When we talk about a steward’s toolbox, filled with the information and
activism needed to combat problems in the workplace, let’s add one more tool: a knowledge of the workers’ compensation system. Workers’
compensation is under attack today, and it’s vital that stewards both
understand how it works and he prepared to deal aggressively with threats to
make it less helpful to workers. It’s important to remember that workers comp
grew from out own increased political power. Employers used to he able to avoid
responsibility for workplace deaths or disabilities through a variety of dirty
tricks, most often by blaming the workers themselves for industrial accidents
that occurred because of the employer’s own policies or carelessness. When victims
started suing, and workers on juries started voting decent settlements, the
bosses pushed for creation of the workers’ compensation system. The system
pretty much closed off the right of workers to sue their employers in exchange
for a basic right. That is, if a worker is hurt on the job, the boss is
supposed to assume all responsibility both for paving a set percentage of lost
wages and for paying in full for all medical care related to the accident. But
across North America today, the whole workers’
compensation system is being turned around to remove these basic rights and
protections. Here’s how.
Threats from All Sides
1. Business forces are trying to remove obvious causes of occupational
health and safety problems from coverage altogether. And, they’re trying to cut
the level of cash payments.
2. Insurance companies that sell employers their comp policies routinely deny
claims, forcing workers to find lawyers and suffer through expensive, drawn out
court cases. Most stares allow lawyers to take 25 percent to 33 percent of a
worker’s settlement — a big chunk of an injured worker’s desperately needed
3. More and more employers are aggressively denying comp claims altogether, or
at least trying to shift possible claims onto the worker’s sickness and
accident policy. There are enormous financial benefits to a boss who does this:
the amount of actual lost wages paid out under a sickness and accident policy
is generally limited to 26 weeks, but a workers’ comp claim can basically be
reopened any time there is a recurrence of the original injury. More important,
workers comp pays all medical hills, hut a worker’s typical health insurance
policy is filled with limits, deductibles and exclusions. In a case at a steel
plant, for example, the company challenged the comp claim of a worker w ho
needed an expensive MRI test: the full cost of the test would he covered by
workers’ comp, and costly claims can add up to higher insurance premiums to the
boss. But if the company successfully shifted the claim to the worker’s health
insurance, the worker would have to pay approximately $700 out of pocket.
What’s a Steward to Do?
1. Alert sour co-workers to the overall workers’ comp
issue. Most people just don’t care about it, figuring they will never he hurt.
Remind them that an accident can happen at any time. Besides, we need to show
some solidarity with other workers who might get hurt. Tell your coworkers to
notify an officer of the union every time an accident takes place, no matter
how minor. Workplace posters about accidents usually offer procedures and phone
numbers, but they never tell workers to notify their steward.
2. Be alert to every workplace accident. Make sure an
incident report is filed. Even if you have to go with your co-worker to a medical
facility, don’t let management agents — even your friendly workplace nurse —
write up an incident as “unrelated to employment.” An injured worker is
especially vulnerable to pressure, so a steward can provide some important
protection at the beginning of a dispute. Don’t let a company official
sweet-talk workers into not filing an accident report in exchange for a promise
of light duty or a couple of days off. Every accident may be potentially
serious, so start a paper trail as soon as possible.
3. Educate yourself about work related issues of health and safety. Problems
like heart attacks and stress, even though they may evidence themselves away
from the job, may he work-related and should be filed as workers’ comp cases.
4. Demand better health and safety practices throughout the workplace. While
some of the practices in manufacturing seem obvious — like lock-out/tag-out
procedures to make machinery safe when being serviced — stewards also should
look at the design of computer stations in offices or occupational diseases due
to chemical exposure in manufacturing and other facilities. No workplace is
totally free of the risk of accidents and illnesses.
5. Get information to your members about the political and court activity
surrounding workers’ comp. In every state and province, the politicians want to
prove their business—friendliness by cutting back on coverage and benefits:
workers must be prepared to fight back. And court decisions should be tracked:
they can dramatically change worker benefits, sometimes for the better. A 2003
decision in Maryland,
for example, loosened standards in a way that made it easier for workers with
injuries that gradually worsened — like bad backs — to collect. And in 2005
another good court decision in the state opened the door to benefits for
6. Keep in touch with workers who are out on a comp claim to present the boss
from pushing them to return to work before they are fully recovered.
7. Understand that denial of claims can he responded to through the grievance
procedure, as a union issue, and not just by individual workers through the
outside legal system.
— Bill Barry. The writer is director of Labor Studies for the Community
Colleges of Baltimore County. With thanks to Charles Wagner, a graduate of the
program and now a workers’ comp attorney, for his suggestions.
XPO Logistics is a top ten global logistics and transportation company with annual revenue of $15 billion and 89,000 employees, another 10,000 workers classified as independent contractors, and thousands more working for firms that subcontract with XPO. We are the REAL workers at XPO Logistics worldwide exposing the truth about the company’s global greed, illegal wage theft, unsafe conditions, and abhorrent and vicious anti-worker, anti-union tactics.
This greed includes mistreating former Con-way Freight workers in the United States who are being kept in the dark about terminal closures and layoffs, and the company’s illegal refusal to bargain contracts and denying their workers’ federally protected right to organize. It also includes port, rail and last-mile drivers around the country and in Southern California fighting wage theft in excess of $200 million because they are misclassified as independent contractors and denied the right to form their union. This greed has caused numerous lawsuits and strikes. Greed also means an unsafe workplace and mistreating its warehouse employees.
XPO’s greed extends to Europe beginning with breaking its promise to not layoff any workers for at least 18 months. French workers and the unions have been fighting back against XPO’s disrespect, lies and attempts to slash jobs. Similar struggles are taking place in Great Britain, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and across Europe.
Join the worldwide struggle now! Get involved with this campaign by joining the Facebook group “XPO Exposed.”
Together, we can eXPOse the company’s global greed and win fairness, respect and dignity for tens of thousands of XPO employees around the world!
Workers’ pensions are being endangered by both Congress and those charged with overseeing them. The Teamsters and our members are standing united to say “No!” to cuts and “Yes!” to greater retirement security!
The ‘Let’s Get America Working!’ campaign seeks to restore a dynamic and prosperous middle class to drive economic growth by helping to advance policy decisions that create and maintain good middle-income jobs, guarantee retirement security, expand access to the American Dream, and ensure that the benefits of the ongoing economic recovery are felt by the many, not just the few.
This webpage provides information on the Teamsters Union’s legislative advocacy at both the federal and state level as well as our field activity to support those policy positions and to get strong labor candidates elected to office. Among other resources, you will find our federal legislative scorecard, formal statements of policy position and communications to Capitol Hill, a weekly update on federal legislative happenings, an overview of bills we are tracking at the state level, and quick links to take action on priority issues.
This web page provides information on the ongoing effort to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Since 1994, NAFTA has devastated working families, putting corporate profits ahead of people. What’s worse is that NAFTA has become the blueprint for all other trade agreements, from the way that it was negotiated in secret, to the bad provisions that have made their way into every agreement that has been signed since then. Now, NAFTA is being renegotiated and we demand that it be reframed to work for workers instead of corporate interests.
The Teamsters have stood in solidarity with worker struggles in other countries since our founding. With economic globalization, our ability to organize increasingly depends on our ability to build alliances with workers on a global scale.
More than ever, Teamsters are organizing and bargaining with multi-national companies. A key objective of our Global Strategies Campaign is to build strong alliances with unions around the globe who organize and bargain with common employers. Our focus is on workers in the emerging global supply chains – the infrastructure of globalization.
Globalization creates new opportunities for international worker solidarity. We seek common cause with workers around the world to build social justice for all workers and the communities in which they live.