Currently, when a worker is injured and has to take time off, he or she can file a claim based on a doctor's report with the state Department of Labor and Industries and the state covers medical costs and missed pay. Companies have 60 days to appeal.
The new rule adds an option, saying that after twelve weeks, a worker can choose a lump sum payment instead of the L&I payment, or "compromise and relief."
"We call it starve and settle," says Dave Groves of the Washington State Labor Council, explaining that big companies will just hire fancy lawyers during their appeal process and "starve out" workers who will be "so desperate they'll take the lump sum."
Groves points to the cruel logic of the bill, which was pitched as a way to save the statte money. "The only way to save money is if the company pays out less than they were supposed to under the claim system."
He concludes: "Why should a worker have to compromise after being injured at work?"
This amended version of the bill, proposed by Sen. Jenéa Holmquist Newbry (R-13, Moses Lake), replaced the original workers comp reform bill proposed by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36, Ballard)—a governor's request bill that had included provisions such as a 30 percent increase in disability payments, an investment in safety and health programs on the front end to save money, and a provision that would have cut off workers comp pensions at federal retirement age for people whose injuries were not the main reason they were out of work. Those provisions were scuttled in the new version.
Original sponsor Kohl-Welles, along with 14 other Democrats, including Seattle Sens. Adam Kline, Ed Murray, Sharon Nelson, Margarita Prentice, and Scott White, voted against the new version.
It passed 34-15 with a batch of centrist Democrats joining the GOP.
The house also changed workers' comp rules this weekend.
The house bill—sponsored by Rep. Larry Springer (D-45, Kirkland)—sets up a five year pilot program allowing companies to use their own claims administrators to deal with short term workers' comp claims. The bill passed 70-27.
Rep. Marko Liias (D-21, Edmonds), one of the nay votes among a stalwart faction of labor liberals who opposed the bill—including Reps. Andy Billig, Joe Fitzgibbon, David Frockt, Bob Hasegawa, Laurie Jinkins, John McCoy, Mark Miloscia, Luis Moscoso, Timm Ormsby, and Mike Sells—told us, "that just seemed like the fox guarding the henhouse."
Sponsor Springer, who outlined the safeguards, including L&I's ability to intervene if there are disputes between the employer and worker, says the bill is intended to make workers' comp more efficient and "speed up claims management" getting smaller claims off the L&I rolls—"letting them concentrate on those very difficult claims that drive 80 percent of our costs" as a way of getting workers back on the job faster "so they don't have lost wages—and the trust fund for L&I isn't depleted."
For a stern rebuttal check out Rep. John McCoy (D-38, Tulalip) at the 45 minute mark here:
"This piece of legislation goes to the bottom line," he says. "It's only looking at the dollar value, whenever you start looking only at the dollar value, the employee loses and you're going to do something that's going to get them back to work either too soon or they don't get rehabilitated."