The Ohio Legislature rejected a budget bill that would have excluded undocumented workers from workers’ comp, thanks to action led by Policy Matters Ohio, Catholic Charities, the AFL-CIO, the Central Ohio Worker Center, the Ohio Interfaith Immigrant and Migrant Justice Coalition, legal aid groups and the National Employment Law Project (NELP). As NELP argued, limiting workers’ comp benefits for undocumented workers not only undermines the purpose and effectiveness of the system as a whole, it also incentivizes unlawful exploitation of immigrants and violation of health and safety standards for vulnerable, low-wage workers who fear retaliation. Testimony submitted by Policy Matters Ohio to the Senate further emphasized how the measure would obstruct injured immigrant workers’ access to justice, lead to a general degradation of workplace safety, and shift costs for workplace injuries onto lawful employers, hospitals, and taxpayers.
In Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court declared a 1996 law unconstitutional. The law used American Medical Association (AMA) guidelines to cap workers' benefits for permanent partial disabilities at 500 weeks. The court determined that because the AMA's formula was developed without transparency, accountability and worker participation, the law unjustly denied workers their right to workers' comp. In other news, the Pennsylvania Legislature is considering a workers’ comp bill disguised as an anti-opioid measure that could have worrisome consequences for injured workers.
A report from ProPublica exposes how Case Farms, a poultry processor and one of the most dangerous workplaces in America, preys on immigrant workers, exploiting workers' vulnerability to violate labor laws. The company has been cited for 240 violations in the past seven years, and workers regularly suffer debilitating carpal tunnel syndrome and amputations, but are fired as soon as they speak up about injuries or work conditions.
In Massachusetts, fears of deportation as retaliation came true for Jose Flores, an injured construction worker who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after filing a workers’ comp claim. Thanks to support and pressure from Metrowest Worker Center, MassCOSH, and other members of the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative, Flores was released to his family while investigations of retaliation proceed against his employer, Tara Construction, which was illegally uninsured at the time of the injury. Flores’ case is representative of a much wider problem, and “sends a chilling message to immigrant workers,” says Boston physician Lara Jirmanus. Jirmanus reports that about half her patients do not report workplace injuries or unsafe conditions because they fear retaliation from employers who bully employees into using private insurance and staying quiet.
California workers report a similar experience, saying Trump’s aggressive anti-immigrant policies and public arrests have made many undocumented workers fearful to seek legal help when injured on the job.
Uber is denying drivers the full rights and protections of workers, including by encouraging drivers to opt into a new private insurance concerning their work-related injuries. Drivers would have to pay for the insurance themselves, and the plan would only offer a subset of the rights and protections that workers are entitled to in workers' compensation systems.
As millions of Americans face the possibility of losing health care coverage in the Republican assault on the Affordable Care Act, the movement for universal health care has gained ground in two states. The Campaign for a Healthy New York and Healthy California both passed bills for universal, publicly financed healthcare through one chamber of their state legislatures. Both bills would appoint a board that would be responsible for developing a plan on how to incorporate workers' comp into the new universal health care system. The two bills, which would pay for universal health care as a public good in large part by taxing corporations and the wealthy, have generated predictable blowback from the insurance industry and key Democratic Party powerholders. With the New York bill one vote short in the State Senate and the Speaker of California's Assembly refusing to bring the Healthy California Act to a vote this year, both campaigns are redoubling their efforts in preparation for the 2018 legislative season.
Under Trump’s administration, OSHA has wavered on several important commitments to workplace health and safety, including delaying enforcement of its new silica exposure limits, pushing back action on a rule requiring electronic, publicly-accessible workplace injury reporting, and proposing exemptions for major industries from its new standards for beryllium exposure. OSHA’s hesitancy is indicative of the Trump administration's willingness to sacrifice workers’ health, safety, and lives in the name of deregulation.
Colorado is creating a fund to help injured workers whose employers fail to carry workers’ comp insurance, thanks to a new law signed June 5th.
Illinois Democrats passed workers’ comp reform creating government oversight of insurance agencies and their billing practices, countering Governor Rauner’s campaign for anti-worker measures that would have cut many injured workers out of the system.
A decision from the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals excludes inmates from workers’ comp when they are injured on a work-release job, even when such injuries affect an individual’s ability to get work once released.