A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

More workers injured, Rauner wants weaker workers comp

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Feb. 15, 16 or 16

Weakening workers compensation is a key part of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s ‘Turnaround Agenda,” the main roadblock to a state budget. Rauner reasons that workers file phony claims. That may seem reasonable (though it’s mostly hogwash). Or he reasons that companies want to pay lower insurance premiums, which undoubtedly is true in a “something-for-nothing” world.

His scheme could clog the courts if injured workers have no recourse but to file lawsuits against employers – originally a reason to make workers compensation the “exclusive remedy” in a no-fault system that’s worked for decades. Further, workers still get ill or injured on the job – increasingly so, according to a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) – mostly due to inadequate oversight by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), poor supervision on the job, or non-union contractors’ operations.

But … Rauner is a reasonable man.

Fatalities on construction sites in 2014 were up 6 percent, BLS reported, to almost 900 victims.
“The fatal injury rate for workers in construction and extraction occupations was 11.8 per 100,000 full-time-equivalent workers in 2014,” BLS reports. “Fatal injuries among construction trades workers increased 3 percent in 2014 to 611 fatalities, the highest count since 2009. Fatal work injuries to construction laborers [totaled] 206. The number of fatally-injured electricians increased to 78.”

Also, thousands of injured workers survived and filed about 1 million workers comp claims.
But … Rauner is a reasonable man.

“They fall from ladders, roofs and scaffolding, get electrocuted, and breathe in toxic chemicals and dust,” writes author Eleanor Bader. “They get hit by falling objects and find themselves on the receiving end of mechanical failures and equipment malfunctions. For 7.45 million construction workers, going to work as a bricklayer, carpenter, electrician, framer, mason, painter, plumber, or drywall or tile installer means facing acute dangers within their daily work.”

OSHA, the federal agency responsible for protecting worker health and safety, is ridiculously underfunded and understaffed. Nationally, fewer than 3,000 OSHA inspectors (about 60 per state) are responsible for monitoring 8 million job sites.

But … Rauner is a reasonable man.

“The root cause of injury and death is the lack of construction oversight,” said attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, who’s represented victims of construction negligence for 30 years in the Northeast. “When builders incur debt, the faster they do the construction, the more profit they make. Given the profit motive, shortcuts are sometimes taken.”

Scott Allen, with the Midwest office of the U.S. Department of Labor, said, “We know what we’re dealing with and don’t even use the word ‘accidents’ for death and injury on construction sites. We call them incidents because almost every one of them could have been prevented if the employer had done the right thing for his or her workers.”

But … Rauner is a reasonable man.

Charlene Obernauer, director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, told Bader, “There is a huge correlation between non-union jobs and fatalities. Eighty percent of the deaths occurred on non-union sites, among workers employed by small non-union companies with only a few employees. On union sites, there is rigorous training. Just to get into the union a worker needs to complete a nine-month apprenticeship program.”

But … Rauner is a reasonable man.

Targeting labor – whether attacking state employees and Prevailing Wage laws or promoting Right To Work “zones” – adds to Rauner’s obsession with empowering business at the expense of working people.

Meanwhile, Illinois’ debt is getting worse than ever, some 1,000 college students couldn’t return to school this semester because the lack of a budget killed Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants they needed; Rauner’s calls for a Chicago Public Schools bankruptcy caused lenders to charge a yield of between 7.75 and 8.5 percent on a $675 million loan to CPS; the state’s largest social-services provider (Lutheran Social Services) was forced to close 30 programs and eliminate 750 jobs (more than 40 percent of its staff); and the governor’s promise to have a state budget by the end of last year – and failing – contributed to General Electric’s decision to move its headquarters to Boston instead of Chicago.

But … Rauner is a reasonable man.

[PICTURED: Graphic from]

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