Workers’ compensation “reform”

(Summary: Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson says that House Speaker Frank Chopp and other House Dems deserve strong praise for standing firm and protecting the current workers’ compensation system. Call Chopp and thank him. Call Gregoire and Lisa Brown and ask them to rein in the Senate Road Kill Caucus of conservative Dems.)

At Sunday’s King County Dems Legislative Action Committee meeting in Tukwila, Jeff Johnson, newly elected president of the Washington State Labor Council, spoke on worker’s compensation “reform.”   I put the word in double quotes because Labor and most Democrats think the aim of those people who want to change the system is to begin privatizing Washington’s worker compensation system, which is one of the most successful and efficient systems in the nation.  Washington employers’ costs are 14th from the lowest in the country.  There are no advertizing fees and no need to pay huge CEO salaries.  Unlike some other states, Washington does not have  “compromise & release” (aka settle agreements), under which injured workers are asked to agree to an early lump-sum payment.

Apparently, this rather arcane issue of settlement agreements  is a stumbling block for reaching a budget agreement.

King County Dems

The story Johnson told is this:   the House and the Senate need to come to agreement on a budget so the Governor can sign it.   Thanks to the revenue received from the tax amnesty program, the House and Senate numbers are close.   But Republicans in the Senate, allied with the Road Kill Caucus of conservative Democrats, are holding the budget process hostage. They’re demanding that workers’ compensation be “reformed” to lower costs.   Knowing that the combination of Republicans and the six Road Kill Democrats in the Senate would be able to prevent passage of a budget, Governor Gregoire and Senate Majority leader Lisa Brown want the House to compromise.    But Frank Chopp is standing firm.   The Governor asked Johnson, in a half dozen one-on-one meetings, to accept worker’s compensation reforms.  Johnson was willing to accept a handful of reforms, but the Republicons and Road Killers insist on settlement agreements.

It’s not clear to me why settlement agreements are so important to both sides.  Johnson says that if they’re allowed, private insurance companies will flood the state (with what? extra insurance?).   They’ll be a “slippery slope” leading to the privatization and weakening of the system.  Labor can live with a Cost of Living Adjustment freeze and with other reforms, but “reforming”  workers’ comp on the backs of injured workers is unacceptable.   Johnson said the issue is political, not economic.   Republicons want to achieve private insurance.

During the 2002 recession, premium rates rose 29%. This year they rose 12%.  Still, the Republicans and the Governor want to lower rates.

Washington is also the only state in which workers pay 25% – 33% of the costs.    The system here doesn’t pay for pain and suffering. Nor does it pay for loss of future income.  Because there are no settlement agreements, pension costs are higher.  Costs can be lowered by

  1. giving medical care sooner
  2. implementing return-to-work options
  3. better claims management, and
  4. Retraining of injured workers.

The Road Kill Dems raised the issue early on, and the Governor put out a reform package in December.   The recent Senate Bill SB 2019 made minor, “side board” changes to the earlier bill ESB 5566. The changes were meant to make reform more palatable to Labor.  But if the bill passes,  every injured worker should hire an attorney. (So why is the attorney org Washington Association for Justice opposing reform?)

Some years revenue from corporate and worker fees result in surpluses.  In other years, payouts are high and revenues are low, and there’s a shortfall.  In either case, Republicans and corporations complain.  Either it’s taking in too much money or not enough.

Johnson says that the Democrats are “working against each other”, and we’re heading for a “train wreck” if the issue can’t be resolved.   Chopp has been able to keep the House Road Killers in check.

Johnson says that House Speaker Frank Chopp and other House Dems deserves strong praise for standing firm and protecting the current worker’s compensation system. Call Chopp and thank him. Call Gregoire and Lisa Brown and ask them to rein in the Road Killers.

That Chopp is a labor hero is interesting. Some progressives accuse him of selling out.  Obviously, the truth is more complicated.  When I heard him speak once, I was impressed by his smarts and his seeming dedication to progressive values. I wasn’t sure if that was just good politicking or if he really meant it.  Of course, labor’s and progressives’ interests don’t always coincide.

Johnson ended by mentioning his”DIME” button:   Don’t Invest In More Excuses.  That means:  Labor may withdraw support for Democrats, unless the latter support the former. (I presume that concerns Pres.Obama too.)

At one point, Johnson mentioned that he can’t reveal some details, due to discretion, so there may be more going on than is public.

Education and teacher evaluations

Olga Addae, President of the Seattle Teacher’s Association, discussed proposals for teacher evaluation.   She presented stats suggesting that there is widespread bias in which teachers are put on probation (for getting negative evaluations).  For example, in Seattle only 7% of educators are African American, but 27% of probations are handed out to African Americans.

Addae told of a class management method that she found to be insensitive to minorities.  Students were taught to show respect to visiting speakers by clapping and then putting their hands on their heads. Since putting your hands on your head is what you’re made to do when you’re being arrested, and since many poor kids have seen people being arrested, the practice was insensitive.  White teachers were unaware of this, and after being educated about it the practice was stopped. Addae herself is Hispanic. She’s loud and rowdy and proud of it.

Seattle has too many small schools (with small student bodies). That results in high administrative overhead and top-heavy management.

Pretty much anything Stand for Children supports is suspect.    The Chamber of Commerce and Republicans want to lower middle class pay to the level of China, India, and South America to keep America “competitive.”  Race to the bottom.   If you oppress some people, the first thing those people do is to start attaching each other. Others agreed.

Metro bus funding

Sara Franklin, a Metro bus driver for 25 years, warned that  Metro will have to cut 600,000 annual service hours if 2/3 the King County Council doesn’t vote for the temporary 2-year $20 tab increase–at a time when ridership is at an all-time high and rising. Alternatively, all bus service on the eastside of Seattle would be eliminated.  In the past year they’ve already cut 100,000 hours.   There’s a proposal for a $20 “congestion” fee on cars to fund metro buses.  But the legislature applied Tim Eyman’s 2/3 majority rule to the King County council, who would need to approve the fee increase. But Eyman convinced the four Republicans on the nine member council to oppose any fee increase.  See Tim Eyman attacks public transit.

Redistricting

See separate post.