Workers' comp reform is worse than dreaded I-1082

A former legislator shakes his head that a state that defeated the insurance-privatization initiative by a wide margin has now enacted a law that harms workers more than the initiative would have.

Former state Rep. Brendan Williams

Former state Rep. Brendan Williams

Not long ago, I was busy debating statewide against Initiative 1082, a measure that would have privatized state industrial insurance and had the strong backing of business interests in the state.  When it lost, I did not expect progressives to rest on their oars.  However, I never imagined that, within six months of I-1082's rejection by 60  percent of voters, legislative changes would occur to workers' compensation that are more harmful to workers than I-1082 would have been. By allowing medical claims to be sold for "structured settlements," House Bill 2123 would harm workers.

This is the rare occasion where I part ways on workers' rights with Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who defends HB 2123 in a recent Crosscut column.  HB 2123, which a number of my friends supported, was a major disappointment in a session of many disappointments. 

If we accept the validity of unions as voices for working families, I don’t think we can dismiss their perspective on a matter as vital as workers’ compensation.  Particularly not in the only state out of 50 where workers are required to pay a share of premiums. HB 2123 passed over the pro-worker objections of 25 Democratic representatives and 11 Democratic senators.

The measure passed the House and Senate on the same day it first appeared. Even the conservative Washington Policy Center expressed concern over this amazing haste. Not only was the public given no opportunity to comment upon HB 2123 through a hearing (prior to its passage there wasn't even a public fiscal note), but a Republican “emergency clause” amendment was added to deprive the public their constitutional right of referendum.   Gallingly, that amendment’s sponsor was an anti-labor House Republican vocally critical of emergency clauses as a means of thwarting referendums.

I-1082 would not have expressly changed benefits for workers.  In fact, it would have relieved workers of their burden to pay half of Medical Aid premium costs – shifting that burden to employers. Indeed, I-1082's only certain harm was to employers.  Harm to workers was inferred based on private insurer practices in other states; the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals estimated a 34 percent increase in workers’ appeals.  Even this phenomena, with its uncertain implications, could not have occurred any earlier than July 1, 2012, the date by which private carriers, under I-1082, could do business here.

In contrast, we know HB 2123 is immediately harmful to workers.  We know this because its effectiveness is defined by taking hundreds of millions out of workers’ pockets. 

The fiscal note assumes 40 percent of claimants will enter into "structured settlements" without benefit of counsel.  That's dangerous.  Selling one's future medical claims, particularly in this bad economy, carries with it elements of duress —  even if the bill requires the penny-pinching state, perhaps under a future Rob McKenna administration, to consider the best interests of the unrepresented worker .  It's expected that claims will be sold for 80  percent of their value.

For the structured settlement element of HB 2123 alone, the estimated "savings" (i.e., diversion from injured workers) from current claims is $264.9 million, with additional savings on new claims starting at $70 million annually in 2012.  By 2016, as the age eligibility lowers from 55 to 50, the annual loss to injured workers on new claims will be $103.3 million.

One good way to assess whether HB 2123 is pro-worker is to look at who's praising it. Dismissing organized labor's opposition, the Washington Technology Industry Association celebrated the fact "there were enough Democrats willing to vote against this powerful interest group" (apparently not acknowledging that the WTIA, and members like Microsoft, are pretty powerful interests too). It's also significant when a far-right group, the National Federation of Independent Business, which helped lead the I-1082 charge against "union bosses" and "Big Labor", praises a Seattle Democrat.  But there they were on Twitter highlighting a column where "Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles refutes bogus claims about recent workers' comp legislation."  

Just days prior to HB 2123's introduction, NFIB's tweets bemoaned the absence of public process for some budget-related bills, calling it a "[m]ockery of democracy."  Yet it has celebrated HB 2123's rushed journey to the governor's desk. 


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jun 10, 11:29 a.m. Inappropriate

If we accept the validity of unions as voices for working families...

We don't.

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Jun 10, 11:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Don't go away mad Mr. Williams, just go away. If you wanted to stay in the game, you shouldn't have quit.

Cameron

Posted Fri, Jun 10, 5:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Nice. Faced with a strong coherent argument against this workers' comp reform, the best the conservative trolls can do is to attack the messengers.

Mr. Williams is exactly right about this corporate giveaway in defiance of the will of voters. And he's right about the inexplicable spin that generally labor-friendly Democrats are spewing to defend their capitulation.

What he doesn't touch on is why. Why this year? The business lobbying groups have sought these settlements for many years. What has changed besides the resounding defeat of their I-1082? It can't simply be the moderate rate increases in the past three years, which have been lower than those required in previous recessions.

I believe the answer lies elsewhere in this week's news, in the Governor's announcement that she is assembling a group to develop the latest "bid" to keep Boeing's next generation of airplanes built in Washington. Gregoire is already touting this year's workers' comp reforms in making the case for winning that work. In other words, Boeing wanted this and Boeing got it.

So, Democrats, don't pretend that what you did was good for injured workers. You just took $1 billion out of their pockets, plain and simple. And don't act surprised when Boeing comes back next session and -- as Mr. Williams says -- "moves the goalposts." The only question is, how low will you go?

LaborGoon

Posted Sat, Jun 11, 7:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Labor Goon are your still on staff at the WSLC? Why don't you disclose, ashamed of who you work for?

Cameron

Posted Sat, Jun 11, 7:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Once again... attack the messenger, ignore the logic.

LaborGoon

Posted Sat, Jun 11, 9:39 a.m. Inappropriate

LaborGoon, you fault the commenters for blaming the messenger. Umm, did you read the last eight paragraphs of Brendan's piece? (Pot, meet kettle).

Brendan is entitled to his characteristically overwrought hyperbole, his ad hominem and guilt-by-association rhetoric. Typically, such devices are deployed to mask fatal weaknesses in one's argument. That's the case here.

Indeed, his central argument against the severely limited settlement option of this legislation is the inadvisability of allowing workers' comp claimants to "sell" claims for medical benefits by way of structured settlements. Guess what: settlement of a workers' right to medical benefits is explicitly prohibited by EHB 2123. Further, regardless of taking a structured settlement, a workers' comp claimant may exicitly re-open a claim for medical benefits as allowed under current law.

Posted Sat, Jun 11, 10:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Labor Goon,

You can't ignore logic that is not present.

Are you still communications director?

Cameron

Posted Sat, Jun 11, 11:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Why would we accept the 'validity' of unions?

I'm not a union member, never have been. Yet I work, hold a job, and am comfortable representing myself. My employer always has a choice: screw me, and I'm out the door.

I don't need a nanny, nor a union, nor a club. Unions had their day, but I don't see that day being today.

Posted Mon, Jun 13, 7:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Debate on this issue, about the bill we finally passed, has become an echo chamber ... no longer newsworthy but just the same old arguments (largely baseless) bouncing off the walls.

Deb Eddy

Posted Sat, Dec 17, 3:57 p.m. Inappropriate

As a disabled federal worker I am appalled at the lack of understanding senators, congressman . I worked 33 years for the feds, the last 13 years of my service I was disabled (injured on job) and continued to work but could only work part time and eventually ended up being removed from service as my condition deteriorated to the point where the agency would no longer accommodate me. I had planned on working until I had reached the maximum number of creditable service towards retirement which is 41 1/2 years. What happened was when I became injured I was unable to advance my career, I was unable to reach my maximum potential for my high 3 year salary, I had to end my career earlier than I wanted, This all reduced what I can / will receive in retirement benefits. It is appalling that none of this will be taken in to consideration by our elected officials. I will be left with retirement income far below what I expected when I started my career. Not to mention the toll the injury has taken in my non-working life.

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