Eliminating workers comp in Wisconsin as we know it is the goal of some in the Wisconsin legislature. The Industrial Revolution of the 1800s took people off the farms and into urban factories. The factories were heavily dependent on manual labor and dangerous. The laws protected the business owner’s property more than worker’s lives. If you were hurt, get out of the way, there’s somebody to take your place.
After seeing men and women become maimed in the unsafe factories of the Industrial Revolution, Wisconsin passed the first worker’s compensation law in the United States. In 1911, labor and management, guided by Progressive politicians and academics, struck a “grand bargain” where if a worker gets injured at work:
1. the worker cannot sue their employer for damages–even if the injury is clearly the employer’s fault
2. the worker gets worker’s comp benefits for medical bills and a percentage loss of their wages, not 100% -even if the injury is the worker’s fault
3. worker’s comp benefits are limited and do not compensate the worker for his actual wage loss, now or in the future, and there are no benefits for pain and suffering
4. the system is efficient and low cost, no expensive litigation for either employee or employer
For over 100 years, Wisconsin’s workers’ compensation system has worked to the satisfaction of worker’s, business, insurance companies and doctors. Our system has been the model for the rest of the country.
The successful Grand Bargain is going to be broken by a few ideologues intent on destroying the workers’ comp system and taking us back to the 1800s. Rep. John Spiros in the Wisconsin Assembly is introducing legislation that will take away from workers and give to employers. Under the new system, worker’s still will not be allowed to sue their employers for workplace injuries, but will be required to prove that the workplace injury wasn’t their fault to receive their full compensation. So the employee gets penalized for his fault, but the employer is not penalized for its fault. Other changes include limiting the time period that workers can make a claim, allowing employers to pick the doctors the employee treats with, and reducing benefits.
Unfortunately, this proposed dismantling of Wisconsin’s workers comp law is only the start. Next year it is anticipated that these same Republicans will introduce laws allowing employers to “opt out” of the workers’ compensation system altogether. They want to allow employers to create their own workers’ comp policies at their company and the employees will have to accept the terms if they want the job – effectively taking society back to the Gilded Age.