Changes to Wisconsin’s workers compensation system came over the weekend as Gov. Walker signed his budget bill. After strong objections from doctors and attorneys, the legislature kept workers’ compensation as an intact government department but did reassign most of the administrative law judges out of worker’s comp and into a general pool of non-specialist judges. It is anticipated that more bills will be introduced by the state legislature in a effort to weaken workers’ compensation laws and ultimately go back 108 years to where employers can once again dictate terms to employees and abandon them when they get hurt on the job. This is not exaggeration or hyperbole; its very real and calculated.
Wisconsin’s budget bill experience is not unique nationally. This spring articles by the investigative journalists ProPublica in conjunction with NPR exposed how Republican controlled state legislatures are quietly privatizing worker’s compensation so as to give all the power and options to employers when their employees get injured at work. For the next elections, voters should know what groups are behind these changes and which legislators are doing their bidding. The assault on worker’s compensation is a direct consequence of the 2010 Project RedMap strategy to win state legislatures.
In Workers’ Compensation Reforms by State, ProPublica lays out how “over the past decade, states across the country have been unwinding a century-old compact with America’s workers: A guarantee that if you are injured on the job, your employer will pay your medical bills and enough of your wages to help you get by. In all, 33 states have passed laws that reduce benefits, create hurdles to getting medical care or make it more difficult to qualify for workers’ comp.”
In The Demolition of Workers’ Comp, ProPublica notes “Over the past decade, states have slashed workers’ compensation benefits, denying injured workers help when they need it most and shifting the costs of workplace accidents to taxpayers. Until recently, America’s workers could rely on a compact struck at the dawn of the Industrial Age: They would give up their right to sue. In exchange, if they were injured on the job, their employers would pay their medical bills and enough of their wages to help them get by while they recovered.”
The philosophy of those behind dismantling workers compensation is that workers are disposable parts, to be used, abused and discarded in the name of business, because businesses are job creators.
In Wisconsin, its unclear whether the backers of destroying worker’s compensation are actual employers and insurers in our state or is this the bright idea of an ALEC seminar or think tank white paper.