I-1082: The Wrong Solution For Washington’s Workers’ Compensation System

No on 1082Almost one hundred years ago, Washington was one of the first states to enact the oldest social insurance program in our country – workers’ compensation.  It was part of a social compact between business and labor in which employees traded their right to sue in tort for their injuries for a more timely, but lower benefit, no-fault system to cover their injuries.  Only in the U.S. – among virtually all industrialized democracies with workers’ compensation systems – is the private, for-profit insurance industry permitted to underwrite these legislatively mandated programs and have any role in this social contract.  Our state has operated without the intrusion of the for-profit industry for its entire existence, and despite its faults and shortcomings, Washington’s system is viewed among the states as one of the most highly efficient and productive,  The proponents of I-1082 have simply not made a case for the so-called “reform” they claim privatizing our system will bring.  Reject this initiative – it is the wrong solution for our state.

Reject this initiative – it is the wrong solution for our state.

As we struggle to come out of the “Great Recession,” Washington voters face real issues, many created by our slumping economy.  Continue reading I-1082: The Wrong Solution For Washington’s Workers’ Compensation System

L&I Issues Record Fine In Deadly Tesoro Explosion

Tesoro

Department of Labor and Industries press release:

After a six-month investigation, the Department of Labor & Industries has concluded that the deadly explosion at the Tesoro petroleum refinery in Anacortes could have been prevented. At a press conference today, L&I announced it has cited Tesoro for 39 “willful” violations and five “serious” violations of state workplace safety and health regulations, fining the company $2.38 million. While no amount of money can reflect the value of a person’s life, this is the largest fine in the agency’s history. A willful violation is a category of violation where an employer knowingly violates a rule and is plainly indifferent to correcting it, while a serious violation is one involving an instance where there is a substantial probability of serious injury or death.

L&I announced it has cited Tesoro for 39 “willful” violations and five “serious” violations of state workplace safety and health regulations, fining the company $2.38 million.

A heat exchanger at the refinery ruptured around 12:30 a.m., April 2, 2010, releasing hydrocarbon vapor which almost immediately ignited. Seven workers, five men and two women, died as a result. It is the worst industrial disaster in the 37 years that L&I has been enforcing the state’s workplace safety law, the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act.

“The loss of seven lives is a tragedy not just for their loved ones but for our entire state. What makes the loss of these lives all the more painful is that these deaths could have been prevented,” Governor Chris Gregoire said. “I believe the action L&I is announcing today and the record fine they have assessed against Tesoro sends a clear message that these tragedies are not acceptable.”

L&I inspectors found that Tesoro disregarded a host of workplace safety regulations, continued to operate failing equipment for years, postponed maintenance, inadequately tested for potentially catastrophic damage and failed to adequately protect their workers from significant risk of injury and death.

“This explosion and the deaths of these men and women would never have occurred had Tesoro tested their equipment in a manner consistent with standard industry practices, their own policies and state regulations,” said L&I Director Judy Schurke.
At today’s press conference, L&I inspectors explained that the explosion occurred in the plant’s Naphtha Hydrotreater Unit, an area that includes two banks of heat exchangers. Naphtha is a flammable, oily substance produced as part of the refining process. The naphtha flows through the heat exchangers, cylinders approximately 30 feet long, on its way for further processing. One of these heat exchangers split violently on April 2.

The blast came as workers were Continue reading L&I Issues Record Fine In Deadly Tesoro Explosion

Seattlepi.com: I-1082 – Boon To BIAW, Bad For Workers

Reprinted from SEATTLEPI.COM EDITORIAL BOARD

Initiative 1082, if read carefully, reveals itself as a financial cash cow for insurance companies and the Building Industry Association of Washington — its prime sponsor — and sour milk for the state’s workforce.

The initiative would privatize the state’s worker compensation system by allowing insurance companies to compete with the state to provide coverage. The BIAW and similar groups could become partners with insurance companies in covering workers.

Workers comp, like Social Security, is a contract: The public has said to workers — those who put bodies and limbs at risk — that if injured you get compensated, and you don’t have to sue.

Opponents urge a reading of its fine print: The State Insurance Commissioner would be shorn of oversight, and what insurance companies would charge. In the words of I-1082, “Such rates shall not require commissioner preapproval prior to use.”

Insurers would not be required to give notice, to physicians or legal counsel or anybody, in a case where an insurance claim is denied: The insurer would have the power of indefinite delay and judging a worker’s injury and benefit claim, with no enforcement mechanism to protect the worker.

But you don’t need fine print to understand goals of the initiative’s sponsors. In a recent issue of the BIAW’s newsletter, executive vice president Tom McCabe wrote:

“I personally yearn for the day when the mammoth state Department of Labor and Industries is closed down, windows shuttered, with weeds growing all over its sprawling campus.”

Washington’s worker compensation system was adopted 99 years ago, at a time when the Evergreen State had a logging-mining-farming economy.

It is a no-fault, non-profit system that safeguards employers from lawsuits over job-related injuries, while providing medical insurance and partial wage compensation to injured workers.

Workers comp, like Social Security, is a contract: The public has said to workers — those who put bodies and limbs at risk — that if injured you get compensated, and you don’t have to sue.

The system has some flaws. Continue reading Seattlepi.com: I-1082 – Boon To BIAW, Bad For Workers

Labor Day 2010: Puppets of the Plutocrats

Reprinted from the Saint Louis Post Dispatch

America should just go ahead and cancel Labor Day. Really.

Other than as an excuse for a picnic, what’s the point? Three hundred and sixty-four days a year, we honor plutocrats, and one Monday holiday in September is going to make up for it?

Organized labor no doubt would object. Big deal. One worker in eight belongs to a labor union. And last year, for the first time in history, more public-sector workers (500,000 more) belonged to a union than did private-sector workers.

Oh, the irony. For the second year in a row, Americans “celebrate” Labor Day with unemployment at 9.6 percent or higher. Corporate profits are 5.7 higher now than then they were in the fourth quarter of 2007, when the recession began. The number of jobs is 5.9 percent lower.

Corporate profits are 5.7 higher now than then they were in the fourth quarter of 2007, when the recession began. The number of jobs is 5.9 percent lower.

Labor — by which we mean not only organized labor but the entire working class — should just give it up. Roll over. Turn turtle. Admit it: The class war is over, and you lost. You not only lost, you collaborated.

Organized labor still may be fighting the good fight. But a lot of the working class is out there marching in the streets on behalf of the monied class, puppets of the plutocrats, angry as hell at all of the wrong people.

Oh, it wasn’t always like this. Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 because President Grover Cleveland and Congress were frightened of labor’s power.

This was after Eugene V. Debs of the Railroad Workers Union had brought the country to its knees over Continue reading Labor Day 2010: Puppets of the Plutocrats

Initiative 1082: Join Us In Opposing This Sneaky Initiative

No On 1082 Bull

I-1082 is a massive power grab by the insurance industry, written by insurance industry lobbyists under the guise of workers’ compensation “reform,” to gain excessive profits at the expense of workers, small businesses, and taxpayers in our state — and it will be on the ballot this November. I-1082 was written by the insurance industry, and just like an insurance policy, its fine print is filled with hidden provisions, all at your expense.

In fact, the fine print of I-1082 gives special exemptions to workers’ compensation insurers that no other line of insurance is allowed — not car, not home, not life or health. It exempts private workers’ compensation insurance companies from almost all of the oversight and consumer protections covering every other type of insurance sold in the state. I-1082 also lets insurers set their own rates and allows them to wrongfully deny and delay legitimate claims with virtually no way to hold them accountable.

Workers’ compensation insurance is there when you and your family need it. If you’re injured on the job, workers’ compensation pays your doctor bills and provides some income until you can work again.

But I-1082 would wreak havoc on workers’ compensation here in Washington. We’ve seen what the insurance industry has done Continue reading Initiative 1082: Join Us In Opposing This Sneaky Initiative

Initiative 1082: The Insurance Industry’s Plan To Destroy Washington State Workers’ Compensation

No on 1082Friends:

The only way most of you would even know anything about this is if you were approached by a signature-gatherer to sign an initiative petition for something called I-1082 to get on the November ballot.  Some of you may have already signed this if it was discussed by the signature-gatherer in conjunction with another ballot initiative, such as privatization of liquor sales in Washington.  You have probably heard some of the meaningless jargon, such as “allow private insurance to ‘compete’ in the workers’ compensation system.”

But, here we are, now faced with a measure that is calculated essentially to destroy one of the best workers’ compensation systems in the country.  Sure, many of you may have had, or are still having, a contentious experience with the Department of Labor & Industries, or a self-insured employer, over a workers’ comp claim.  If there weren’t a lot of problem claims in the system, our firm wouldn’t be in the business of representing injured workers.  But compared with most other state workers’ comp systems Continue reading Initiative 1082: The Insurance Industry’s Plan To Destroy Washington State Workers’ Compensation

Stan Rumbaugh For Washington State Supreme Court

Washington State Supreme CourtDear Clients and Friends:

Since many of you routinely ask for our advice on judicial races – particularly ones that get little or no publicity in the media – I urge you to vote in the upcoming, ridiculously-timed primary election on Tuesday, August 17, on a very important position. Our colleague, plaintiff’s workers’ compensation and personal injury attorney, Stan Rumbaugh, is challenging incumbent Justice Jim Johnson for his seat on Washington’s Supreme Court.

Stan has represented workers for over 30 years, and has argued numerous significant cases involving worker and injury victim rights at the appellate court level in Washington, including the Supreme Court. Jim Johnson is the most conservative member of our court who for the past six years has routinely sided with corporate interests over the rights of individuals. Most importantly, he is closely allied with the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) which has been the most tenacious organization in our state in working to limit the rights of Washington workers under our workers’ compensation act.

In cases where the BIAW was involved at the Supreme Court, Justice Johnson has sided with the BIAW 16 out of 17 times. Justice Johnson’s clientele before joining the Supreme Court included large corporations, powerful developers, and the political think-tanks that support those interests. Go towww.rumbaughforjustice.com for more information, and also look atwww.johnsonsinjustice.com for more detail on the type of “judicial activism” against individuals and for corporate interests characteristic of Justice Johnson’s decisions.

Vote for Stan Rumbaugh for Washington’s Supreme Court in the August 17 primary, which will be the deciding election in that race.

Thanks,

Jay

Annual Rate Adjustment: WA Workers’ Compensation

Time Loss rates go up, but permanent impairment awards go down…

Workers’ compensation benefits to increase, decrease effective July 1.

Workers currently receiving Washington workers’ compensation wage-replacement or pension benefits will receive a 1.9 percent cost-of-living increase effective Thursday, July 1. State law requires that benefits be recalculated each year to reflect the change in the state’s average wage from the previous calendar year. The recalculation of benefits is based on the average annual wage of all workers in Washington. That wage, calculated by the Employment Security Department, rose to $47,153 in 2009, an increase of 1.9 percent from 2008.

The amount the Department of Labor and Industries or self-insured employers pay for permanent partial disability (PPD) awards for new injuries that occur on or after July 1 is decreasing by .67 percent. This decrease is based on the change in the Consumer Price Index. PPD awards go to workers who have lost a body part or suffered a permanent, disabling injury.

L&I Inspectors To Investigate Fatal Explosion At Tesoro Refinery

TesoroThe Department of Labor and Industries  is investigating today’s fatal explosion at the Tesoro petroleum refinery in Anacortes.

“All of us at L&I are deeply saddened by the loss of life and our thoughts go out to the family and friends of those who have died and those who have been seriously injured,” said L&I Director Judy Schurke. “We’re going to take a hard look at the circumstances to determine whether there were violations of the law and what actions can be taken to prevent a future occurrence.”

The L&I team investigating the explosion consists of three inspectors and a compliance manager familiar with the plant from previous inspections. The team also has technical expertise in Process Safety Management (PSM). PSM focuses on a refinery’s development and implementation of systems designed to reduce or mitigate the potential for catastrophic releases of highly hazardous chemicals.

Although L&I has opened an inspection, the team will not have access to the site until receiving clearance from incident command officials.

The investigation is expected to be complex, involving interviews, reviews of records, analysis of the scene, and laboratory work. The investigation could take up to six months.

In addition, the L&I inspection team will Continue reading L&I Inspectors To Investigate Fatal Explosion At Tesoro Refinery

Why Wait? A Case Study…

Don't Wait To Seek CounselI reviewed a workers’ compensation claim for a potential client nine months ago.  At the time, I told him of several items that I saw as upcoming issues in his case and shared my opinion about why it would be important for us to start clearing those issues off the deck sooner rather than later.  Would he be found employable with no services or would he receive just a bit of training to allow him to continue working in his field as a welder but in a lighter-duty capacity?  Would the onset of depression be addressed under the claim and taken into consideration when making employability decisions?  Would his level of permanent impairment be under-rated through the typical Independent Medical Evaluation (IME) process or would his surgeon be willing to provide a rating that more accurately reflects his limitations?  I shared my concerns about his case, explained the process I would recommend for addressing these concerns and discussed the fees and costs to be expected.  He indicated he wanted to go forward with representation.

I did not hear from him again, until yesterday.  He left me a message asking for help with his claim.  I looked at the case this morning before returning his call.  He has been found to be employable with no additional retraining, so he will likely not be able to continue with his favored career but, instead, can look forward to his new line of work as a small parts assembler.  He underwent an IME that conservatively rated his level of permanent impairment and approved the job analysis for small parts assembly.  His attending physician signed the form letter to indicate concurrence with the IME results and, on this basis, the Claims Manager has found him employable and is closing the claim.  What about the depression?  Not addressed by the IME, so the Claims Manager is construing the attending physician’s signature on the concurrence form letter to mean that he is also not contending that depression is an issue, so she is denying this condition under the claim.

I know there are two sides to every argument, and I know that an employer representative would look at this same fact pattern and see a job well done, but I am a claimant’s advocate, so I share my thoughts from only that perspective.  I see a situation where I now have a 15-day deadline for filing a dispute with the Vocational Dispute Resolution Office if I want to argue that Continue reading Why Wait? A Case Study…

Published by Causey Wright

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