Here is another sad round in the endless battle to preserve human rights against bigger profits.
On May 5, the Illinois House of Representatives met as the “committee as a whole” and heard testimony from an injured Oklahoma worker who had been devastated by cost- and benefit-cutting “reforms” similar to measures the governor of Illinois wants to impose on Illinois workers.
The article about this extraordinary event is important. One victim of losing long-held rights to compensation stood before a legislature of another state, educating them on what really happens to injured workers as a result of “reform.”
Fair workers’ compensation benefits are a fundamental human right. Human beings and their loved ones suffer with each takeaway, while CEOs are paid outrageous sums to increase profits. Injured Oklahoman John Coffell described exactly how he and his loved ones were affected.
“Coffell told the legislators that after injuring a disc in his back last summer, his pay dropped dramatically because Oklahoma had reduced the maximum wage-replacement benefits injured workers could receive from $801 a week to $561 a week.
“Almost immediately, he said, his utilities were cut off, his truck was repossessed and his family was evicted from their rental home. Because no relative could accommodate all of them, Coffell sent his three children, aged 5 to 9, to live with grandparents. He and his wife only had enough gas money to see them on weekends. They’ve had to rely on food stamps to get by.”
Because of his state’s workers’ compensation “reform,” Coffell’s children only got to see their parents on weekends.
Others who were affected by workers’ compensations in two different states – Illinois and Indiana – also painted the stark reality of how harsh a system can be at the hearing in Illinois. The contrast was obvious. “Laurie Summers — an Illinois nurse who dislocated her shoulder lifting a patient at a hospital in Indiana — said she had to drain her retirement savings and fight to get surgery.” But “Christine Fuller — who lived in Indiana, but whose father died from falling off a roof on a job in Illinois — said the survivor benefits she received from workers’ comp helped pay the mortgage and put her through college and graduate school.”
This testimony and hearing demonstrates that workers and their allies are gaining strength and finding new ways to fight the never-ending efforts to reduce costs, increase profits, and improve the business climate. These tactics frequently and all-to-often sacrifice workers’ safety and the safety net that is workers’ compensation.
This unusual event also shows that even though workers’ compensation programs are run at the state level, workers’ compensation “reforms” don’t happen in a vacuum. Businesses may tout the alleged advantages they get over other states by pushing these reforms through state legislatures. But a worker like Coffell from Oklahoma pushed back against the Illinois legislation, even though it didn’t directly affect him. He showed the struggle that a worker often has, regardless of the state where he or she was injured, to get workers’ compensation benefits, especially in states focused on “reform.”
“The ProPublica and NPR series has led to bills to raise benefits in Alabama and prevent medical care from being cut off in California. Officials have also warned insurers in California not to abuse the process and have launched an audit of how one insurer handled a claim in which a paraplegic’s home health care was terminated,” according to the recent ProPublica article about the Illinois hearing.
All concerned about the human rights of injured workers must keep working to find better, stronger and more effective ways to protect these human rights. Because a state’s business climate should not be more important than workers’ rights, safety and dignity.