarman, and by a host of other committed injured workers.
But many injured workers are dispirited by their experience in the comp system. And too few of those workers are accustomed to becoming political activists. I can't tell you how often I have seen eyes glaze over as I tried to explain the politics of comp to an injured worker.
So VIAW has limped along. Surviving, but underfunded and under subscribed. They've never reached the point where they can produce bus loads of injured workers to demonstrate against a bill.
But they are to be commended for hanging in there. At a recent DWC meeting on the recently unveiled DWC wage loss study, 3 VIAW members shared heart wrenching stories about the impact their injuries have had on themselves and their families. After all, workers comp was designed to help real people with real injuries. It's not just about charts, graphs and studies.
And VIAW is working to promote passage of several bills, including a bill that would clarify when a disabled worker can receive and start using a job retraining voucher (AB 1636).
Why don't more California injured workers get involved? It's a mystery to me.
I like many things about the VIAW website. You can check it out by clicking here:
And while you're at it, check out the site of Californians Injured at Work.
The site can be found here:
CIAW is project of an injured worker group which includes Sam Gold, himself an injured worker. Sam also does another site, Injuredonthejobtv. using community access tv studios in San Francisco and Sacramento, Sam has created an impressive archive of streaming video tv shows on workers comp issues. If your internet bandwidth connection is fast enough, you may enjoy checking out those shows. You can find that site by clicking here:
At least some injured workers are fighting back. Ka-boom.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007, 06:24 AM - Political developmentsIt's hard to fathom. But under current California law, you could be fired for taking a day off to attend the funeral of a family member, spouse or domestic partner.
Why? California employees currently have no right to bereavement leave under state or federal law. The Federal Family Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act do provide employees with protected leave in order to care for an ailing family member. But under those laws, the protected leave ends upon the death of the family member. Thus, under current law, an employer may legally discharge an employee for requesting or taking any leave of absence to prepare for or attend the funeral of a family member.
A worthy bill in the legislature, SB 549, would change that. SB 549, sponsored by State Senator Ellen Corbett, would allow employees the right to up to 4 days of bereavement leave. This leave would be unpaid (unless the employee used otherwise accrued vacation time, sick leave, and so forth).
SB 549 includes some protections for employers. The right to bereavement leave would not accrue until an employee has been employed for at least 60 days. Moreover, the bill allows employers to demand written verification of the relative's death so as to prevent any abuses of this leave.
We live in a time when it is trendy for politicians to claim that they are "pro-family values." This has been particularly true among conservative Republicans whose base includes a churchgoing, family-oriented constituency.
Why, then, did we see negative votes against SB 549 among many of the Republicans on legislative committees considering the bill? Are those legislators as "pro-family" as they claim? And is the California Chamber of Commerce really willing to stand up and say that business should be free to fire a worker whose loved one has just passed away? How would that position play in a family-values voter constituency?
The California Employment Lawyers Association is to be commended for their hard work on this bill. It should be a no brainer for politicians on both sides of the aisle. Let's hope the Governor realizes that this is a good pro-family bill and good policy.
Sunday, June 24, 2007, 01:11 AM - Political developmentsNormally, Workerscompzone would be at the California Applicants' Attorneys Association meetings, happening this weekend in San Francisco. I'll cover the conference gossip another time.
But this year, I had the opportunity to go to Italy. Greetings from Rome.
As I was visiting the Coliseum and the majestic ruined forums of the various emperors yesterday... the Caesars, Trajan, Hadrian, Constantine... I couldn't help but think about the workers who built this place. My firm, Boxer & Gerson, represents a lot of operating engineers and building trades workers. Construction is not easy work, and often times is very dangerous. But these Roman workers-or the slaves they ensnared to do their dirty work-must have really been put to the test. Moving tons of marble. Masonry projects that would blow your mind. Obelisks and columns that must have required unbelievable scaffolding.
I haven't made a search, but undoubtedly there are some scholarly studies somewhere of the rights of Roman workers. Did they have a wage replacement system if they were hurt... and what sort of medical treatment were they able to access...
And what about the rights of the craftsmen who built the grand Renaissance palaces and the Romanesque, Baroque and Roccoco churches that dot the landscape here?
You can sit in a Roman cafe for hours here-the espresso leaves Starbucks in the dust-and, like some existentialist philosopher, ponder the situation of humankind. Millions of people in our world work in sweatshops, with basically no rights. If they are injured, they are expendable.
The Italian economy itself is under pressure, lagging behind other European countries. The tradition of small family-owned factories and high-quality artisan manufacturing is under siege. China and other Southeast Asian countries can produce many of these items cheaper. An Armani design or a picture of the latest Prada purse can be e-mailed to China's Guandong province and knockoff production arranged within weeks, if not days.
The Euro is high and the dollar is very weak. America's dollars buy almost half of what they bought here in 2002. But-high Euro or not-Italy's workers are struggling since living costs are very high here.
But it's a world economy. By comparison with those Asian workers who are causing fear in the old industrial economies, California workers are better off. But California workers have lost a significant amount of their rights. In 2004, California businesses and large multinational insurers, such as AIG and Aon, teamed up. Most workers lost the right to select their own doctor. And the benefits they receive for disabilities have been drastically reduced. Tort reformers want to weaken the cadre of attorneys who fight for workers and consumers.
That's a story Workerscompzone will continue to follow.
Friday, June 22, 2007, 08:23 AM - Political developmentsSummer is upon us. Kids out of school. Barbecues. Enough daylight for all of those outdoor activities we love.
In Sacramento, the legislative year begins to take shape. Lots of maneuvering behind the scenes by different interest groups over various proposals for healthcare reforms. And, despite the threat of a veto by the Governor, some comp reform bills continue to move forward.
These are the comp bills I have been watching......
This bill, sponsored by Senate Pro Tem Don Perata, would raise permanent disability benefits over a 3-year period by increasing the number of weeks of payments. Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar measure last year. This bill is currently on the Assembly side, awaiting hearings in the Assembly Insurance committee.
Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, this bill would order the California Division of Workers' Compensation to revise the current rating schedule to increase ratings based on studies, including ones by the California Commission on Health, Safety and Workers' Compensation. This bill is currently scheduled for hearings in the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on June 27.
Carried by Pedro Nava of Santa Barbara, this bill would make an exception to the 24-visit cap on physical medicine services where the worker has had surgery. Hearings are scheduled in the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on June 27.
Authored by Tony Mendoza of Artesia, this bill would require insurers to pay supplemental job displacement vouchers to injured workers who are unable to return to work based on their estimated disability, even if they have not yet been declared permanent and stationary. It is in the Senate Labor and IR committee, but hearings are not yet scheduled.
Most of these bills are on the California Chamber of Commerce hit list, the so called job-killer bill list.
The best hope for some of these bills is that the Governor softens his opposition in a trade-off for action on some other issue he cares about.
In an upcoming post, I will be commenting on several other worthy bills that expand the rights of working people, including a bill to protect bereavement time.
Monday, June 18, 2007, 10:25 PM - Political developmentsThe 1950s really are over. Last week brought the news that Mr. Wizard has died. And the distributor of the Veg-O-Matic has gone into bankruptcy. Boomers are starting to join the AARP in droves.
According to yesterday's New York Times, middle-aged folks are now freaking out their kids by playing nostalgia rock in the family garage. That's enough to drive any teen over the edge.
Gen X and Gen Y are busy doing social networking or whatever else it is they do.
The generations roll on. Polls have shown that the electorate is in a foul mood on many issues. But a recent study showed that the California populace has an amazing ignorance of state government. Check out Steve Wiegand's piece in the Sacramento Bee titled "C'mon, we can't be all that dumb":
One thing is for sure. Whether they loved Howdy Doody and Mr. Wizard or whether they grew up on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and watch Adult Swim on cable, the average California citizen isn't paying a lot of attention to workers' comp right now. Despite efforts to publicize "horror stories" of disabled workers who are suffering medically or economically, the public (and mainstream press) just haven't focused on problems with workers' comp.
Recent statistics have shown that the system isn't "fixed," though it may have locked in some whopping insurer profits. Worker benefits have been reduced to levels far below benefits awarded in many states. And insurer profits now exceed benefits paid out to workers for medical treatment and wage replacement benefits.
Will there be change this year? Dan Walters is an ace political analyst for the Sacramento Bee. Walters says that the Governor isn't likely to budge on the issue. That's the conventional wisdom. Read Walters' piece for yourself by clicking here: