The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, December 02, 2011

Workers comp revision doesn’t work for Michigan’s workers

By The Building Tradesman

A Michigan Senate subcommittee heard testimony on Nov. 22 about House Bill 5002, which was adopted last month by the state House and would severely restrict the ability of injured workers to get workers’ compensation benefits.

Following is a commentary on HB 5002 by Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift.

Last week’s election results should give Michigan senators pause as they consider the workers compensation bill passed by the House of Representatives.

This latest legislative attack is the kind of overreach soundly rejected by voters in Michigan, Ohio and across the country. House Bill 5002 is a giveaway to big corporations and special interests at the expense of Michigan workers injured on the job. It would transform a system that works fairly and efficiently into one that guts workers benefits using imaginary wage and pension deductions and limits choices for medical treatment.

At a time when voters want to see quick action solving the jobs crisis, this bill creates no jobs but will hurt injured Michigan workers.

Workers and small businesses aren’t clamoring for major workers compensation changes.  Our workers compensation system has some of the lowest rates in the nation. Rates have been dropping for years and are expected to be reduced by over 7 percent next year. Passing this bill would have no appreciable effect on Michigan’s competitiveness.

It is being pushed by some big special interests – primarily the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Manufacturers Association – and would take from injured Michigan workers for the benefit of corporate CEOs.

When a firefighter, construction worker or nurse is hurt at work, entire families suffer. Workers compensation is intended to help these workers stay afloat as they recover. Current law ensures that once a worker is able to return to work, they must do so or else they forfeit their benefits. If a worker is unable to perform their previous job but offered another that the worker can physically perform, the worker must accept it or lose benefits, and their benefits are reduced by wages earned. This works for injured workers and businesses alike.

HB5002 would turn the system on its head by changing the law so that employees would not only lose their workers compensation by the wages they earn when they return to work, but by the amount of wages they could possibly earn at a job not even offered to them. It would allow employers to reduce workers comp benefits based on wages an employee doesn’t earn from a job they do not have. This concept is absurd and would penalize workers based on no fault of their own.

The bill would also force older workers to choose between early retirement and having workers compensation benefits reduced. Injured workers could lose thousands in pension benefits after being sidelined by forced retirement. It also takes away workers’ choices when seeking needed medical treatment.

These changes are too extreme for Michigan. Voters are still outraged at the Lansing politicians who pushed a tax hike for retirees. People are demanding an economy that works for everyone, including the 99 percent who are left out when laws are written only for the benefit of CEOs and Wall Street bankers.

Michigan Senators should focus on jobs, not tearing down a workers comp system that works.

(This article originally was published by The Detroit News, Labor Voices column, Nov. 16)