The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why the Michigan Supreme Court election matters to you

By The Building Tradesman

The election on Nov. 6 provides two golden opportunities to turn the tide on the Republican-led destruction of working peoples’ rights and protections in Michigan.  I’ll add my support to what you’ve already heard shouted from every rooftop, Vote YES on Proposal 2 to protect Michigan’s working families!

But what I’m here to report today is that regaining the majority on the seven-member Michigan Supreme Court may have an even bigger impact on everyday working folks’ pocketbooks.  On Election Day, make sure you go to the non-partisan judicial ballot and vote for Sheila Johnson, Bridget Mary McCormack, and Connie Marie Kelley for the Michigan Supreme Court.

The outcome of in-state elections usually has a bigger impact on your day-to-day life than a vote for president , U.S. Senate or House of Representatives.  This November is no exception.  You’ll remember that last fall, in this space, we warned of the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature’s plan to rewrite our workers’ comp law.  Although we won a few battles in that fight, Michigan business and insurance interests got their way.  On Dec. 19, 2011, Gov. Snyder signed his party’s legislation heavily tilting the comp law the company way.  What you may not know is that the “phantom wages” centerpiece of that law came from the Republican-controlled Michigan Supreme Court!

A few years ago, a right-wing majority on our Supreme Court issued a landmark decision, Stokes v Chrysler, establishing “phantom wages” as the rule of law in workers’ comp in Michigan.  Now, when you get hurt at work, comp benefits are no longer based on your wages at the time of the injury.  Instead, you have to submit to a Stokes evaluation with a company-chosen vocational expert whose bought-and-paid-for opinion is used to determine what you’re supposedly still capable of earning.  The kick in the pants is that it doesn’t matter that you can’t find a job paying such wages.  Your comp benefits get cut or eliminated based on these phantom wages, even for injuries that will only keep you off work for a few weeks.

In the usual order of events, the legislature passes laws that are then interpreted by our Supreme Court.  With Stokes, on the other hand, the tail wagged the dog.  Our Republican-controlled state legislature wrote the extremist Supreme Court’s phantom wages provision right into the workers’ comp law.  This is “Exhibit A” in the case against the Republicans one-party rule in Michigan, especially when that one party is controlled by its most extreme elements.    The point to remember is that the Republican-controlled majority on the Michigan Supreme Court gave us this phantom wages disaster.

What can you do about it?  Don’t just vote a straight party ticket and walk out of the voting booth on November 6.   Make sure to vote for Supreme Court justices on the non-partisan portion of ballot.  Your vote can swing the majority on the 7-member Supreme Court.  We can get rid of the extremist majority that gave us the phantom wages nightmare.  Vote for Connie Marie KELLEY, Sheila JOHNSON, and Bridget Mary McCORMACK.  They bring a record of worker and family friendly policies that will tip the scales of justice back in favor of the working people of Michigan.

Tim Esper is a workers’ compensation attorney in Detroit.