Tuesday, March 6, 2007, 07:12 AM - Political developmentsWhen workers' comp fraud is mentioned, usually the press focuses on fraud by the worker.
But in California, there is a growing awareness of a different sort of fraud -- premium fraud by employers who either underreport their payroll or fail to seek coverage at all.
This is a serious problem. If the employer has not secured workers' comp coverage as required by law, there are costs to society. Workers may be forced to seek treatment through their group medical insurance, thus driving up health care costs in general. Workers without group health insurance may have to seek treatment at public hospitals and clinics, increasing the burden on the taxpayer.
Not to mention that employers who don't pay for workers' comp gain an unfair economic advantage over those who do.
The California District Attorneys' Association has an Insurance Fraud subcommittee that has been looking at the issue. At a meeting of the California Fraud Assessment Commission last week, a deputy DA from San Bernardino County, Gary Fagan, revealed that the DA's Association has been looking for a legislator to sponsor a bill giving prosecutors the ability to charge a felony where an employer fails to carry workers' comp insurance. Their proposal would allow prosecutors to treat failure to secure coverage as a "wobbler" (i.e. the failure could be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the seriousness of the circumstances).
But guess what? The DA's Association has been unable to find a legislative sponsor.
You would think that Fraud Assessment Chairman Bill Zachry (who wears a double hat as Safeway Risk Manager) would be leading the charge on this. Mr. Zachry, how about using some of your considerable clout with the Governor's Office to secure a sponsor for this bill? Why should recalcitrant employers be shielded?
Monday, March 5, 2007, 12:10 PM - Political developmentsYou may be hearing a lot about SB 936 here between now and September.
SB 936 is a "spot bill" held by State Senate Pro Tem Don Perata of Oakland. A spot bill is a placeholder bill; the bill can be gutted or stripped later to include different language.
In 2006, Senator Perata carried SB 815, a bill that would have increased the length of permanent disability payments, thereby increasing permanent disability payouts for certain injuries. SB 815 was vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger.
Perata has pledged to push a bill again this year to address the harsh situation created by the 2004 comp reforms and the implementation of those reforms. What will be in Perata's bill isn't known yet.
For an analysis of the situation, check this piece from the Capitol Weekly (a good source of "what's shakin" in Sacramento under the Capitol dome):
http://www.capitolweekly.net/news/artic ... le_id=1301
Monday, March 5, 2007, 08:53 AM - Political developmentsEven though the general focus of this blog is California workers' comp, sometimes there are related topics I must discuss. Workers' comp is not an issue in a vacuum; it is one aspect of employment law and labor rights.
Ever hear someone tell you that "both political parties are the same"? Don't believe it for a minute. Unions have been locked out of the Bush presidency.
But last Thursday, Nancy Pelosi's House voted for legislation that would make it easier for workers to join unions. Workers could form a union by individually signing a card rather than waiting for a secret ballot election. Over the decades, the percentage of the U.S. workforce in unions has steadily declined, from 35% in the 1950s to the current figure of 12-13%. The law has made it difficult for unions to mount organizing campaigns, which is one reason this bill is so important to unions.
This bill may or may not make it past the U.S. Senate, where it could be subject to a filibuster or other procedural delays. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein will be supporting this bill. But even if it were to get past the Senate, Bush's veto seems certain. Thus, for now, the victory is mostly symbolic, raising the profile on the issue.
For more information, look at the San Francisco Chronicle article by Edward Epstein:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.c ... =printable
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.