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On Trade, Don’t Leave Workers Behind

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from www.nytimes.com

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Boeing employees in Renton, Wash., watched Secretary of State John Kerry speak about the Trans-Pacific Partnership on May 19. Credit Pool photo by Saul Loeb

International trade typically produces winners and losers. Consumers benefit when they pay less for imported goods than similar domestic products. Some American workers are clearly hurt when foreign competition leads factories to shut down or move overseas. That’s why economists have long argued that government should help those displaced by the dynamics of freer trade.

But to hear some Republicans tell it, trade only produces winners. Even as President Obama and Congress vigorously debate major trade agreements with Asia, Australia, Europe and Latin America, these legislators are trying to cut back on the few benefits that the government provides to workers hurt by foreign competition.

A longstanding program known as Trade Adjustment Assistance gives displaced workers training for new jobs, extended unemployment benefits, reimbursement for relocation expenses and so on. But the program is quite modest, helping just 84,529 people in the 2013 fiscal year, and less than half of those people received any training.

Congress made it harder for workers to qualify for T.A.A. last year. It is now available only to manufacturing workers; people laid off from service businesses like call centers cannot get help. And it assists only people affected by trade with a country that has a trade agreement with the United…

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4 Ways to Avoid the Most Common Warehouse Incidents

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp Brief and comes from www.ulworkplace.com

warehouse

Employees working in a warehouse are exposed to a number of strenuous activities that can threaten their well-being. According to OHSA, the number of forklift-related accidents reaches close to 100,000 per year (100 fatal accidents, 34,900 serious injury accidents, and 61,800 non-serious accidents). As a result, those who handle heavy material handling equipment such as forklifts need to take special precautions to ensure that the materials they transport are properly handled. Here are four most common warehouse incidents you can easily avoid to prevent injuries and increase workplace productivity.

Slips & Trips
The warehouse is a place with lots of stuff. Its narrow aisles, tall stacks of goods, and poor lighting are the exact ingredients that can compromise visibility. Slipping and tripping over materials or spilled liquid are common accidents that can be avoided if the warehouse maintains adequate lighting and equips dark corners with special lights that can be easily switched on and off. Remove unnecessary steps or ridges and encourage employees to never leave any cargo, box, and goods unattended on the floor.

If a warehouse worker needs to temporarily leave the floor, it is important for him or her to move materials away from the center of the aisle while keeping lights on. In cases when something is spilled, employees should take the proper steps to close the area with visible signs and clean up as soon as possible.

Falls
Duties in the warehouse sometimes take…

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Insurance Information Institute Challenges Our Workers’ Comp Investigation. We Respond

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from www.propublica.org

After John Coffell hurt his back at an Oklahoma tire plant last year, his wages dropped so dramatically that he and his family were evicted from their home. (Brett Deering/AP for ProPublica)

Last Thursday, the Insurance Information Institute sent ProPublica and NPR a letter challenging our investigation into workers’ compensation reform laws and the impact they’ve had on some workers.

The stories reported that since 2003, more than 30 states have cut benefits, created hurdles to getting medical care, or made it more difficult for injured workers to qualify. At the same time, we reported, employers are paying the lowest workers’ comp rates since the 1970s. And in 2013, insurance companies had their most profitable year in over a decade.

Robert P. Hartwig, president of the institute, wrote that the stories were based on “unsubstantiated assertions, incorrect interpretations and subsequent erroneous conclusions.”

He pointed to no specific errors, however, and demanded no corrections.

We’ve posted a summary of the institute’s letter here. This is our response:

1. “The very title of the ProPublica/NPR is at best misleading and at worst erroneous. ‘The Demolition of Workers Comp’ is hyperbole of the highest order. The fact of the matter is that workers’ compensation insurers today provide some $40 billion in benefits annually to hundreds of thousands of injured workers and to the families of those killed on the job…

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Florida Supreme Court Thwarts Attempt to Circumvent “Exclusive Remedy” Provision

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp News and comes from www.jdsupra.com

Most states limit a worker’s remedies for work-related injuries to a workers’ compensation claim against the employer. Such "exclusive remedy" provisions codify a longstanding compromise whereby employers trade liability, regardless of fault, for protection from large tort awards, and employees surrender a cause of action in return for swift but limited financial benefits.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys and like-minded reformers seeking to challenge exclusive remedy provisions have made some progress in recent years. For instance, in August 2014, a judge in Miami-Dade County, Florida ruled that Florida’s workers’ compensation statutes were "unconstitutional" on their face because they no longer provided adequate benefits to injured workers in exchange for them giving up their constitutional rights to pursue civil litigation. In Padgett v. State of Florida, which is currently on appeal, the trial judge declared that statutory changes in Florida had eroded benefits for injured workers to the point that it was no longer a "grand bargain" for the injured workers.

In Morales v. Zenith Ins. Co., however, the Florida Supreme Court recently rejected an attempt to evade the exclusive remedy provisions of Florida’s workers’ compensation law, holding that the challenged provisions barred the estate of a worker killed on the job from collecting a $9.5 million wrongful death judgment against the deceased worker’s former…

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Comp reporting plan would increase employer burden

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp Brief and comes from www.businessinsurance.com

Photo by BLOOMBERG A sign marks the entrance to the headquarters of the Social Security Administration located on Security Boulevard in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Social Security Administration’s proposal that workers compensation benefits be reported annually to the agency would increase insurers’ and employers’ paperwork and costs.

“There is a potential here of an extra burden … and potentially extra costs for employers and carriers around the country,” said Rafael Gonzalez, Tampa, Florida-based vice president of strategic solutions at Helios Settlement Solutions, a unit of pharmacy benefit manager Helios.

The requirement likely would be similar to reporting rules implemented by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2009, said Brad Peterson, a shareholder at law firm Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen P.C. in Urbana, Illinois.

“It would require insurers or others covered under this proposed rule to determine the Social Security status of a particular workers compensation claimant. So it would certainly add a burden in that regard,” Mr. Peterson said.

The mandate is a single paragraph in the Social Security Administration’s proposed fiscal 2016 budget published in February. The administration says it would require “states, local governments and private insurers that administer” workers comp and public disability benefits to report data on those benefits to the administration.

The proposal also would “provide for the…

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WA State Agency Asks for Criminal Charges in Teen’s Workplace Death

By Nick McGurk, KIRO TV

The Department of Labor and Industries is pushing for criminal charges against a company after a teenager was found dead in the blades of an auger last July. 

Bradley Hogue, 19, was on his second day of work last July at a landscaping job he’d taken with Everett-based Pacific Topsoils. 

Hogue, found by a co-worker, was tangled in the blades of an auger on a wood-chipping truck. 

L&I’s director wrote a letter this week to the King County Prosecutor’s Office asking for charges to be filed – a move so rare it only happens once every couple of years. 

“This situation is horrible, and tragic, and nobody would ever want it to happen to anyone they know,” said Tim Church with Department of Labor and Industries. 

“It’s rare for us to ask for criminal charges in a workplace safety incident, but we believe this one warrants it,” added Church. 

The L&I letter states that Hogue never should have been in that truck with machinery on, and that the only place he could stand was a moving conveyor belt. 

He didn’t receive any training, the letter says. 

In late December, L&I also fined Pacific Topsoils nearly $200,000—a fine the company has since appealed. 

L&I says they conduct thousands of inspections every year in the state of Washington. 

Last year they reported 89 workplace related deaths. 

Pacific Topsoils didn’t respond to KIRO 7’s voicemail or emails for comment on Friday night.

A Novel Way to Mandate Sick Leave, From Microsoft

Today’s post was shared by The New York Times and comes from www.nytimes.com

Bradford L. Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said the company was in part responding to complaints from contract employees who did not have the same benefits as full-time employees. Credit Jordan Stead for The New York Times

It is difficult to imagine, at least in the current political climate, that the federal government would require paid sick leave for workers, let alone vacation time.

But the White House announced Wednesday that senior officials, including the labor secretary, would begin a monthlong roadshow around the country to promote paid leave. And in his State of the Union address, President Obama urged Congress to pass a bill giving workers seven days of paid sick leave.

But any federal requirement would need the support of Congress, a tough obstacle.

Yet there is another, emerging model: companies forcing other companies to adopt these policies. On Thursday morning, Microsoft announced that it would require many of its 2,000 contractors and vendors to provide their employees who perform work for Microsoft with 15 paid days off for sick days and vacation time.

In some ways, it’s a uniquely American solution. In the absence of a federal policy, the biggest and wealthiest companies are performing the role of setting workplace policy for other businesses.

As the economy has become more dependent on contract workers, workers’ rights advocates have voiced concern about their working conditions, especially for low-skilled jobs.

The situation…

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Walmart, Lowe’s, Safeway, and Nordstrom Are Bankrolling a Nationwide Campaign to Gut Workers’ Comp

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from www.motherjones.com

In recent years, companies have used that freedom to severely curtail long-standing benefits.

Two states, Texas and Oklahoma, already allow employers to opt out of state-mandated workers’ comp. In Texas, the only state that has never required employers to provide workers’ comp, Walmart has written a plan that allows the company to select the physician an employee sees and the arbitration company that hears disputes. The plan provides no coverage for asbestos exposure. And a vague section of the contract excludes any employee who was injured due to his "participation" in an assault from collecting benefits unless the assault was committed in defense of Walmart’s "business or property." It is up to Walmart to interpret what "participation" means. But the Texas AFL-CIO has argued that an employee who defended himself from an attack would not qualify for benefits.

"It creates a race to the bottom."

A 2012 survey of Texas companies with private plans found that fewer than half offered benefits to seriously injured employees or the families of workers who died in workplace accidents. (The state plan, which Texas companies can follow on a voluntary basis, covers both.) Half of employer plans capped benefits, while the state plan pays benefits throughout a worker’s recovery.

Businesses can save millions of dollars by opting out and writing plans with narrow benefits, putting pressure on their competitors to do the same. "It creates a race…

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Appeals court weighs future of workers-compensation laws in Florida.

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp Brief and comes from www.orlandoweekly.com

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A South Florida appeals court Monday heard arguments in a challenge to the constitutionality of the state’s workers-compensation insurance system —- as two other closely watched challenges also await rulings at the Florida Supreme Court.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal took up a case in which a Miami-Dade County circuit judge ruled last year that a key underpinning of workers-compensation laws was unconstitutional. That underpinning involves cases being handled through the workers-compensation insurance system instead of through civil lawsuits.

The workers-compensation system is designed as a sort of tradeoff: Workers are supposed to receive benefits for on-the-job injuries while not going through potentially costly and time-consuming lawsuits. But Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge Cueto ruled in August that the workers-compensation law preventing cases from going to civil trial —- known legally as "exclusivity" —- was unconstitutional, at least in part because of legislative changes in 2003 that reduced benefits.

"I find that the Florida Workers’ Compensation Act, as amended effective October 1, 2003, does not provide a reasonable alternative to the tort (civil) remedy it supplanted,” Cueto wrote. "It therefore cannot be the exclusive remedy."

During Monday’s hearing, state Chief Deputy Solicitor General Adam Tanenbaum argued primarily that Cueto’s ruling should be overturned for procedural reasons. The case initially involved Julio…

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Workplace Suicides Are on the Rise

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp Brief and comes from www.theatlantic.com

And rates are particularly high among people working in law enforcement, farming, and auto repair, a new study found.

www.GlynLowe.com/Flickr/The Atlantic

In the first three months of last year, 10 people at Orange, a French telecoms company, killed themselves. It was not the first time such tragedy had struck the mobile giant. The company—formerly known as France Telecom—also reported a rash of self-inflicted deaths between 2008 and 2009. A similar cluster of suicides once gripped Foxconn, where 18 people working at the factory in Shenzhen, China, attempted suicide in 2010, and where another 150 threatened an en masse death jump in 2012 in protest of low wages and poor working conditions.

Though there haven’t been such notable concentrations of workplace suicides at one company like that in the United States, in 2013, the last year for which data are available, 270 people in the U.S. committed suicide at work—a 12 percent increase over the prior year.

“The reasons for any suicide are complex, no matter where they take place. Usually many factors are at play,” says Christine Moutier, the chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Among them are economic and work-related stressors.

One recent study found that the global recession that began in 2007 could be linked with more than 10,000 suicides across North America and Europe.

“Historically, suicide rates do rise during economic downturns. The entire…

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