|A Nation At War|
A NATION AT WARIn infancy the 13 Colonies fought a War for Independence during the 18th Century.
In the 19th Century the States fought a bloody Civil War over slavery.
The 20th century produced 2 World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War.
The 21st Century will not be immune from conflict. Another Civil War has begun.
Sometimes we donít know we are in a war until we start to see the casualties. So look around. The victims are everywhere. They are the economic casualties of technology, downsizing, mergers, age discrimination and a defunct public education system. These are not the bulk of the wounded. They can, and do, return to the workplace. Sometimes at lower wages and in less meaningful positions, but they can work. The disabled; they are another story. They are the real victims of war.
The battle lines are drawn. The states are in a fight to the economic death over attracting industry and with industry, more taxes. The weapons are laws. Laws passed by State Legislatures controlled by "Special Interests". Laws that favor the business interests in that state. Tax laws. Special taxing districts (like the Reedy Creek district that allowed Disney World to exist in Florida). Business is attracted by favorable climate, and that isnít just the weather. The real battleground is over Workersí Compensation and Tort Reform.
Caps on punitive damages, statutes of repose, alternative dispute resolution, limits on class actions, and the dreaded reduction in Workersí Compensation benefits are weapons of mass destruction for the 21st Century. Each state battling to be the most favorable to industry, to attract business, to increase the tax base, is leaving in itís wake the injured, disabled and needy who canít return to work. These victims are the equivalent of the wounded and dead in a conventional war. The wounded, as always, cost more than the dead. Never has that been truer than in Florida where a dead employee costs $105,000.00 at most. Usually less. Nothing if the employer restricts itís hiring to young or old workers with no dependents.
The wounded, they are the expenses to be reckoned with. The state legislatures, heeding the bugle call of big business, and following the soft money spoils, to the rescue. How can we cut the cost of injuries on the job and attract more industry to our state? Answer; cut benefits and make it harder to collect them. Put in the law countless Ďdefensesí to compensation claims. Drug Free environments, no compensation if you fail your drug test. Same with alcohol. And donít forget fraud. Did you calculate your medical mileage too high? Sorry, youíve just lost ALL your rights to compensation. Forget to use that hard hat? Lose 25% of your indemnity.
How about shifting the responsibility for injuries on the job to Social Security? Ok, if you donít apply for SSD, you lose your benefits. If you do apply, you most likely lose some of your benefits and the compensation carrier will try to get you to settle your claim cheap because you can now use Medicare for your medical care. Never mind that the employee paid half the cost of the Social Security program.
Did the wounded soldier of industry negotiate a favorable pension plan? One with an in-line-of-duty disability provision. Great. Letís apply that to the compensation entitlement to reduce the cost to the employer even further. Now, what if we could cap those pesky medical costs! Managed Care. Ok Mr. Legislator, pass that! And it was done.
Can the war be won? Ask the politicians in Florida and Texas. You betcha it can be won. The states with the worst Compensation laws are attracting new business at an alarming rate. Austin, Texas is the new Silicon Valley. Orlando, Florida is growing out of itís boundaries. Detroit, Mi., Pittsburgh, Pa., and the like are the are the Chechnyaís of this country. Pounded into a wasteland of mills and factories, left behind because their citizens wouldnít stand for placing the cost of war on the backs of the workers. Ohio is next to fall, after itís citizens defeated, in the first popular vote on a Workersí Compensation issue, a law bent on subjugating Ohioans to provisions similar to those in the compensation laws of Florida and Texas.
So who will care for the injured and unemployed? Not the industry they served when they got hurt but all the rest of us who pay taxes for welfare programs and county hospitals. Business is off the hook and that is just the way the politicians want it. The war canít be won if business actually has to pay for the harm it causes.
Once the war is well under way can there be hope for a peaceful solution? Yes, but not until we recognize that a civil war between the states is under way and not until we have the resolve to fight those "special interest" groups that drive the war. It will take legislation from Washington to level the playing field. To make the states compete fairly. It will take Federal Minimum Standards for state workersí compensation laws, tort laws, and class action laws. Workers in every state must be assured that if they are hurt on the job in one state they will have the same minimum level of benefits as in every other state. If they sue for injuries caused by a defective product there will be no caps on damages and if they are a member of a class that was victimized, they will have access to the courts.
In the workersí compensation arena a distinguished Senator from New York wrote the framework for peace in 1973. His name was Jacob Javits. He called his bill the "National Workersí Compensation Standards Bill of 1973" SB 2008. Prevent casualties, resurrect and pass the bill.