Expanded Small Farm Internship Program Sows Seeds for Future Growers

An effort to bring small farms in Washington State together with people who want to learn farming is expanding to 20 counties across the state.

The Farm Internship Project, overseen by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, began in 2010 as a pilot project. Four years later, it grew to 16 counties. A new law that takes effect this week (July 23) adds Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, and Walla Walla counties and extends the project to Dec. 31, 2019.

Gov. Jay Inslee highlighted the need to educate a new generation of farmers when he signed HB 1906 that expanded the effort.

“Farm internships are great ways for farmers to mentor young people with an interest in this field — and keep food on our tables,” said Gov. Inslee.

A farmer who lobbied for the bill highlighted the need for more farmers.

“It’s important for more farms to reap the benefits of the project,” said Julie Gullett, of Seedpod Farm in Centralia. “We are losing the knowledge of elder farmers as they retire, and fewer folks are entering farming.”

Farms with annual sales of less than $250,000 per year may participate in the project. The benefits for farmers include receiving help from up to three interns per year; the interns being exempt from wage requirements and employment security; knowing and ensuring that vital knowledge is being passed on to a new generation of farmers.

“We want to ensure a quality learning experience for participants while making it easy for farms to take part,” said Kelly Kane, who manages the project for L&I. “We’re encouraged with this first-in-the-nation effort’s expansion across the state.”

Prior to the internship project, small farms exchanged informal on-farm education for a stipend or volunteer labor. This put both farms and workers at risk because of the lack of insurance to protect against injury. Under the project, interns have workers’ compensation protection along with the opportunity for a valuable education and hands-on experience in farming activities.

Application and curriculum resources are available from L&I, which certifies participating farms, at www.Lni.wa.gov/FarmInternProject. Contact Kane at 1-800-509-8847 or kelly.kane@lni.wa.gov for more information.

 

Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions 

 

Labor violations force truckers into life of servitude

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

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Truck drivers are a crucial link in the supply chain of getting imported goods from ports to stores. An investigative report by “USA Today” shows those drivers work long hours for low pay, all while being heavily in debt from leasing their trucks. The story, “Rigged,” published yesterday, recounts how at least 140 truck companies in southern California have been accused of labor violations, and forcing truckers into working conditions akin to indentured servitude.

The article’s author, Brett Murphy, joins me from Naples, Florida, to discuss the story. Tell us what’s happening to these truckers?

BRETT MURPHY, USA TODAY: Well, the companies found a loophole in the labor law. By calling these guys independent contractors instead of employees, no real rules apply. They can kind of do whatever they want — or they think they can.

So, what they’ve been able to do was sort of find a large population of truck drivers, mostly immigrants, about 16,000 immigrant drivers. And when the state told these companies that they had to use newer, cleaner trucks, instead of paying for it themselves, they came up with this idea of lease-to-own contracts, lease-to-own agreements.

And when the drivers came into work one day, just like they had been for decades, the company said, if you want to keep your job here, if you want to keep driving, you need to sign this contract. They didn’t translate it….

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Same charge, Second Offense – Jail for Unregistered Contractor

SHELTON, WA — A roofer who was criminally charged twice in 13 months for working illegally as a contractor has been sentenced to 15 days behind bars.

Peter Daniel Yeaman, 57, pleaded guilty Thursday in Mason County District Court to a gross misdemeanor charge of unregistered contracting. Judge Victoria Meadows imposed the jail time, and ordered Yeaman to pay $1,000 in penalties and repay his victim $5,000.

The judge required Yeaman to begin serving the jail time no later than Aug. 9. If Yeaman doesn’t comply with the sentence or commits a crime in the next two years, he could face up to 349 more days in jail.

This is the second time the Washington Attorney General’s Office has prosecuted Yeaman based on a Department of Labor & Industries investigation into him and his company, Southgate Roofing, of Belfair.

Cashes check for new roofing job on same day as guilty plea

In the current case, Yeaman was not registered as a contractor when he agreed to reroof a house in Grapeview, south of Bremerton, and cashed a $5,000 check for the job on Nov. 23, 2015.

That was the very same day that he pleaded guilty and was sentenced in an older case on one count of unregistered contracting and one felony count of doing business after his workers’ compensation coverage was revoked. The sentence required, in part, that he not work as an unregistered contractor for two years.

“It’s hard to believe the audacity of this defendant,” said Elizabeth Smith, assistant director of L&I’s Fraud Prevention & Labor Standards.

“This is an especially serious case of someone who knew he was breaking the law for a second time, and chose to rip off a customer.”

In the 2015 case, Yeaman accepted the $5,000 check, and told the homeowner that the job would cost an additional $1,379. He said he would start the roofing job as soon as the rain “let up,” charging papers said.

That was in early December. The rain let up and months passed. The homeowner kept contacting Yeaman, who said in May 2016 that it would be a few more weeks before he could start. The homeowner then contacted L&I.

Multiple civil infractions for unregistered contracting

In the previous criminal case, Yeaman’s company started a roofing job in May 2014, but the owner of that home learned he was unregistered and asked for his money back. Yeaman never repaid him, and the owner hired a registered contractor to finish the job, costing the consumer $4,500 more than anticipated.

Since 2013, L&I has cited Yeaman nine times for unregistered contracting and twice for not obtaining a permit before altering a manufactured home.

L&I suspended his contractor registration in November 2012 for failing to pay his workers’ comp premiums.

He now owes L&I nearly $180,000 for unpaid contracting and safety infractions and workers’ comp premiums and penalties. The department is continuing efforts to collect the debt.

State law requires contractors to register with L&I, which confirms they have a business license, liability insurance and a bond to provide some recourse for consumers if problems arise. It’s illegal to work, offer, subcontract, submit bids or advertise as a contractor without being registered.

Consumers can verify contractor registration online (ProtectMyHome.net).

Note: prior post about Southgate Roofing from July 2015.

 

Cries of High Costs and Fraud – Watch for Reforms

There is always discussion, in every state, about the expense of workers’ compensation insurance to employers. It is common to hear stories of corruption and fraud when employer costs run high. This discussion can lead to cries of fraud, usually with fingers pointed towards claimants and often tied into efforts to reduce benefits to injured workers. As a recent example, take a look at the article published on July 23rd in the Fresno Bee, written by Dan Walters of CALmatters, titled “California workers’ compensation system plagued by high costs and fraud.” In the article, Mr. Walters points to Southern California as an area particularly afflicted by fraud, inserting the hot-button phrase “immigrant workers,” as follows:

“Why Southern California? Its large numbers of immigrant workers are easily persuaded by recruitment agents, called “cappers,” to file claims that allow unscrupulous lawyers and medical providers to milk inflated payments for nonexistent injuries.”

Mr. Walter’s statement is misleading and inflammatory. The link provided by Mr. Walters to support his claim of fraud leads to a news piece – not a study – released by the Center for Investigative Reporting on their “Reveal” radio and web platform.  

The story on Reveal, titled “Profiteering masquerades as medical care for injured California workers,” published in March of 2016, focuses on fraud within the medical component of the workers’ compensation system.  It makes no mention of “immigrant workers” although there is discussion of Spanish-language service providers within the article. The conclusion of the Reveal piece describes injured workers as the real victims of the scams they investigated.

From our experience representing injured workers in Washington State, we see very little in the way of fraudulent acts, by medical providers, injured workers, insurance carriers or employers. In our cases, the fraud we encounter most, on both small and large scales, is committed by employers. We see misclassification of workers to reduce premium rates paid or the failure to provide coverage of a worker by stating they are independent contractors.  We see inaccurate data about earnings and overtime provided by employers in an effort to reduce compensation paid to injured workers and even outright lies about the circumstances of an injury to try to keep a claim rejected.

We do, however, see inefficiencies, on a daily basis, usually under the guise of cost management. Claims managers spend an incredible amount of time and energy micromanaging claims, segregating medical conditions from claim coverage, delaying or denying medical treatment authorizations, sometimes leading to litigation with months, or even years, involved and no relief from legal fees or costs for the claimant, even if successful at trial. In most cases, private insurance policies will not authorize treatment or surgery when a workers’ compensation claim is involved until the litigation has been concluded and the responsibility for coverage is clearly under their policy.

Fraud is a problem whenever it occurs, whomever is committing the fraudulent acts. To hear the cry of “fraud!” – especially when peppered with phrases like “immigrant workers” –  is a good warning bell. These cries often indicate another round of injured worker benefit cuts will soon be on the table. Watch for more news stories, videos of an injured worker riding a jet ski, and you’ll know there’s soon to be “reforms” proposed.

“The “grand compromise” is just as valid today as it was in 1914, but it could collapse if costs – and the fraud and other unseemly aspects of work comp that drive them – are not tamed. The next overhaul should be systemic, not just another backroom deal.” – Dan Walters

An efficiently run system run with fairness and respect and a focus on a speedy, full recovery after an injury and limiting lost wage earning capacity for workers permanently injured on the job should be the goal of all of the players within a workers’ compensation system. Cost savings and improved outcomes can both be achieved. These goals are best met through broad-based efforts to work together on the full spectrum of issues rather than singling out one or more of the segments – doctors, lawyers, claimants, carriers or government agencies – as the primary culprit. There’s room for improvement in all of these segments.

Photo credit: Kit Case

Seeking Balance and Value – Workers’ Comp Expenses and Benefits

Employer Rate Expenses and Injured Worker Compensation, by State

The Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services issues their Workers’ Compensation Premium Rate Ranking Summary annually. In it, the Department quantifies the cost of workers’ compensation premiums in each state and ranks the states numerically based on the cost to employers for providing workers’ compensation benefits to the workforce.

The Oregon study is focused on the dollar-cost of coverage from the viewpoint of employers.  But, the employer is only one of the parties involved in the workers’ compensation world.  There are also medical professionals, vocational counselors, and the injured workers.  I was interested in how the ranked states would stack up from the injured worker’s perspective, so I looked up the maximum weekly benefit rates for each state, based on information maintained by the Social Security Administration – and made a comparison of my own. 

Understand that workers’ compensation claims have many facets that go beyond weekly benefit rates, and that every state has their own system with it’s own set of benefits and criteria for receiving those benefits.  This includes variations across the states that affect allowance of claims, compensability of claims, allowance of medical treatment and procedures, provision of vocational retraining benefits, conclusions about ability to return to work or placement on total disability pensions, caps on weeks of compensation paid and a variety of compensation structures for final settlements or awards for permanent partial disability.

My comparison is only of two data points: the ranking of cost per the Oregon study and each state’s maximum compensation rate paid to injured workers. It does not factor in the cost of living or average salaries in each state. It does not begin to touch on the issue of the quality of medical care available to workers in each state nor on claim outcomes, restoration of physical function or loss of wage-earning capacity for injured workers. It is a simplistic look at a complicated dataset.

To see an interactive map charting the results, click here.

To see my tally of the maximum compensation rates against the rankings of employer expense, click here.

In the most-recent Oregon summary, issued in October 2016, Washington State ranks 15th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, with a cost rate of 107% of the median.  The highest-cost state was California, at 176% of the median cost. The lowest was North Dakota, ranked at 51st with 48% of the median expense rate. But, the highest-cost states do not have the highest level of benefits paid to injured workers.

In my non-scientific analysis, Washington State ranked 5th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of maximum weekly compensation rates, at $1,313.06 per week or $5,689.93 as a monthly amount. The state with the highest maximum weekly rate was Iowa at $1,688.00 per week or $7,314.67 monthly. At the bottom of the list was Mississippi with a weekly rate of $468.63 or $2030.73 per month.

The most expensive state, California per the Oregon study, came in at #14 in monetary benefits to workers at a maximum of $1,128.43 per week or $4,889.86 per month. The least expensive state, North Dakota, came in at #10 based on maximum weekly compensation of $1,214.00 or $5,260.67 per month.

It is important for each state’s workers’ compensation system to be run efficiently, fairly, and provide the most “bang for the buck” to improve claim outcomes. For injured workers, on a personal scale, this means quick decisions on medical treatment authorizations to allow a speedy and full recovery after an injury. It also means providing meaningful vocational services when a full recovery is not possible to limit the decrease in earning capacity. On a bigger scale, injured workers need to know that quality medical care is available to them. This requires that doctors receive the payment and support they need to efficiently be able to treat injured workers without drowning in red tape and delays.

A well-run system can result in better outcomes for injured workers and lower costs to employers, all the while avoiding doctor flight. It would appear from the numbers that some states are doing better than others at achieving this goal with several that have lower employer costs and higher maximum weekly benefits to injured workers. This is a goal we can all work towards.

Photo credit: jimmiehomeschoolmom via Foter.com / CC BY

 

BBC News: Wisconsin Company to Microchip Employees

This BBC News article has popped up all over the internet and I couldn’t resist sharing it here, as well. – kc

A Wisconsin company is to become the first in the US to microchip employees.

Three Square Market is offering to implant the tiny radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip into workers’ hands for free – and says everyone will soon be doing it.

The rice grain-sized $300 (£230) chip will allow them to open doors, log in to computers and even purchase food.

And so far, 50 employees have signed up for the chance to become half-human, half-walking credit card.

But far from being some sort of dystopian nightmare, Three Square Market’s Patrick McMullan believes everyone will soon be wanting their own microchip.

“The international market place is wide open and we believe that the future trajectory of total market share is going to be driven by whoever captures this arena first,” Mr McMullan said.

The company, which provides self-service “micro markets” to businesses around the world, was inspired by the micro-chipping already taking place in Sweden, where so-called “bio-hackers” have been inserting the tiny devices into willing participants for at least three years.

Three Square Market are even working with a Swedish company, BioHax, to deliver the new technology, which they see as one day being simply another payment and identification method – only instead of a credit card or phone, there would be a microchip between your thumb and finger.

But how did employees react?

While a large proportion of the world might think twice before putting a tiny chip in their hand, it seems those at Three Square Market had no such worries.

Out of 85 employees at the company’s head office, 50 have come forward, vice-president of international development Tony Danna told the BBC.

Can they be tracked?

“That is going to be the inevitable reaction,” Mr Danna acknowledged.

“But there is no GPS tracking ability to it. It is really the same thing as the chip that is in your credit card.”

How does it go in – and how do you get it out?

The entire point of the chip is convenience, Mr Danna explained.

Eventually, he hopes it will replace everything you might have in your wallet – from your key fob to your credit card and ID. For now, it is just aiming to make life easier for those using Three Square Market’s facilities.

But the convenience also stretches to installing and removing the chip.

“It takes about two seconds to put it in and to take it out,” he told the BBC. Putting it in is “like getting a shot” using a syringe, while taking it out it like removing a splinter.

“Easy in, easy out,” Mr Danna said.

What if you get robbed?

Like everything in life, it could happen.

But, says Mr Danna, at least it is all in one place, making it easier to cancel all those cards.

Photo credit: kuhnmi via Foter.com / CC BY

Pope Francis: Labor unions are essential to society

Today’s post was shared by Steven Greenhouse and comes from www.americamagazine.org

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on June 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis greets the crowd as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on June 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Labor unions that protect and defend the dignity of work and the rights of workers continue to have an essential role in society, especially in promoting inclusion, Pope Francis said.

"There is no good society without a good union, and there is no good union that isn’t reborn every day in the peripheries, that doesn’t transform the rejected stones of the economy into corner stones," the pope said on June 28 during an audience with Italian union leaders.

"There is no justice together if it isn’t together with today’s excluded ones," he told members of the Italian Confederation of Union Workers.

Unions, he said, risk losing their "prophetic nature" when they mimic the very institutions they are called to challenge, he said. "Unions over time have ended up resembling politicians too much, or rather political parties, their language, their style."

Labor unions must guard and protect workers, but also defend the rights of those "outside the walls," particularly those who are retired and the excluded who are "also excluded from rights and democracy."

Pope Francis denounced situations in which children are forced to work rather than being allowed to study, which is the "only good ‘job’ for children."

Turning to one of his frequently voiced concerns, the pope told the union…

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Saying Goodbye and Best Wishes to Reed Johnson

The summer of 2017 has been a time of big changes for Reed Johnson. Reed and his wife, Rachel, were married and Reed has accepted a position with a firm in Portland, Oregon.  Reed & Rachel will be moving to their new home in Oregon soon.

Reed instantly became a part of the Causey Wright family when he joined our firm in 2015. Although we will miss him greatly, we are excited for the opportunities that lie ahead and wish Reed and Rachel all the best going forward.  

Thanks, Reed! We’ll keep in touch!!

Photo credit: Erik Bell

Boeing’s Homage to Women Engineers

I found the video The Boeing Company produced to be quite compelling. Below is Boeing’s release statement and a link to the video. It’s worth watching, and sharing. – Kit

For this year’s International Women in Engineering Day, Boeing is highlighting the need for more women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). 

Through its powerful #WomenMakeUsBetter video, which features Boeing engineers reading and reacting to college rejection letters women received in the early 20th century, Boeing demonstrates we have come a long way – but there is still much more to be done.

Today, only 13% of U.S. engineering jobs are held by women. The #WomenMakeUsBetter video features real Boeing employees who are working hard to change that. 

Boeing understands that women bring important perspectives and different skills to the workforce and that girls need role models in careers like engineering. That’s why Boeing focuses on recruiting diverse employees and reaching out to minority and under-represented communities to encourage them to consider a career in STEM.

Last year, Boeing and the Boeing Charitable Trust gave more than $18 million towards community initiatives that encouraged more than 600,000 women to go into STEM fields. 

Watch the full video to see how #WomenMakeUsBetter.  

Photo: Shirley Jackson, the first African-American female Ph.D graduate of MIT who later went on to become the president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a prestigious engineering school. Tip of the hat to Shawn Adderly

Published by Causey Wright