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NY Workers' Compensation "Reform" Agenda Heating Up in 2006

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

2006 may be shaping up as a year for significant workers’ compensation reform in New York. Yesterday, Governor Pataki introduced his Workers’ Compensation Reform “Budget” Proposal. This is essentially the same bill as his anti-worker Workers’ Compensation Program bill put out last October, and which we previously denounced here. The difference, however, is that now the Governor’s Workers Comp bill is linked to passing the New York State budget, a strategy he used somewhat effectively during the 1996 workers’ comp reform negotiations.
Of course, the word “reform” means different things depending upon who you are talking to. To injured workers, the New York State AFL-CIO, and workers’ compensation attorneys, reform means increasing the benefit levels which have been frozen during Pataki “Ice Age”. To the New York State Business Council and their cohorts, it means taking away benefits from the most seriously injured workers. Their ilk even have a slick new website at “www.fixworkerscomp.com” (I won’t dignify them with a free link, so you’ll have to cut and paste their address into your browser if you really want to read their propaganda) Bottom Line – if workers get the raise in benefit levels they have been denied these past 13 long years, the New York (Anti) Workers’ Compensation Action Network (a/k/a the New York Business Council or cohorts) wants to pay for it by cutting benefits to the most seriously injured – those with permanent, career ending disabilities.
Now, Republican New York State Senator George Maziarz, Chair of the State Labor Committee, has announced a public hearing on Workers Compensation Reform for Monday, March 13, 2006 in Albany. In his press release, the Senator blames state job losses on the cost of workers’ compensation. Like so many politicians, he fails to site any empirical data or studies supporting his wrong headed hypothesis that jobs are leaving New York due to workers’ comp costs. The Governor used the same ploy when he announced his workers comp program bill last year. He blamed the Delphi bankruptcy on workers’ comp costs, and was taken to task here and in other forums when Delphi’s real problems were shown to be more like an “Enron type” scandal. Senator Maziarz says: “its time to strike a new balance and save jobs”. I say: “its time to strike a fair balance and save homes“. As the son of hard working union members, I think the Senator knows who to stick up for in this fight. How many disabled workers have lost their homes over the last 13 years while waiting for a paltry benefit increase? (they haven’t even gotten a cost of living increase!). All while the workers’ compensation insurance companies are cheating the system and the Delphi executives are making millions. How fair is that? Want to save jobs? Stop the culture of corporate greed so that workers are treated with dignity again – not like surplus parts on the factory floor. After all, it is these workers who will be voting this November! ( as so adroitly pointed out recently at a forum of the Republican Long Island State Senators).
Perhaps a bipartisan hearing, including Democrat Susan John, Chair of the State Assembly Labor Committee, and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, might be more constructive. Otherwise, this is all grandstanding and pandering to corporate special interests. After all, we all know that nothing will happen without some type of bipartisan agreement. If we can get Governor Pataki to focus more on disabled New Yorkers than on Iowa delegates, we might have a chance of seeing the long overdue benefit increase for injured workers in 2006. We might then be proud of our politicians in Albany. Who’s taking bets?

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