Overexertion: 27% of the Cost of Workers Compensation

Washington SB5566, passed in the State Senate on March 5,  has implications far beyond the actual benefits paid to injured individuals.  In a previous column in this forum I discussed how this bill could scam unsuspecting workers with inadequate legal representation out of receiving benefits they deserve.  This report reveals the enormous costs being run up because workers are under pressure to a degree that leads to the filing of injury claims.

The data on the costs to workers compensation based on accident type is located in this spreadsheet:


Sorting this data by accident type and summing for the overexertion accident type, the result is $178,166,040.  The sum for all accident types is $658,060,979.  Overexertion represented 27% of the cost of workers compensation.

Employees are either forced to do more than they can handle or motivated by fear of losing their jobs or competition for performance review to overexert themselves to the point of injury. Weakening workers compensation will only allow this type of abuse to continue.

Reducing workers compensation benefits will allow the problem of workplace injuries to persist.  It will provide a disincentive to design work assignments in a manner that is protective of health and safety.

It seems that the shorter work week and longer vacation allotments common in Europe provide the dual benefits of spreading employment throughout the population and lowering unemployment while
avoiding the workers compensation costs resulting from overexertion.

In order to lower the costs in the state workers compensation system it is necessary to address the problem of the pressure placed on employees to overwork to the point where they ruin their health and have to file injury claims.



Remembering Rachel Corrie

It’s March 16th and my life takes place in Olympia to a large degree. Rachel was an Olympia kid. I think she was a remarkable kid who grew up to be a remarkable young woman. I run into so many remarkable people around Olympia, so many wonderful kids, adults. I hope you have a similar experience wherever you spend your days.

But it’s March 16th and today, more than some days, Rachel is on my mind. Sending my love and support to Craig and Cindy today. The death of a child is a devastation.

from the Rachel Corrie Foundation:

March 16th, the 8th Anniversary of

Rachel Corrie’s Stand in Gaza

Wednesday, March 16th, we mark the eighth anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s stand in Rafah to protect the home of a Gazan family and for the right of all Palestinians to be free of occupation.

Here in Rachel’s hometown, we will mark the day with an event emphasizing community-building, education, and action – all key to Rachel’s organizing here and beyond. We will continue a tradition of sharing a potluck meal, music, and spoken word and will hear from Cindy and Craig Corrie about the continuing civil trial in Israel in Rachel’s case. We will focus on our friends in Gaza who, according to the The UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) continue to suffer death, injury, and severe restriction on imports, exports, and freedom of movement. We will continue our demands for an end to the collective punishment of the 1.7 million residents of Gaza and to the blockade and siege.

See the OCHA Report Here.



Are libertarians sociopaths?

There’s a discussion on the Washington Liberals yahoo group about the heartlessness of libertarian philosophy.

The question came up: are libertarians sociopaths? Or are they just confused?

I too have called libertarianism “sociopathic.” Some of them probably have a deficit of empathy. But I’m sure most of them are pretty regular people, loving parents, more or less kind to their neighbors, etc. So, while the ideology is sociopathic, I’m not sure the followers are sociopaths.

In “The Banality of Evil” Hannah Arendt blamed the Nazi atrocities on bureaucratic thinking and mob psychology, more than on outright sadism and heartlessness. Evil lurks in all our hearts, kinda. And most sins are sins of omission, not commission.

In the American Prospect, E.J. Dionne, Jr wrote, “In 2010, Democrats lost white working-class voters by 30 points. In 2006 and 2008, they lost them by only 10 points.” This shows the success of conservative anti-government propaganda, as well as the success of their emphasis on wedge issues like guns, gays, and religion.

I think the libertarians get stuck on a couple of ideas that make some sense: people should mostly take care of themselves, and government is often corrupt and inefficient.

My response to the first idea is: some people can’t take care of themselves, and, besides, by banding together for certain services and protections, everyone can benefit (the “common good”, the tragedy of the commons), as I discussed in several of my articles.

My response to the second idea is that if government is corrupt, then fix it: make it less corrupt. Also, private entities (corporations and individuals) are the ones who corrupt government,; and corporations (e.g., health insurance companies) are often more inefficient than the government. Government-run health care systems in Europe provide higher quality care than America’s market based system, at a fraction of the cost. Without government, there’d be other sorts of corruption and inefficiency.

Ayn Rand is partly to blame, with her seductive idea that selfishness benefits everyone and her glorification of success.

A libertarian acquaintance said that Governor Gregoire’s altruistic hope to help the poor people does more harm than good. “When Christie tries to save the unproductive people of the world she drags down the productive people.” Pure, hard-nosed conserva-think.

I notice that a lot of young professionals are libertarians. I work as a programmer and I know that many software developers, self-made (so they think) men in their 20s and 30s, are libertarians.

I once was attending a meeting of King County Democrats in a coffee shop in Seattle. In another room there was a gathering of young people. The average age of that group was maybe 30. The average age of our Democratic group was maybe 60. I asked the younger group what the meeting was about. “We’re supporters of Ron Paul,” they said. My heart sank.

One libertarian said that the government has no more business educating our kids than they do forcing a religion on them. Wow, such hostility to cooperation!

Libertarians get SOME things right. The same libertarian guy who criticized Gregoire for her altruism went on to say: “Now if you want to identify true evil in govt, that is easy, look into the eyes of Bush, Gore, Rumsfeld, Kissenger [sic], etc.”



Driving is like smoking

Hey Drivers, Your filth fouls my lungs. Take a bus or carpool.

Twenty years ago, smoking was permitted in most restaurants and public buildings. Nowadays, smokers have accepted that they have no right to force nonsmokers to put up with secondhand smoke.

In a similar way, society needs to make the transition to a mindset in which driving a single-occupancy, non-electric passenger car is viewed as selfish, anti-social behavior.

Driving causes traffic congestion and noise. It contributes to global warming. It worsens the trade deficit. It makes America dependent on Middle Eastern oil kingdoms that have been breeding grounds for terrorists. It corrupts our foreign policy. And it pollutes the air, harming people’s health.

Recent medical studies show that people living within several hundred meters of major freeways, like I-405 and I-90, have reduced lung function and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. (See for example,  Auto Pollution’s Carbon Particulates Harm Kids’ Lung Function.) So, if you drive a car, you are harming people’s health.

We need to take drastic steps to encourage the use of public transportation, bicycles, carpooling and telecommuting and to discourage our harmful dependence on passenger cars.



Report on the 41st LD Town Hall meeting: budget cuts bite

Saturday afternoon I attended the 41st Legislative District  Town Hall meeting at Mercer Island High School.  State Sen. Steve Litzow (R),  Rep. Judy Clibborn (D), and Rep. Marcie Maxwell (D) spoke.  There was a huge turnout, despite the rain.

Most of the time was sent on questions and answers.  Almost all the questions concerned the painful budget cuts, especially with regard to education and social services.   Most of the questioners asked the legislators to preserve funding for education. A few mentioned social services (for example, programs for disabled people).  But one angry old guy complained about being “taxed to death” and about waste in government programs.  A few people made pleas for construction projects (jobs bills) or other special interest legislation.

Photo of Mercer Island Town Hall meeting for the 41st LD
Mercer Island Town Hall meeting for the 41st LD

The legislators repeatedly acknowledged that the cuts are severe and painful (“cutting bone, not just fat”). They acknowledged, when asked, that some of the cuts will cost more in the long run (“penny wise, pound foolish”).  They acknowledged that the state constitution says education is the paramount duty of the state (a fact that I’m sure angers conservatives, who are eager to defund public education).  But their hands are tied,  they say, due to the voters’ rejection of I-1098 (the high-earner’s income tax initiative) and due to their approval of I-1053 (Tim Eyman’s initiative requiring a 2/3 super-majority  for legislators to raise revenue).

One of the legislators — I forget who — said that most voters were surely unaware, when they voted for I-1053, that it makes it very difficult to eliminate tax breaks from the tax code.  There are over 500 of them, some maybe worthy, most special interest giveaways to entities like Boeing, out-of-state banks, and owners of private aircraft.

Organizations like Economic Opportunity Institute have valuable papers explaining the desirability of eliminating tax breaks.

In response to the angry old guy’s rant about waste in the state budget, Republican  Steve Litzow said that there’s very little left that can be cut.  This from a Republican!  Republican Congressman Dave Reichert too admitted, during a forum in Newcastle, that the Bush tax cuts were bad. But when Republicans campaign and vote, they favor regressive views.  Maybe it’s the system. Litzow also mentioned the regressiveness of the current tax system in Washington State.

The issue came up whether state workers are over-compensated (benefits). A legislator pointed out that their staff got pay cuts and furloughs, so it’s not true that only private sector workers have sacrificed.

Rep. Clibborn recommended that everyone not succumb to a doom-and-gloom mentality. Despite the budget problems, Washington State’s vibrant economy is still the envy of the nation, she said.

There were so many questions from the crowd that many people, including me, didn’t get a chance to speak. I wanted to ask about I-1053, which is almost certainly unconstitutional, since the state constitution says that a majority of legislators is sufficient to pass a bill.  And I wanted to counter the angry old anti-tax guy by pointing out that taxes are lower than they’ve been in decades; Washington State has perhaps the most regressive tax system in the country; the concentration of wealth has been increasing; rich get bailouts and subsidies while they ship jobs and profits overseas; you pay more in taxes than some huge corporations; etc, etc.

After the event, I chatted with one of the legislative aides (who are generally very knowledgeable about how things work).  I asked about the prospects for getting I-1053 declared unconstitutional. He said that both the state House and the Senate would have to pass the bill, then it would be challenged in court.  But Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen is a stumbling block.  He would almost certainly refuse to approve of the bill. Though he’s a Democrat, he’s a centrist Democrat.


This Sightline Daily article BP & Eyman’s I-1053: Unconstitutional has an excellent analysis of I-1053:

Unfortunately, the state Supreme Court is wary about ruling on such measures, because they concern the operating procedures of the legislature. The Supreme Court tries to keeps its nose out of the legislative branch’s affairs, as state constitutional law scholar Hugh Spitzer explained to Crosscut. The justices have twice dismissed on technical grounds challenges to minority rule initiatives. Most recently, they regarded a case brought by the Senate Majority Leader as a procedural dispute with the state Lieutenant Governor (the senate’s presiding officer, who chose to enforce I-960). Whether the Lieutenant Governor will continue to disregard the constitution, and whether the Supreme Court will allow him to do so, is anyone’s guess.

On the merits, the central legal issue is straightforward: Even in conservative Alaska, the state supreme court rejected a minority-rule ballot measure as unconstitutional, because it tried to change the constitution without going through the required steps.

In fact, Washington is the only state in the nation where minority rule has been imposed through a regular law. (In 16 states, citizens have voted to amend their constitutions to enact minority rule on votes that increase (certain) taxes. These constitutional amendments were undemocratic and ill-conceived, but at least they were legally enacted.)

The article Will the Courts Overturn I-1053 explains how to overturn I-1053. “But Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen, who has presided in the state senate since 1996, has consistently enforced minority rule, under each variation that voters have approved… Mr. Spitzer says that if and when the members of the court finally have the question squarely before them, they will almost certainly rule I-1053 unconstitutional.”

But this seems unlikely to happen, due to the voters’ near 2 to 1 rejection of tax increases and due to the legislators’ and governor’s desire to follow the will of the voters, however misguided. One of the 41st LD legislators mentioned that Governor Gregoire asked the legislators not to raise taxes — something I’ve heard that she said earlier too.

I asked the angry old anti-tax guy, “Excuse me. Do you mind telling me whether you consider yourself middle class?”  He said yes. I described the regressiveness of the tax system here. He retorted that real estate taxes especially are high. “But I-1098 would have shifted some of the tax burden to the rich.”  He replied by describing how government spends $25 million on art — it’s a requirement that construction projects devote 1/2 of 1 percent of funding on art. He said that even the garbage dump has art.

A fundamental problem is that, due to disinformation and marketing, the middle class continues to vote against their own self-interest.



LD Town Hall meetings today, get involved

People often complain that politics is depressing. Politicians are often dishonest and power-grabbing. Meetings are boring. Political activists are annoying. The media barely covers rallies. It’s all so frustrating and exhausting.

They say all politics is local. That’s not quite true, but it is true that getting involved makes a big difference. Even though it’s painful and unpleasant.

I say: progressives should take over the Democratic Party the way social conservatives and Tea Baggers infiltrated the GOP. See this article. Progressive pour tremendous amounts of time, money, and energy into advocacy groups (MoveOn, PDA, DFA, environmental groups, peace groups, health care reform groups, election reform groups, etc, etc). If, instead, they took over the Democratic Party, we’d have a better chance of influencing legislation and elections. Third parties rarely have much influence in American politics.

Enough preaching. Many legislative districts are holding town hall meetings today, where your state legislators will give short speeches and are usually available for questions.

Do a google search like this one to find the times and locations of town hall meetings. Or visit your state legislator’s webpage, which you can find at http://www.leg.wa.gov/pages/home.aspx.

What should we ask our legislators?

Please consider attending your LD meeting and asking questions about issues that concern you. For me the most pressings issues are: (1) eliminating tax loopholes, (2) the unconstitutionality of I-1053 , Tim Eyman’s bill requiring 2/3 majorities to raise revenue, (3) crisis pregnancy centers’ lack of truth-in-advertising, and (4) The worker’s compensation legislation opposed by big labor, as described in the post below or  here.

I’m sure this just scratches the surface of what’s important.

This newsletter gives a good summary of the bills.

Also, King County Democrats prepared this pdf document describing the bills under consideration.

Wish it were all easy.



Workers compensation bill SB5566: a step towards Wisconsin?

Is Washington State SB5566, passed in the State Senate Saturday March 5, a dangerous step in the direction of Wisconsin?

The measure, strongly opposed by Labor, would establish an option for lump sum payments.

The text of the bill and the roll call vote are posted here on leg.wa.gov.

Here are some links to articles about the bill:





The replacement of “sure and certain relief” in the form of a pension by opening the door to lump sum settlements is a drastic change and not a minor adjustment.

Fortunately an attempt to end workers compensation at the age of Social Security or to offer settlements at that age has been deleted from the bill.  Although we hear numerous platitudes alleging that the retirement age for Social Security is 62 or 66, the fact is that the level of benefits one obtains by starting Social Security at those ages is not enough to live on and the adequate level of benefits does not start until the age of 70.  Furthermore, an injured person on workers compensation has not been paying into Social Security at the same rate as someone who has been employed full time over the same years.  Stopping the workers compensation pension would result in an income gap that would leave this population of senior citizens with no resources over a period of years.

It is part of a larger effort by companies to eliminate benefits or eliminate the number of jobs that have benefits.  The irony is that the labor unions are the true fiscal conservatives, since the packages they have negotiated over the long term have emphasized saving and necessities over discretionary cash and spending.  The corporations, which falsely claim to be the conservatives, raised cash salaries during the 1990s in order to recruit young, highly skilled workers in the high tech industry.  At the same time benefits, which the young do not think about and sometimes do not understand, were systematically cut back.  The compensation structure offered by the phony conservatives promotes discretionary spending rather than ensuring medical care and a pension in old age.  We are in an era where the liberals are the real  conservatives and the conservatives are the wild rebels.

The attempt to weaken workers compensation is a part of this overall attack on benefits.

The availability of a settlement option produces the possibility of scams, as the injured worker may believe that a particular sum of money is a large amount and that he or she has had a windfall of wealth, but such individuals may have an incorrect perception in believing that a particular sum is a lot of money.   Furthermore, a private individual may end up with attorneys who are incompetent or unscrupulous.

What is lacking in this debate is the narrative.  Consider the hypothetical case of John Doe, who is a full time worker with an auto loan, a student loan and a modest amount of credit card debt.  Suddenly he has an accident at work and his whole life is turned upside down.  He files a claim for workers compensation.  What happens next?  How is the claim decided?  Under what circumstances would the idea of a settlement arise?  What is the process by which John Doe would be put in the situation of having to fight against an attempt to give him a settlement instead of a pension?  How would the long appeals drag out, as the labor council warns about?  Wouldn’t a decision be required from the state after a fixed number of days?

If John Doe gets a settlement, do his creditors have the right to take it away?  Is the settlement really a means to make sure that the individual has a sum the creditors can go after, while Mr. Doe will be left with nothing?

This really shouldn’t be “about” whether unions are to blame for costs.
This should be “about” what happens to John Doe.

The Seattle PI article states that the long term pensions result in much of the cost of workers compensation.  It is surprising that there would be so many cases of people becoming so disabled that they cannot work, with workplace injury as the cause.  Controlling workplace injuries is not rocket science.  An organization that obtains a standards certification (such as ISO 9000 a decade ago) can create work spaces in which accidents are prevented.  Instead of blaming the costs on the unions, we should be asking why companies are cutting corners on safety and risking lawsuits and workplace compensation costs rather than putting the right preventive procedures in place to begin with.

The following website contains statistics on the incidence of workplace injuries.


One of the disturbing trends in this data is high percentages of complaints in occupations that are populated with Hispanic workers: farm workers, maids and home care aids.  This raises the question of whether the attempt to weaken workers compensation is another form of racial harassment against the Hispanic population.

Another trend in the data is a high percentage of injuries in construction when the company has 1-5 employees.  In other words, the big contractors may have safety practices in place, but there are small firms where the owners are careless or incompetent.  This not only applied to a variety of building trades, but to the cheese and unlaminated plastics industries.

Related to this is a high incidence of injuries in occupations where there is a great deal of self employment: truck drivers, plumbers and pipefitters.  It seems that such people may be overextending themselves beyond what they can handle to earn a living as they get older, or overextending themselves because of the perceived need to earn more at the expense of their health.

I was dismayed at the incidences of injuries among retail sales personnel, although research into the level of seriousness of the accidents might reveal that that this sector is not producing the long term disability cases.

The point is that the way to control the costs of workers compensation is to study this data, determine what industries and occupations are producing the highest cost to the system,  and enforce or reward implementation of the best practices for avoiding injuries, and to crack down on those industries, such as farming, that have a history of abusing their laborers.



What to do about funding requests?

I got email today from Chris Bowers (Campaign Director, Daily Kos) asking me to donate money to support the recall of GOP politicians in Wisconsin: “On Monday, I sent you an email about how the recall against Republican state Senators had begun in Wisconsin. You can support the recall by contributing to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, which is the central organizing hub for the campaign. The DPW has already gathered 15% of the petition signatures required to force a recall election.”

Every day I get solicitations from progressive and Democratic causes. It’s hard to know which causes to support.

It’s a shame but many people are hesitant to donate to the Democratic Party because of its mixed record with regard to defending progressive values. Sure, the Republicans are worse, but my point is that many donors, and voters, are reluctant to support wishy-washy compromisers who use progressive rhetoric but in the end turn around and support conservative views.  Republicans rarely compromise and often vote unanimously for hard right positions. Many  Democrats are “centrist” and compromise.   So, of course, the nation’s politics are moving further and further to the right.

President Obama himself said, “We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.”

But I gotta say: President Obama’s repeated compromises with Republicans, and his repeated betrayals of progressive values, will likely cause tremendous damage. He deserves a large part of the blame for the shellacking in November and for the Democrats’ failure to stop playing defense.