I am willing to bet that most of you have not heard of a group called ARAWC. If you haven’t heard of them and you are a worker, you had better take notice. ARAWC is actually trying to gut worker’s compensation in the country. ARAWC stands for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation.
As you can guess, it is a conservative organization that wants to make it legal for companies to “opt out” of Worker’s Compensation. As you probably know, Worker’s Compensation is your protection in case you were injured on the job. The way Worker’s Compensation works is if you suffer an injury on the job, the employer would pay your medical bills and part of your wages while you recovered. In exchange, you give up your right to sue for negligence.
It is a system that has protected workers injured on the job for years. But, it is the job of ARAWC to change the laws that require companies to carry the traditional Worker’s Compensation. Their laws will allow companies to “opt out” of the plan. Employers that opt out would still be compelled to purchase workers’ comp plans. But they would be allowed to write their own rules governing when, for how long, and for which reasons an injured employee can access medical benefits and wages.
That is where the rub comes in. They want worker’s comp plans that are restricted in what is covered, how much the company must pay, and for how long. Where does ARAWC get their funding from? Well there are about two-dozen corporations including Wal-Mart, Safeway, Nordstrom, Lowes, and Macy’s.
Not surprisingly Texas and Oklahoma already have such “opt out” laws. In Texas, the only state that has never required employers to provide workers’ comp, Wal-Mart has written a plan that allows the company to select the physician an employee sees and the arbitration company that hears disputes.
The plan provides no coverage for asbestos exposure. And a vague section of the contract excludes any employee who was injured due to his “participation” in an assault from collecting benefits unless the assault was committed in defense of Wal-Mart’s “business or property.” It is up to Wal-Mart to interpret what “participation” means. But the Texas AFL-CIO has argued that an employee who defended himself from an attack would not qualify for benefits.
A 2012 survey of Texas companies with private plans found that fewer than half offered benefits to seriously injured employees or the families of workers who died in workplace accidents and half of employer plans capped benefits. The state plan, which these employers “opted out” of covers both benefits to seriously injured employees or the families of workers who died in workplace accidents, and pays benefits throughout a worker’s recovery.
The next state they are targeting is Tennessee. Other Conservative Southern States like Florida, Georgia, and Alabama are on their short list. They have even hired lobbyists in both North Carolina and South Carolina. The goal of ARAWC is to change the Worker’s Compensation laws in all 50 states.
The law being discussed in Tennessee bears many of the hallmarks of the Texas and Oklahoma system: It allows businesses to place strict spending caps on each injured worker and to pick and choose which medical expenses to cover. “We took the best of both and put it together to make it work for Tennessee businesses,” state Sen. Mark Green, who introduced the bill, told an insurance trade magazine.
The bill as introduced does not require employers to pay for artificial limbs, hearing aids, home care, funeral expenses, or disability modifications to a home or a car for injured workers. All of these benefits, notes Gary Moore, president of the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council, are mandated under the state’s current workers’ comp system.
“This piece of legislation is designed as a cost-saving measure for the employer,” Moore says. “Anywhere they save a dollar, it costs the employees a dollar. It’s just a shift in costs.”
Furthermore, Green’s bill would allow companies to stop paying lifetime benefits after three years or $300,000, whichever comes first. The current law requires employers to cover a worker’s medical expenses for as long as he needs treatment.
Rick Levy, the legal director for the Texas AFL-CIO says “It’s the people who are hurt more severely and have ongoing issues who notice a big difference. Those people are going to find this to be a disaster.” Even people like Mary Elizabeth Maddox, a Tennessee workers’ compensation attorney who represents both employers and employees opposes Green’s bill. She recalls a case in which a workplace accident paralyzed a 23-year-old man and confined him to a wheelchair. He sued her client, the employer. “For him, $300,000 is not going to go very far.”
ARAWC is not ashamed to state that the goal of these laws is to slash health care costs by claiming the law will “lower costs to employers” and allow businesses to “require more accountability from injured workers” by choosing their doctors and forcing them to stick to the company doctor’s treatment plan to retain their benefits.
They also claim that Texas businesses who opt out have superior medical care and higher rates of satisfaction by covered employees. However, there is little evidence to substantiate this claim. You see, Max Koonce, the head of Risk Management for Wal-Mart, is also ARAWC’s CEO and he and lobbyists for the Texas Alliance of Nonsubscribers have helped defeat legislation requiring opt-out companies to report how much they pay in wage replacement and medical benefits to injured employees.
As Levy says: “They have a lot of nerve, the Richard Evanses of the world, saying that they’re doing this for the worker, when year after year, we’re out there saying, ‘Well if you guys do such a great job, why don’t you allow us access to your data?’ And every session we are met with complete stonewalling.”
Once again we have a conservative group that is looking to hammer the working class in this country. They claim that this bill is “good for the worker.” How can anyone in their right mind say that a bill gutting a worker’s right to compensation for being hurt on the job is good for the worker? Especially when that bill is being sponsored and funded by the very employers who don’t want to pay the full worker’s compensation required now.
The proponents for these sweeping changes to Worker’s Compensation claim that the worker will be allowed to sue the company for damages. But these suits are filed under Federal Courts. They are very expensive and take years of litigation to resolve. How can someone who cannot work because of an injury caused on the job, afford to sue the company without any money?
So, if you are an employee and are hurt on the job, these companies and conservatives desire that the company say who your doctor should be, how much they will pay for your medical treatment, and what will be covered. It is not hard to imagine companies taking the most expensive medical treatment off of their “menu” of covered injuries.
As a Serf, how could you expect anything more?