New Factsheet Tracks Legislative Trends in Workers' Comp
The National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) has published a new fact sheet on national legislative trends and developments in workers' compensation. The brief looks at trends and developments in state workers' compensation systems across the nation over the last 25 years, identifying at least seven that undermine workers' human rights to health and work with dignity. The brief calls for immediate action to end the roll back on injured and ill workers' rights and advocates for broad systemic change based on human rights.
Misclassification cheats workers of protections in one of nation's deadliest trades
Construction accounts for more deaths each year than any other industry in the U.S., killing 796 workers in 2013 alone. Yet rather than addressing critical safety concerns, employers are increasingly misclassifying workers — or not registering them at all — in an attempt to shirk responsibility for paying fair wages, providing essential health and safety training, and carrying workers’ compensation insurance. A recent study conducted in California shows that of the state’s 895,000 construction workers, 39,800 were misclassified as independent contractors while 104,100 weren’t recorded at all. These “informal” workers are three times more likely to live under the poverty line than their “formal” employee counterparts.
In Texas, where laws protecting workers have always been notoriously weak, the Workers Defense Project estimates that almost 40% of companies misclassify their workers. This disturbing statistic is part of a slew of worrisome trends in the state’s construction industry. Construction workers in Texas are 22% likelier to die on the job than the national average, while, as a recent piece in the New York Times highlights, accessing adequate healthcare and wage compensation after an on-the-job accident is next to impossible for many workers and their families.
Fracking poses new risks for an already dangerous industry
As business lobbyists and labor groups battle over implementation of OSHA’s proposed silica rule, the growth of the fracking industry, which exposes workers to high-silica content “frac sand” and toxic chemicals, has some unions stuck between advocating for worker safety and embracing new jobs created by the burgeoning industry. A 23% jump in fatality rates in the oil and natural gas industry during 2012 alone indicates that without immediate steps to analyze the health risks of fracking, the extraction process could have devastating effects on workers both as accident rates continue to rise and as long latency diseases appear years after exposure to silica and other toxins. “Without action, the workplace fatality crisis in this industry only will get worse as production intensifies and expands,” says the AFL-CIO in its annual “Death on the Job” report.
Despite big promises, NFL tries to dodge accountability yet again
We’ve reported previously on the NFL’s repeated denial of the links between head trauma and degenerative brain diseases. After years of disputing and burying evidence that professional football puts players at a significantly higher risk for severe brain diseases, the NFL has released a report stating that rates of debilitating brain conditions in former players are “materially higher than those expected in the general population” and predicting that “players will develop these diagnoses at notably younger ages than the generation population.”
This admission, alongside an agreement made last June to pay an unlimited amount in awards to retired players suffering from dementia and other head trauma-related conditions, seems to signal progress, except for one important detail: the NFL has excluded those diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) after July 7th.
CTE is a neurodegenerative disease that has been found in the brains of 76 deceased football players since 2005 and has been at the center of the debate over football and brain injury. Called the "industrial injury" of football, CTE should by all rights be the focus of the settlement, leading one attorney involved to compare the settlement to “an asbestos case where any damage for injury to the lungs is excluded.”
CTE is a progressive disease, so like other long-latency diseases, it doesn’t show up until years after trauma occurs, often after the employee has left the place of employment that caused the condition in the first place. Moreover, because the disease's early symptoms include behavioral and mood disorders that also exist in the general population, like depression and addiction, it is easy for the NFL to contest the connection between these conditions and head trauma sustained on the field. While the settlement does cover dementia, a symptom of advanced CTE, the NFL has made the requirements for compensation so narrow that only those incapable of functioning independently at a basic level will qualify. In a formal objection to the settlement filed by seven former players on October 6th, leading neurologist and CTE expert Robert Stern wrote that “several key symptoms of CTE ... identified in the scientific and medical literature and in my clinical and research experience are not compensable,” adding that many of the 76 deceased NFL players found to have CTE would not have qualified for compensation under the settlement.