Sunday, March 4, 2007, 01:36 PM - Political developmentsAs a kid, I spent hours playing on my living room floor with an erector set. This toy consisted of a pack of metal pieces (think pretend steel beams) with various screws, pulleys, rivets and the like. I'd spend afternoons dreaming of designing and constructing buildings. Erector sets are now known as Meccano sets. If you are younger, you may have done the same thing with Lego toys.
I never became an architect or builder. Instead, I became a lawyer. But over the years, my firm, Boxer and Gerson, LLP, has represented thousands of building trades workers injured on the job -- plumbers, carpenters, sheet metal fabricators, operating engineers, painters, laborers, pile drivers, drywall installers, lathers, ironworkers, carpet layers, glaziers and members of other trades.
John Anton, Boxer and Gerson's chief personal injury trial lawyer, recently settled two construction accident civil cases for $16 million. Those cases arose from the wrongful death of two workers killed on a Walnut Creek construction project which resulted in a jet fuel pipeline explosion. The civil damages case recoveries far exceeded the allowable recovery for death under California workers' comp law.
The erector set afficionado in me is always looking to see where new construction is going on. Currently, downtown San Francisco (and South of Market) is undergoing a big construction boom. From Rincon Hill to the enormous project at Mission Bay, many high-rises are either being built or are slated for construction soon. San Francisco Magazine recently featured an article on these projects, using the following headline:
"Downtown: The Makeover. Giant towers! Grand boulevards! Great mass transit! No parking! Will you love -- or even like -- the high-rising of SF?"
My hat is off to the construction trades workers (almost all of whom are union members) who build these projects. The work is tough and very hazardous. A recent piece in the San Francisco Chronicle by Carl Nolte notes that the operator of the Rincon Hill construction project crane can see the earth's curvature from his perch atop a rig capable of lifting 35,000 pounds. If you're interested in learning more about how these high-rises are actually built, take a look at the piece from the San Francisco Chronicle:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.c ... =printable
And if you can find an old erector set on eBay, I'd recommend it...
Saturday, March 3, 2007, 11:37 AM - Political developmentsThe view from Dubai, United Arab Emirates... the Arabian Gulf megalopolis being built (along with its sister Emirate Abu Dhabi) by a group of sheiks with fantastic oil wealth.
Workerscompzone has been quiet this week while on a trip to Dubai and Oman (Dubai's southerly neighbor, a rather sleepy traditional land of fantastic ancient forts situated in desert oasis surroundings and a country with its own unique Islamic tradition, neither Sunni nor Shia).
Like Shanghai, Dubai uses an impressive percentage of the world's construction cranes. Formerly a tiny port in a land whose main product was dates, Dubai's oil (which has "peaked" and is in decline) has fueled an unprecedented construction boom. Envision a project where all of the skyscrapers in Los Angeles -- and more -- are being constructed all at once. The world's tallest building, the Burj Arab, is now under construction there. I observed that many of the construction projects -- including high-rises -- were being done under night lights on a 24-7 basis.
Dubai is getting a lot of bad press over labor rights issues. 60 Minutes recently did a broadcast on the story, showing the filthy living conditions in the barracks which house the Pakistani and Bangladesh construction workers who are building Dubai's high-rise luxury condos, hotels and office blocks. Work in Dubai is largely done by the various immigrant workers who are given only temporary status. Workers from the Philippines are imported for service sector jobs. South Asians are imported for transportation industry work.
The city they are building is impressive... A sophisticated, cosmopolitan, ultra-modern city in the Arab heartland... Buildings designed by many of the world's marquee-name architects... Public works projects built in years on a scale that would take decades to build in California (but don't ask me where they will get the water for this city in a place that gets almost no rain!).
But there is a great human cost. Dubai's workers have few rights, and those workers will be shipped home. To learn more about those problems, click the following:
as well as the following:
Activist groups continue to monitor the situation and push for better treatment of Dubai's workers:
How does all of this connect with workers' comp issues? Looking from Dubai, American workers have many hard-earned rights. It is through the efforts of unions and activists who care about workers' rights and worker safety that many of those rights were earned. California's workers must remain vigilant against erosion of their rights, including their rights under California workers' comp.
Thursday, February 22, 2007, 11:57 PM - Political developmentsOn Friday, February 23, Cheese Whiz will be meeting at the California state building auditorium on Clay Street. Cheese Whiz? That's the acronym for the California Commission on Health, Safety and Workers' Compensation. It's a state agency charged to do study and loose oversight of the workers' comp system. The CHWSC has little actual power, but tremendous influence in that it can set the tone on workers' comp issues and thus "drive the debate."
Tomorrow, CHWSC will listen to the results of a medical access study done by a UCLA think tank, the Center for Health Policy Research. The study is of medical access issues under the 2003 and 2004 comp reforms. Those reforms brought utilization review to California workers' comp and installed the ACOEM guidelines as the official standard for medical treatment.
For the study, the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research interviewed 1200 workers and 1200 medical providers, as well as a group of insurer representatives. Whether this is a sufficiently large enough sample of California injured workers is open to debate.
All of this is against the backdrop of constant and loud complaints by workers that they have been denied medical care and refused access to doctors of their choice. Whether the study will verify those complaints or blunt that criticism isn't clear. You might want to check out the Voters Injured at Work website (www.viaw.com) or www.denialofcare.org for a workers' take on treatment denial issues.
Stay tuned. Workerscompzone will cover the study results.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007, 10:53 AM - Political developmentsFor an excellent look at some of the factors which may block health care reform in the legislature this year, check out this article in The Fresno Bee by Jim Boren:
http://www.fresnobee.com/182/v-printerf ... 30533.html
Health care reform is important to injured workers, and I will continue to highlight important developments in the debate.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007, 09:50 PM - Political developmentsSan Francisco attorney Alfonso Moresi has been appointed to an open slot on the California Workers' Compensation Appeals Board.
Moresi will fill the slot that recently opened up with the departure of WCAB commissioner Merle Rabine.
The appointment is subject to confirmation by the California State Senate.
I have known Al Moresi for years. Although I would have preferred that Gov. Schwarzenegger appoint an attorney who has represented injured workers, I respect Al Moresi's competence and integrity. As a founding and name partner of one of the state's largest workers' compensation defense firms, Moresi has years of experience in the field. Over the years, I have litigated hundreds of cases against Moresi.
Injured workers should not and can not expect that Moresi will necessarily vote in a pro-injured worker fashion on many of the cases that come up. But I do predict that he will be a reasonable member of the board who will at least give serious consideration to all points of view. There are many issues regarding the interpretation of the 2004 reforms which have been decided by a 5-4 majority. The WCAB may or may not decide to revisit some of those issues.
With that said, however, it should be noted that Schwarzenegger will have several other WCAB appointments to make later this year.
The bottom line is that Schwarzenegger's appointments are likely to be insurer-friendly, giving the Governor ample opportunity to pack the WCAB with appointees friendly to his reforms.