The daily grind: Shaft turning on workers again today | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The daily grind: Shaft turning on workers again today

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2017 at 1:29 PM

Businesses might like Arkansas because of the comfort the legislature is ever ready to provide to the bosses, but working men and women?

Good example today are two bills pending to further tilt the workers compensation system — already overloaded in favor of the bosses — against workers.

The Senate will vote on HB1586 by Rep. John Payton to limit payments to permanently and totally disabled workers to 8.6 years. The bosses say they have some exposure from longer coverage. It could easily be covered by insurance, but the bosses would rather push these workers onto the federal Social Security Disability Insurance system. Alas, that federal system is functionally insolvent and the state and federal benefits don't align. This cap would hurt children too. A child who started getting benefits at age two because of loss of a parent would lose benefits at age 10, rather than keep them until 18, as now allowed.

 The House is going to get a second vote on Rep. Charlie Collins' HB 1953. It's another chamber of commerce-backed bill. It pertains to an insurance company's ability to recover money they spent when a third party is liable. As the AFL-CIO put it:

In current law, Insurance Companies have subrogation rights. They may join in a suit with the injured worker against a third-party or they may file their own suit. HB1953 would allow Insurance Carriers to sit back and collect after the injured worker had found an attorney, filed a suit and received an award. It allows Insurance Carriers a free ride on the coattails of the injured worker and their attorney, basically using the injured worker as a debt collector.

Again, HB1953 is being pushed by the State Chamber, Self-Insurers and the Trucking Association. Representative Collins, when presenting his bill, states that this bill would prevent the injured worker from "double-dipping" by receiving an award for medical costs when they were already paid by Insurance. This makes sense, right? Well, Workers' Compensation awards are do not contain line-items. HB1953 would allow Insurance Carriers to recover both medical costs and the 66% of wages covered.

The bill would allow payments first to insurance companies, not the injured worker.

UPDATE: Wow. The bill failed. It got a 66-14 vote, but it needed 67, or two-thirds, as a change to workers compensation law.  That was its second defeat, but the first vote was expunged so it could have another round.

The bosses have enjoyed favorable treatment since 1993. But now they want more. Sens. David Sanders and Missy Irvin have four more shell bills to come up with ideas to take more from workers. At some point, the workers compensation system becomes almost pointless. Said the AFL-CIO:

We worry that while Arkansas is talking about job-training and attracting workers to our state, our policies say otherwise. We are a state with paper mills, steel mills and nuclear powerhouses. How do we continue to remove all protections for these workers and hope to retain and/or attract new workers? We also work with skilled tradesmen and construction workers. In 2017, these workers can go anywhere in the United States to work on projects. Arkansas may need to look at making our state attractive for workers in these mobile times. Low incomes, low unemployment benefits and bad Workers' Compensation policies have made it extremely difficult to "man jobs" in the state.

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