By Gregory Connors
Workers’ compensation is not a topic many of us spend much time thinking about. Most employees in New York are healthy and have full use of their arms, legs and backs. We have no reason to imagine we’ll be injured on the job, so why should we care if regional business leaders are aggressively pursuing more workers’ compensation reform?
But I propose all workers in Western New York should care about the latest attempts by Unshackle Upstate to push for more reform. The outcome they are pursuing could leave workers unprotected, find businesses still paying higher premiums and be a windfall for insurance companies.
Hard-working Western New Yorkers will bear the brunt of this windfall for insurance companies. Most employees who find themselves applying for workers’ compensation are blue-collar men and women between 35 and 55 years old who make between $400 and $600 each week. These are men and women in their prime income-generating years who have families to support and who cannot afford to lose a paycheck.
In reality, less than 2 percent of people ever apply for workers’ compensation. And business owners in New York State pay only 1.6 percent of their operating budgets to workers’ compensation insurance. So why is Unshackle Upstate working so hard to pretend more reform is needed?
It’s important to recognize that the organization’s work on the last reform, finalized in 2007, hasn’t even been given a chance to pay off. In that reform, the total payout for certain lifelong injuries will be capped – beginning in mid-2013. So why does the organization pretend to have expected cost savings through 2011? The claim is ridiculous.
But Unshackle Upstate leaders are claiming that because no cost savings have yet been realized, further reform is required. If this happens, business owners will see very little difference, and their workers will be left with even less coverage. However, insurance companies will benefit significantly. With more money in the system and payouts reduced, insurance companies will be able to increase their profits.
Workers’ compensation is fundamental to the social safety net. Fair compensation for injured workers should not be sacrificed to increase profits for insurance companies. Injured workers are not organized to defend themselves, and there are far fewer of them than there are businesses and associations that protect their interests.
I hope business leaders and elected officials ask for verified information from insurance companies, and the real projected cost savings if the 2007 reform is allowed to bear fruit – not the unverified data they used to justify proposed premium increases. Until leaders have accurate data, they cannot make informed decisions that might seriously affect workers and their families.
Gregory Connors is a partner in the Buffalo law firm Connors & Ferris.