February 24, 2004
Assembly labor committee moves union-backed bill to increase workers' comp benefits
The Assembly Labor Committee split along party lines in voting on moving a new union-backed bill that would substantially increase workers' compensation benefits without introducing any much-needed reforms.
In a Feb. 24 vote, all six Republicans committee members present voted against moving the bill (S.6135-Vellella/A. 9736-John), which The Business Council strongly opposes. All 17 Democratic members of the committee voted to move the bill to the Assembly Codes Committee. However, some majority members did voice concerns over the bill's implications for small businesses.
"I believe that we have to take a balanced approach to workers' compensation system and the small business person who is facing rising costs, as well as the worker who is seeing the lowest benefit," said Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito (D-Rome).
"This proposal does nothing to address the inadequacies of the current workers' comp system," said Business Council President Daniel B. Walsh. "What's more, the bill has the potential to create even more problems by encouraging litigation and inappropriate union involvement in management's workers' comp decisions."
The bill would raise the level of workers’ comp benefits to $625, two-thirds of the state average weekly wage, by December 2006. The Business Council's initial estimate is that this change alone could raise employers' rates by 25 percent or more.
The bill would also:
- Allow unions to select a workers’ compensation carrier for an employer.
- Create a medical trust fund for employers who do not provide health insurance that compensation bills would be paid out of.
- Permits high-wage earners to purchase additional benefits above the state rate. If the benefits are never used, the money is returned to the worker upon retirement.
- Allows the Workers’ Compensation Board to charge an employer for a claimants attorney fees if the employer has unsuccessfully argued against the claim.
The Democratic Assembly members who voted to move the bill are: Susan John, the chair of the committee; Ronald C. Tocci; Nettie Mayersohn; Roger L. Green; Peter J. Abbate, Jr.; Earlene Hooper; Joan Christensen; Barbara M. Clark; RoAnn M. Destito; Keith L. Wright; Nick Perry; Felix Ortiz; William Colton; Joan Millman; Margaret M. Markey; Ronald Canestrari; Michael Cohen; Patricia Eddington; Carl Heastie; and Jose Peralta.
The Assembly Republicans who voted against moving the bill are: Patricia Acampora, the ranking minority member; Nancy Calhoun; David Townsend; Patrick Manning; Marc Butler; and Thomas Alfano.
The Business Council is strongly supporting a workers' comp reform bill (S.5320-Libous, A.8862-Schimminger) that would:
- Limit, to 10 years, the duration of benefits given to injured or sick workers in cases in which benefits are not prescribed by statutory schedules. The goal is to give workers both ample benefits and sufficient time to seek retraining to return to work.
- Provide for Social Security and pension offsets—that is, reductions in workers’ compensation benefits applied when workers receive Social Security and/or pension benefits.
- Give injured workers only half of remaining scheduled benefits if they return to work before scheduled benefits expire.
- Implement meaningful objective medical guidelines to determine the degree of disability and the ability of workers receiving benefits.
The Business Council has launched a new Web-based electronic-advocacy campaign to urge lawmakers to reject the costly union-backed bill and support cost-cutting workers' compensation reform.