February 27, 2007

New York State AFL-CIO hails workers' compensation agreement

Source: New York State AFL-CIO

The New York State AFL-CIO reports:

New York State AFL-CIO hails workers' compensation agreement as historic victory for both injured workers and business community

  • Agreement includes first benefit increase in 15 years; raises maximum benefit to 2/3 of average weekly wage; and indexes benefit
  • Deal also reduces premiums for employers; speeds up medical care and adjudication; increases payment to widows and orphans; and addresses fraud within the system

New York State AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes hailed today's announcement on a conceptual agreement on workers' compensation reform as historic. The New York State AFL-CIO believes this agreement addresses some of the most pressing needs and concerns of injured workers and immeasurably improves a system long believed to be broken beyond repair.

The agreement also serves as an impressive first step for labor and employers in taking back a system that has long been dominated by the insurance industry.

President Hughes stated, "The New York State AFL-CIO is proud to have been part of the process and is immensely pleased with this agreement. Labor, business and political leaders joined together to forge an historic agreement for the common good of injured workers, the business community and all New Yorkers.

"The New York State AFL-CIO is deeply indebted to Governor Spitzer, Senate Majority Leader Bruno and Assembly Speaker Silver for their leadership and determination throughout this process.

"After 15 long years, injured workers will receive an immediate benefit increase this year. In four steps, the benefit will eventually reach 2/3 of the average weekly wage, and be indexed thereafter. Never again will injured workers have to endure the indignity of waiting 15 years for a benefit increase.

"In addition, this agreement more than doubles the minimum benefit received by injured workers, from $40 per week to $100 per week.

"We are also proud of the fact that through the reforms laid out in this agreement, labor and business will begin to take back a system that has long been dominated by the insurance industry. If anything, this process has shown that when labor and business can work together without interference from the insurance industry, injured workers, business owners and the citizens of this state all win.

"I'd like to thank the Business Council for their willingness to negotiate in good faith. I look forward to building on this experience and working with Business Council President Ken Adams on other issues of shared concern."

Because improvements to the workers' compensation system have been ignored for more than 90 years, there were dozens of issues that needed to be addressed in the agreement. Among the improvements outlined in the agreement, in addition to the issues mentioned above, are: speeding up medical care and adjudication; focus on fraud by bad employers; and ending carriers' incentive to stall on settlements.

Here is a list of issues, as well as improvements to streamline the system, addressed in the agreement. These improvements will benefit injured workers and businesses throughout this state:

  • Increase maximum benefit from $400 per week to $500 later this year, $600 in 2008, $650 in 2009 and indexed beginning in 2010.
  • Indexes the maximum benefit to 2/3 of the average weekly wage beginning in 2010.
  • Raises the minimum benefit from $40 per week to $100 per week.
  • Death benefit is raised to the same level as maximum benefit.
  • Establishes maximum benefit weeks for permanent partial disabilities.
  • Maximum benefit weeks do not begin until injured worker is classified.
  • Medical care continues for LIFETIME for all permanent partially disabled workers.
  • Permanent Partial Disability claimants can resubmit for total industrial disability at any time while they are collecting benefits.
  • Extreme hardship re-determination can be sought to extend benefits for those with 80%-90% or greater disability.
  • Increases civil and criminal penalties for employers who fail to obtain workers' compensation insurance.
  • Grants Workers' Comp. Board Chair various investigative powers including the issuance of subpoenas to determine if employers are maintaining coverage.
  • Workers' compensation coverage is required for all employed on a public work project.
  • Insurance certificate will have a scannable device to check for current coverage.
  • CIRB no longer specified in statute to continue in their current role.
  • Elimination of second injury fund for future cases, thus reducing employer assessments and reduces number of hearings for claimants.
  • Development of Rocket Docket to speed the hearing process.
  • Increases training for workers' comp. judges.
  • Benefits stop if claimant is incarcerated.
  • Raises threshold of pre-approval of medical testing and radiology to $1,000.
  • Allows special funds to partake in Section 32 agreement.
  • Grants discount in premium to employers who have safety training program, return to work program, alternate work programs and drug and alcohol assistance program.
  • Institutes a filing fee for any claim on second injury fund.
  • Mandates lump sum settlement offer by employer.
  • Creates task force with deadline for advancing California type security bond program for self-insured.
  • State Insurance Fund will be allowed to write disability coverage above the statutory requirement.
  • Creates Task Force to determine data collection requirements.
  • Creates Task Force to examine retraining requirements for permanently disabled claimants.