Author Archives: Rod Rehm

Low Wage Jobs are on the Rise

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Today’s blog post was written by respected colleague Thomas Domer of Domer Law Offices in Milwaukee. Although the blog post was originally in reference to Wisconsin, as he writes, “the findings in Wisconsin mirror nationwide findings of the National Law Employment Project,” so I think they can be reasonably applied to Nebraska and Iowa. One thing that I found especially interesting in the article is that even when the quantity of jobs is increasing, the quality of pay for those jobs isn’t quite there yet. But it also turns out that employers may not have to pay the higher wages as people are still hoping to find jobs. As an example from the original Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is telling: an entire category went from “middle-wage” to “low-wage” because the hourly rate of pay was that much lower.

“By 2013 the occupation had added about 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin, and stood at 55,520. Meanwhile, median pay had fallen to $12.16 an hour, so all 55,000 jobs — the 13,000 new ones and the 42,000 that were ‘middle-wage’ three years earlier — were classified as low-wage in 2013,” according to the Journal Sentinel article.

As we move into the holiday season and past the election where Nebraska voters resoundingly voted to raise the minimum wage over two years, I would challenge both employers and consumers to consider what their hourly wage would be and into what category they would fit within the information in this article. Most people in the middle and low-wage categories are very aware of where they land for a category. But it is something important to think about as wage inequality continues to be discussed: in addition to thinking about the minimum wage, what is an appropriate living wage for the place in which we live? And are we as consumers prepared to maybe pay a bit more for services and products if businesses provide that living wage to workers? On the other side of the coin, businesses should also be willing to sacrifice a small part of their profits to provide employees a living wage so people don’t have to work two or more low-wage jobs like the ones below, just to make ends meet. Because in the end, it is the whole of society that benefits.

Those of us representing injured workers have recognized a trend in recent years affirmed by a new study by University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Professor Mark Levine. His study indicates jobs in low wage occupations have increased substantially since 2000, with that growth accelerating since 2010.

Levine’s study found that in 2000, low wage occupations accounted for about one quarter of Wisconsin’s jobs with middle wage occupations accounting for more than half. But by 2013, low wage occupations made up over 30% of the State’s employment. 

The study indicated low wage occupations with a median wage of $12.50 per hour or less, middle wage occupations with a median of $12.50 to $25.00 per hour, and high wage occupations with a median above $25.00 per hour. Jobs in the high wage occupations increased substantially through 2007, then fell during the recession and recovery.

The findings in Wisconsin mirror nationwide findings of the National Law Employment Project, an advocacy group for low wage workers and the unemployed. Commentators also noted the findings in the Wisconsin study confirm findings for the U. S. national economy, which indicates job growth has been mostly in low skill, low wage areas.

Those of us that practice in the worker’s compensation arena have noted the number of workers earning maximum wages in Wisconsin (over $1,320 weekly) are much more rare since the Great Recession. Worker’s compensation benefits for Loss of Earning Capacity, for example, is obviously much greater for a maximum earnings worker than for a worker earning $8.00 or $9.00 per hour. The loss of high paying manufacturing jobs that used to exist in Milwaukee and throughout the Midwest Rust Belt has had a substantial impact on worker’s compensation claims and recoveries.

Changes in OSHA’s Incident-Reporting Rules

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Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm in North Carolina. He writes about updates that the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will require of businesses when it comes to reporting workplace incidents. I found the links at the end of the article both informative and eye-opening. In addition, I thought the article from the industry publication, Risk and Insurance, was especially telling as to how businesses should be prepared for the new reporting requirements. It will definitely be interesting to see how these new requirements affect the number of incidents and hopefully result in safer workplaces for all.

Starting January 1, 2015 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will enact new changes in its workplace incident reporting rules. These rules will increase the amount of reporting when it comes to hospitalizations caused by workplace injuries, as well as increase accountability and transparency among employers. According to U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, the new requirements will “help OSHA focus its resources and hold employers accountable for preventing [workplace injuries and deaths].”

Here are the changes that will soon be in place:

  • Employers must notify OSHA within 24 hours of a workplace injury that led to in-patient hospitalization, amputations or loss of an eye.
  • Employers must notify OSHA of workplace death within eight hours of the incident.
  • More industries will be required to keep OSHA 300 injury and illness records, which will be made available on OSHA’s website. Some of these industries include: specialty food stores, bakeries, automobile dealers, museums, activities related to real estate, and more.
  • All employers must follow these requirements, including those who have been exempt from keeping OSHA records.

If you’d like to learn more about OSHA’s new record keeping and reporting rules, visit the following websites for more details:

 

Celebrate Veterans Day by Promoting Jobs for Vets

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Veterans Day is next week. This blog has featured stories about veterans and job training in both the public and private sectors on various outlets before.

Now, just in time for Veterans Day, here’s an informational news release from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is part of the United States Department of Transportation.

Although I know some truck drivers aren’t huge fans of the FMCSA, I was pleased to see that it recently awarded $1 million in grants to provide training and job placement for returning veterans. They will be trained for jobs as commercial bus and truck drivers through grants awarded to nine technical and community colleges.

I was especially pleased to see that Metropolitan Community College in Omaha will be provided $47,614 as part of the grant process. The training will benefit nearly 400 new students, according to the news release.

“Those that we entrust to protect and serve our nation deserve opportunities that utilize the skills and training they received on the job on military bases overseas and at home,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in the news release.  “We can think of none more appropriate to safeguard our highways as commercial vehicle drivers than the thousands of veterans who have already proven they can safely handle large vehicles under extremely stressful circumstances.”

In addition, earlier this year, FMCSA expanded the Military Skills Test Waiver Program to include all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This means that “state licensing agencies have authority to waive the skills test portion of the CDL application for active duty or recently separated veterans who possess at least two years of safe driving experience operating a military truck or bus. Waiving the skills test expedites the civilian commercial drivers licensing application process and reduces expenses for qualified individuals and operating costs to state licensing agencies.”

Thanks again to all veterans and their loved ones for their service. I hope these job training efforts will help some vets find a good fit in civilian life.

Here’s Rehm, Bennett & Moore’s Slate for the Nov. 4 Nebraska Election

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We support Chuck Hassebrook for Governor of Nebraska

We support Chuck Hassebrook for Governor of Nebraska

Election Day is only 7 days away. Elections are very important for our clients and their families. Voting for good candidates helps protect your rights to receive proper compensation for injuries, lost earnings and damages.

We are supporting the following Nebraska candidates because we believe they will be supportive of preserving, defending, and improving our civil justice system, workers’ compensation law, and the judiciary.

Chuck Hassebrook for Governor

Legislative Candidates supported by NATA (Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys) PAC:

Election Day is November 4th. Please vote. Your vote is important. We recognize a lot of issues are involved in the decision of whom to support. We believe that this list of candidates will support laws and judges that will protect our clients and their families’ right to full and fair justice.

If you need assistance getting to the polls or don’t know your district, feel free to contact Rod Rehm or Jon Rehm.

Beware of Medicare Scams

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Today’s blog post comes from respected colleague Mr. Leonard Jernigan of The Jernigan Law Firm, who practices law in North Carolina.

Many of us have older loved ones who benefit from Medicare. Another group who are eligible for Medicare is those who have been on Social Security Disability for two years. Often, navigating the choices of the part D prescription plan and other Medicare enrollment options can be overwhelming and challenging, so it’s a decision made with the advice of others. If you’re involved with helping make choices for a loved one during the Medicare open enrollment that is going on until December 7, please discuss this blog post, too.

As is quoted in Mr. Jernigan’s blog, “Medicare will never call you and ask for your personal information, such as your Medicare number, over the phone. Never,” says CMS spokesman Aaron Albright. That’s especially important to understand because giving one’s Social Security number out opens that person to identify theft and a host of other potential problems.

Please continue to take care when sharing your personal information, and encourage your loved ones to do the same.

            It’s open enrollment season for Medicare, and that means increased risk of scams. Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their policies from October 15 to December 7. So during this time, be on the lookout for identity thieves, calling to get your information by posing as government agents. Don’t answer any calls or give any information to anyone claiming they need to “verify” your Medicare number (which is usually the same as your Social Security number) in order to issue you a new card. There are no actual plans to issue new Medicare cards and “Medicare will never call you and ask for your personal information, such as your Medicare number, over the phone. Never,” says CMS spokesman Aaron Albright.

             Take precautions. As a general rule, never give out your account numbers. Medicare, Bank Account or otherwise. Additionally, monitor your records carefully for unusual activity, including your Medicare Summary Notice that you should receive quarterly. Don’t fall for offers of free supplies in exchange for your credit card number for shipping charges.

             Be careful during this open enrollment season through December 7 and be on the lookout for scammers.

 For more information, check out the source of this article by Sid Kirchheimer from AARP called “Beware of the Fall Frauds” located at http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2014/medicare-open-enrollment-scams.html.

Photo Source: http://www.ivhp.com/Site/DontbeaVictimofMedicareScams.aspx

Examining Workers’ Compensation’s ‘Grand Bargain’ and the Upcoming Election

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Here’s why people should support candidates who will protect workers’ rights. Understand that the ongoing workers’ compensation issues faced by state legislatures are not going away, so state legislatures are the front lines when it comes to making sure workers’ compensation systems are not diluted even more for injured workers and their loved ones.

Here’s some background. Over 100 years ago, workers’ compensation law was developed across the United States. Nebraska was actually one of the pioneering states, back when we were more progressive.  Workers’ compensation was viewed as the “Grand Bargain,” with several presumptions on how the system should work. A January 2014 LexisNexis Legal News Room Workers Compensation Law blog post addresses these presumptions. The blog itself is a respected neutral source on workers’ compensation issues.

While employers and insurance companies are chipping away at the protection workers’ compensation systems offer to injured workers and their loved ones through stalling tactics such as disputing if an injury happened at work or just straight out refusing coverage, those same interests are bending the ears of each state’s politicians to further erode the “Grand Bargain.”

Year in and year out, business and insurance groups cause a large number of bills to be filed that take away benefits from workers or make it more difficult for workers to obtain benefits or take control of their treatment for work injuries.

A recent study’s results, written in the same blog by the same author, reinforces what many injured workers, their loved ones, and their attorneys already know: essentially that workers in New Mexico (and I would argue that this is easily applicable to injured workers in many states) are no longer benefitting from the “Grand Bargain.”

The Grand Bargain Is Out of Equilibrium

“An important part of the ‘grand bargain’ between employers and employees within the workers’ compensation arena is the idea that just as the wear and tear on an employer’s machinery ought to be reflected in the price of the employer’s goods or services, so also should the wear and tear on the employer’s work force. A product’s price should reflect the total cost of production, including the costs associated with work-related injuries and illnesses. The Seabury study adds weight to the argument that the grand bargain is out of equilibrium, that workers’ compensation benefits do not adequately replace what a worker loses through his or her injury, that the physical and economic costs associated with work-related injuries and illnesses are not being fully addressed, and that the injured worker is at least partially subsidizing the overall cost of America’s goods and services with his or her lost income.”

The bottom line from this respected author is that workers’ compensation benefits should not be reduced, made more difficult to obtain, etc., when workers who get injured already make less money over a 10-year period of time than workers who aren’t injured.

So let’s elect legislators who will both restore and support the “Grand Bargain” for injured workers and their loved ones.

Struck-by Vehicle Incidents: OSHA’s Regional Emphasis Program for Region 7

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, has announced via news release that it’s continuing its Regional Emphasis Program in Region 7 for struck-by vehicle incidents.

As was mentioned in a recent blog post, Region 7 includes the states of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

Here is some additional information from the news release:

Over fiscal years 2008 through March 2013, “15 percent of all workplace fatalities investigated by the Kansas City Office … have involved vehicle accidents that struck employees in the workplace,” and there were 37 vehicle-related fatal incidents. The operator was the victim 43 percent of the time, while 57 percent of the time, the vehicle struck another worker. In addition, “seventy percent of the fatal incidents occurred at general industry work sites, while 24 percent happened in construction.”

Vehicles involved include “conventional vehicles, forklifts, semi-trucks and other moving industrial equipment” like cranes and yard trucks and cover the “construction, general and maritime industries.”

OSHA does inspections to follow up on complaints and referrals they get about the vehicles, and the news release also included a link that addresses struck-by hazards, which can be found here.

OSHA’s Region 7 Busy in September

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is frequently referred to as OSHA.

OSHA’s Region 7 covers Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, although Iowa operates its “own OSHA-approved job safety and health programs and cover state and local government workers as well as private sector workers.” In addition, the approved program “must have standards that are identical to, or at least as effective as, the federal OSHA standards,” according to an OSHA web page. The region has had a busy month releasing the results of investigations and resulting fines, so I thought it would be interesting to make this blog post a roundup of the results, which were gleaned from OSHA news releases, found at the web page for Region 7.

Although the proposed fines unfortunately do not reflect the severity of some of the injuries, OSHA’s job is not to punish businesses for injured workers, but for unsafe working conditions. That also means that fines are often decreased or eliminated when the hazard in the workplace is fixed. However, OSHA investigating a business based on an accident can often help an injured person’s workers’ compensation case.

  1. Date and location: Sept. 2, McCool Junction, Neb.

    Proposed fine: $84,000

    Number of citations for safety violations: one repeat, two serious to Farmers’ Cooperative at its McCool Junction fertilizer plant

    Details: A 73-year-old worker died from injuries after falling while loading a tanker truck on May 7, according to OSHA’s news release. Citations were related to lack of fall protection, lack of guard rails, and not providing railing on stairways.

  2. Date and location: Sept. 2, Kansas City, Mo.

    Damages paid to whistleblower: $12,000: $2,000 compensatory and $10,000 punitive

    Law violated: Federal Railroad Safety Act by Farmers’ Cooperative

    Details: A railroad conductor at the Murray Yard complex was disciplined in retaliation after a doctor’s appointment in November 2013 where the doctor told him to stay out of work for the rest of the day because of a personal illness, according to OSHA’s news release. Although the worker notified a supervisor about the doctor’s treatment plan, “the company then accused the employee of violating its attendance policy and subsequently disciplined the employee.” In addition to paying damages, the company must “remove disciplinary information from the employee’s personnel record and provide whistleblower rights information to its employees.”

  3. Date and location: Sept. 22, Omaha, Neb.

    Proposed fine: $133,900

    Number of citations for safety violations: three repeat and three serious, including confined space safety regulations, to Watco Companies of Pittsburg, Kan., a business that specializes in rail car repairs and has 30 employees in Omaha

    Details: A worker “reported suffering from respiratory inflammation after performing welding work inside a rail car in Omaha,” according to OSHA’s news release. An investigation in March was launched after the Nebraska Department of Labor Workers’ Compensation Division notified OSHA via a report of the illness. Repeat violations were “for failure to implement training, procedures and practices for safe entry into these spaces, including the company’s failure to evaluate for hazards, and to provide workers with communication devices or implement measures to prevent unauthorized entry.” Previous citations that made these repeat happened in Texas in 2013. “Serious violations were cited for failure to provide administrative and engineering controls to reduce damaging noise exposure, electrical hazards and lack of atmospheric controls in confined spaces.”

  4. Date and location: Sept. 25, Holdrege, Neb.

    Proposed fine: $14,000

    Number of citations for safety violations: two serious: “for failing to train workers in the recognition of unsafe conditions and to teach them how to access emergency medical services from a job site,” according to OSHA’s news release. The company is Van Kirk Sand and Gravel, operating as Van Kirk Brothers Contracting, which is based in Sutton, Neb.

    Details: One worker died and one worker was hurt after getting hit “by an excavator bucket while installing stormwater drainage in a trench … in Holdrege on July 17.” The inspection by OSHA “found that one of the employees sustained puncture wounds from the bucket after it disconnected from the excavator and rolled into the trench from a height of about 4 feet.” That worker died, and the other worker “suffered contusions and abrasions in the incident and has since returned to work.”

  5. Date and location: Sept. 25, Wichita, Kan.

    Damages paid to whistleblower: $261,787 for back wages and damages; and also reinstatement to their job and removing references to the disciplinary action from the employee’s record

    Law violated: Surface Transportation Assistance Act by Stericycle Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill., which specializes in biohazard waste disposal

    Details: “An investigation found the company wrongfully terminated a transportation supervisor at its Wichita terminal because the worker raised safety concerns after a driver was instructed to pull a trailer without a valid license plate,” according to the OSHA news release. When the employee was fired in September 2012, it was because of his status as a whistleblower. “It was determined that his protected activity was a contributing factor in the company’s decision to terminate his employment on Sept. 14, 2012, in direct violation of STAA.”

In addition to investigating unsafe working conditions, OSHA also works with nonprofits, businesses and industries to promote safety and accident prevention, which is what the remainder of the news releases in September are about.

  • On Sept. 3, OSHA announced that it is forming an alliance with the Heartland Workers Center of Omaha. This effort will “provide HWC staff, immigrant workers and others with education, guidance and access to training resources on protecting the health and safety of workers,” according to the OSHA news release. This includes promoting workers’ rights, how to make an OSHA complaint, what employers’ responsibilities are under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and providing Spanish-language safety and health training.
  • On Sept. 16, OSHA announced that it will work with Holder Construction Group to keep workers safe during the building of a data center called the Oasis project in Omaha, “which will include a chiller plant, administrative areas and supporting mechanical, electrical and plumbing rooms,” according to OSHA’s news release. The estimated 180 tradesmen who will construct the building, along with their employers, will learn “about hazards construction workers face daily on the job, including fall, electrical, caught-in and struck-by hazards.” In addition to other details, “all contractors and subcontractors on the project will be required to have specific written safety and health programs in place and attend meetings before major work takes place.”
  • Finally, on Sept. 25, OSHA announced in a news release that it was National Farm Safety and Health Week Sept. 21-27. Although the way workers’ compensation is handled when it comes to agriculture varies from state to state, ag is a dangerous industry. The news release includes both statistics and resources with many links for ag workers and their loved ones and also employers. The 2014 theme was “Safety Counts: Protecting What Matters,” according to the OSHA news release. “With a fatality rate of 22.2 for every 100,000 full-time workers, agriculture recorded the highest fatality rate of any industry sector,” in 2013. Issues include “awareness of confined space, farm equipment, grain handling … work-related lung diseases, heat exposure, noise-induced hearing loss, struck-by and fall hazards, skin diseases and certain cancers associated with chemical use and prolonged sun exposure.”

While it would be great if OSHA didn’t have to exist because workplaces were safe for employees, it is helpful to see both proactive steps taken to make workplaces safe and also businesses being held accountable when workers are injured because businesses or job sites are unsafe in Region 7.