Negotiations on Reforms to the State Workers’ Compensation System Move Forward
Negotiators working on a package that would reform the state workers' compensation system moved closer to an agreement on Monday, reaching compromises on some key issues, including a method for determining disability benefits for injured workers, the Sacramento Bee reports (Chan, Sacramento Bee, 3/30). Lawmakers last week failed to meet Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) March 26 deadline for reforming the state workers' compensation system and had continued to disagree over how to gauge what portion of a worker's injury is job-related; how to calculate benefits for partial disabilities; and how to determine proper treatments for specific injuries. They also disagreed over whether reform legislation should include a provision to impose partial regulation of insurance rates (California Healthline, 3/29). Staff members for Schwarzenegger and the lawmakers working on the package on Monday negotiated a plan that would established compensation packages based on an independent medical review performed under guidelines set by the American Medical Association, the Bee reports. The compromise is "an important step" because setting compensation for injured workers is "one of the most costly elements of the state's system," and some critics contend discretionary judgments contribute to litigation, the Bee reports. Schwarzenegger said he wants legislation passed by this Friday -- the last day before lawmakers begin a week-long spring recess. He has said that unless a deal is reached soon, he will step up a signature gathering campaign to qualify a Republican-backed workers' compensation initiative for the November statewide ballot (Sacramento Bee, 3/30).
International Brotherhood of Teamsters leaders on Monday asked Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D) to investigate the legality of Costco Wholesale's petition drive for Schwarzenegger's workers' compensation reform ballot initiative at nearly 100 stores in California, stating that it violates the state Labor Code by diverting hundreds of workers from their regular duties, the San Jose Mercury News reports (Folmar, San Jose Mercury News, 3/30). In a letter to Lockyer, union officials accused Costco of coercing its workers "to engage in political activity on behalf of an employer" and said the company is violating a state labor code that "strictly prohibits an employer from adopting any policy which has the effect of controlling or directing or tending to control or direct the political activities or affiliations of employees." However, Joel Benoliel, Costco's chief legal officer, said no employees are is being coerced to participate, adding, "We've instructed our managers in every building in California that if any one of our employees is uncomfortable with soliciting signatures, they should go do something else. They're not going to suffer any adverse consequences whatsoever" (Lifsher, Los Angeles Times, 3/30). Lockyer is evaluating the issue, according to a spokesperson (San Jose Mercury News, 3/30).
The following are summaries of one editorial and two opinion pieces on reform efforts for the state workers' compensation system.
- George Skelton, Los Angeles Times: While a compromise has not yet been reached, it is likely that lawmakers will approve some type of reform because there is a "confluence of political interests flowing together, creating a momentum for reform now, rather than waiting until November," columnist Skelton writes in a Times opinion piece. Placing a reform measure on the November ballot would be "risky" for Schwarzenegger because opponents "could frame the issue as greedy corporations versus disabled workers," Skelton says (Skelton, Los Angeles Times, 3/29).
- Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee: "Fixing workers' comp should have the high priority that Schwarzenegger is giving it," but the system should be fixed "the right way" to prevent it from being "dysfunctional" in the future, columnist Walters writes in the Bee (Walters, Sacramento Bee, 3/30).
San Diego Union-Tribune: If Schwarzenegger and lawmakers do not reach a compromise on workers' compensation reform soon, the state will have to wait for voters to consider a ballot initiative on the issue, which would stall the "desperately needed relief" for employers' "soaring insurance premiums" and would deny injured workers "decent benefits," a Union-Tribune editorial states. "It's time to stop dithering and to do something to stop this madness," the editorial concludes (San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/27).
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