Legislature Rigs System Against Injured Workers



Gov. Bill Haslam's only real accomplishment of the session—a bill rigging the workers' compensation system for businesses—won approval in the House this morning. The vote was 67-24, a foregone conclusion, and it seemed only to annoy Republicans that they were forced to table a slew of Democratic amendments before getting on with the business of putting the screws to working people in this state.

"I'm feeling a little like Don Quixote," said Nashville Rep. Mike Turner as the yawning Republicans voted down his party's attempts to derail the bill.

Haslam’s bill, which already has passed the Senate, takes claim disputes out of the court system and establishes a state agency to handle them, and the new system is fixed against workers who are injured on the job. The governor appoints the agency’s director, and the director selects the administrative judges to hear cases.

Haslam claims he’s trying to create “a fair playing field.” But as the pro-union Tennessee Citizen Action points out, his workers’ comp czar will become the ultimate decider of disputes.

So anxious are Republicans to kowtow to businesses that even a scandal in the state Department of Labor, which will house the new state agency, couldn't stop this bill. A new Comptroller's audit detailed the overpayment of about $73 million in jobless benefits, including unemployment checks to at least seven people who were dead.

"We have a disincentive for businesses to come to Tennessee," Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol. "This helps level that playing field. Frankly, I think it will put more workers to work."

But Turner said, "We’re taking money out of the workers’ pocket. That’s not right. It’s not fair. We’re going to pass the savings onto business people. I’ve never seen a bill that tears at my heart like this one does."

Statement from Mary Mancini, director of the pro-labor Tennessee Citizen Action:

“With passage of this bill that guts workers’ comp as we know it by drastically cutting insurance payments to workers injured on the job, the House of Representatives has clearly shown that instead of being on the side of protecting the hardworking Tennesseans who elected them, they are on the side of special interests like big insurance companies and large corporations who already benefit from so many tax loopholes and giveaways.

As we continue our work across the state, we promise that we will do all we can to let the constituents of each House member who voted for this bill know that it’s because of their vote that hardworking men and women who are injured on the job will have to struggle even harder just to take care of their families.”

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