Archive | 2013

Basic worker issues on table

Labor, Health panel needs attention

Interim work goes to heart of public policies affecting workers

Eyes on Medicaid expansion, unemployment insurance, and job safety

Wyoming workers need to watch what the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee is doing this summer and fall. Over the next several months, this legislative panel is considering Medicaid Expansion, unemployment insurance, and worker safety – all of which go to the heart of public policies that directly affect the lives of workers and their families. During its meeting August 25 and 26 in Lovell, the committee reviewed all three matters. Here’s a quick look: MEDICAID EXPANSION: The state has the option under federal health reform law to extend Medicaid coverage to adults under 65 without children and with very low incomes (up to 138% of the federal poverty line). In the last General Session, the Legislature rejected calls to expand Medicaid, claiming that the federal government cannot be trusted to honor funding commitments in the Affordable Care Act. (Aside: Similar arguments are not made when it comes to taking federal dollars for highways and transportation, education, and other state programs that rely on federal aid.) The Joint Committee heard from the Department of Health, which recently published a report titled “The Wyoming Approach for Medicaid Expansion” laying out five potential plans to expand Medicaid. The committee did not discuss the department’s options. It instead discussed a raw draft of a limited expansion proposal that the state of Arkansas has proposed to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Arkansas plan includes the use of health savings accounts and requires co-pays for services from people who don’t have much money. “Everybody ought to have some skin in the game,” said Sen. Charles Scott, SD30, R-Casper. Scott has ardently opposed Medicaid expansion. Though Scott suggested he would oppose even an Arkansas-style expansion, other committee members expressed interest. The general support for the Arkansas plan troubled Rep. Mary Throne, HD11, D-Cheyenne. “We’re too excited about this Arkansas plan because it pleases us ideologically,” she said. It seemed to be a suggestion that the committee would prefer to score rhetorical points rather than produce more effective policies. The committee ultimately directed the LSO to draft a bill based on the Arkansas proposal. The committee also asked LSO to draft a bill based on the Department of Health’s preferred option approach labeled “Medicaid Fit.” Meanwhile, Northern Arapaho Tribal Liaison Gary Collins and Tribal Health Department Director Allison Sage asked the committee to take steps to allow the Wind River tribes to seek Medicaid expansion on the reservation through a waiver request to HHS. (The Casper Star-Tribune offers the perspective of Gov. Matt Mead and others here.) UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE/WORKER MISCONDUCT: The committee addressed unemployment insurance legislation that was passed during the recent session but vetoed by the governor. The new legislation seeks to define worker misconduct. Under Wyoming law, a worker fired for misconduct can be denied unemployment insurance benefits. A version of the bill passed by the House in the 2013 session was not opposed by advocates for workers. The Senate adopted amendments that significantly changed the bill. They made it virtually certain that employees discharged for inadvertent errors – such as failure to lock a door – could be denied unemployment insurance benefits. Proponents have said the bill mirrors a 1986 state Supreme Court decision that has guided state hearing officers in deciding contested unemployment insurance cases. At the Aug. 26 committee meeting, they proposed amendments stating that a worker must intentionally violate policy or take action contrary to the employer’s interests in order to be found guilty of misconduct. Rep. Throne raised a new concern, however, when she noted the bill does not include a court directive that “(i)nefficency or failure in good performance as a result of inability or incapacity” likewise shall not be considered misconduct by a worker. The committee will consider a new draft of the bill at its meeting in November. WORKER SAFETY: The committee heard a report from the Department of Workforce Services on the Safety Improvement Program. Under the program, businesses can get matching grants of up to $10,000 to start or improve company safety programs or to buy safety-related equipment. More than 45 companies have submitted applications; however, legislators questioned some of the grants, noting that they had gone to large companies with significant resources. (Laramie County School District No.2 is one of the grantees.) The Legislature needs a conversation to consider whether companies that have had a fatality in the last five years or that have been fined for serious violations should be eligible for the grants. Rep. Throne said the grants could be perceived as an “offset’’ to the state fines. It’s not clear when and if that conversation will be had by legislators.  
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Equality State Policy Center joins NCOSH

National partner will help job safety efforts

WYCOSH launched as separate project by ESPC

National Council for Occupational Safety and Health works across U.S.

From a July 29, 2013 news release issued by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health announced today the addition of five new Associate Members to its national network of Committees or Coalitions on Occupational Safety and Health (“COSH groups”). These new groups, located across the country, will add to the COSH Network’s ability to train and empower workers on their rights at work. The new associate members are: WYCOSH, South Florida COSH, the Central New York Occupational Health Clinic, the Houston Area COSH, and the Knox Area Worker Memorial Day Committee. Associate members are newly forming coalitions working together to educate and advocate for worker health and safety. “With the addition of these five new groups to our network – and hopefully more coming soon – advocates are demonstrating a growth of activism around worker health and safety, and are demanding safe workplaces as a human right,” said Tom O’Connor, executive director of National COSH. “We welcome our new associate members and look forward to working with them to improve conditions in workplaces throughout the nation.” The Wyoming Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (WYCOSH) will operate as a special project of the Equality State Policy Center. The ESPC’s WYCOSH project will collaborate with the Wyoming State AFL-CIO, the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association, and SAFER, the Spence Association for Employee Rights. The project aims to reduce Wyoming’s deplorable job fatality rate.WYCOSH. WYCOSH and its collaborators will continue to stage an annual Workers’ Memorial Day commemoration to keep the issue of job-related deaths in front of public policy-makers. WYCOSH also is working with immigrant communities to be sure they know their rights on the job, including their right to a safe workplace. “People should not be killed or maimed on the job,” said Dan Neal, head of the Equality State Policy Center. “We’re excited to join the COSH network because its experts can help us promote policies that will help make sure Wyoming people return home from work safe and whole.” Read the full news release here. For more information about the associate members and all state and local COSH groups, visit: http://www.coshnetwork.org/COSHGroupsList. ### The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health is a federation of local and statewide organizations; a private, non-profit coalition of labor unions, health and technical professionals, and others interested in promoting and advocating for worker health and safety. To learn more about the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, visit: http://www.coshnetwork.org.
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Workers Memorial Day

State remembers workers killed on the job

Stronger OSHA enforcement urged by state & national advocates

More than 4,600 workers were killed on the job in the United States in 2011 – the latest year for which complete data is available, and in Wyoming, 29 workers were killed on the job that year.

Kathy Morgan holds a photo of her deceased husband David. Morgan talked about the impact of a job-related death on families and their communities.

An analysis by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) found Wyoming had the worst rate of worker fatalities in the country from 2005-10 and that its 6-year average was at least double the average fatality rate in all but eight other states. The state’s fatality rate in 2011 was second worst in the U.S., trailing only North Dakota. The number of job deaths in Wyoming dropped in 2012. State officials report that 23 workers were killed in events in Wyoming’s oil and gas fields, on construction sites, highways, and on its ranches.

A Wyoming commemoration of Workers Memorial Day April 29 featured the widow of a Casper man who was killed while working in a warehouse last summer. Kathy Morgan wants people to know that job deaths bring loss “not to just our families” but also “to our communities and our state.”

David Morgan was killed on the job in August 2012 when he was crushed by a 4,000-pound storage container that contained gasoline additives at a Baker Hughes building. He had been only weeks away from his retirement. Ed Simmons asked to speak near the end of the event. Simmons is the father of Anthony Simmons, who was killed while working at

Ed Simmons

Teton Homes in Casper on April 10. Simmons demanded to know why OSHA and state politicians don’t do more to assure safety on the job. His son, he said, was not trained to be doing the work he was doing when he was killed.

Other speakers included Riverton attorney and former mayor John Vincent, long an advocate for safety in the oil and gas patch; John Ysebaert, administrator of the Department of Workforce Services Office of Standards and Compliance; Mark Aronowitz, an attorney for SAFER, the Spence Association for Employee Rights; and two state legislators, Rep. Don Burkhart of Rawlins, and Sen. John Hastert of Green River. Gov. Matt Mead supported the event with a lettercalling for more to be done.

The ESPC believes there is much to be done to ensure that Wyoming workers return safe and whole from every shift. The state has hired more inspectors, but still has just nine compliance inspectors to monitor thousands of job sites. The Mine Health and Safety Administration has nearly six times that number of inspectors to ensure safety in Wyoming’s coal, trona, and other mines.

Efforts to make the oil patch safer are hampered because state inspectors don’t know where drilling rigs are operating. Those inspectors could do more if the state required drilling companies to report when they move to a new well location and begin drilling. At present, there’s no central reporting point to inform state inspectors exactly where drilling rigs are making holes. Reporting a GPS location to OSHA when drilling starts and when a drilling company departs a completed well would provide that information.

The National COSH released its report, “Preventable Deaths: The Tragedy of Workplace Fatalities,” April 23 as part of Workers Memorial Week.

“Each worker killed is a tragic loss to the community of family, friends and co-workers – and the worst part is, these deaths were largely preventable,” Tom O’Connor, executive director of National COSH, said when the report was released.

“Simply by following proven safety practices and complying with OSHA standards, many of these more than 4,600 deaths could have been avoided. But as companies decry regulations and emphasize profits over safety, workers pay the ultimate price.”

The National COSH report points to the following reforms that are needed:

  • State legislation to implement minimum penalty amounts for serious safety citations related to workplace fatalities, which can be modeled after Minnesota’s legislation that requires its state OSHA program to levy fines of no less than $25,000 for every serious violation and, in cases involving repeat or willful violations, no less than $50,000.

  • Meaningful immigration reform, which would bring undocumented workers out of the shadows and give them protections afforded to all workers.

  • A stronger Occupational Safety and Health Act, which would make felony charges possible when repeat or willful violations result in a worker’s death or serious injury, and would increase the penalties OSHA can impose on negligent employers.

  • An Injury and Illness Prevention Standard, which would require employers to find and fix health and safety hazards in the workplace.

  • States should examine health impacts from silica dust during hydraulic fracturing and consider possible state regulations.

  • And many other reforms reviewed in the report.

Wyoming Workers Memorial Day is sponsored by the Wyoming State AFL-CIO, the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association, the Spence Association for Employee Rights (SAFER), and a new project of the Equality State Policy Center, the Wyoming Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health: WyCOSH.

Visit www.workersmemorialweek.org for more information.

Here is the Public News Service coverage of the event. This post was updated following the Wyoming Workers Memorial Day event Monday morning, April 29. News Service link was added June 12.  
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Workers’ Compensation – legislators

Wyo legislators deserve Workers’ Compensation

Insurance coverage can prevent family economic disaster

Sens. Drew Perkins, left, and Ray Peterson on the floor of the state Senate.

Wyoming legislators deserve Workers Compensation coverage when they drive across the far-flung reaches of Wyoming to attend committee meetings around the state and while serving in legislative sessions in Cheyenne. The coverage will cost little. It simply insures that if a citizen legislator suffers an injury, he or she will get the medical care they need to enable them to return to work as quickly as possible. Wage benefits coverage means the legislator’s family may be able to avoid dire economic losses because of an injury suffered while on official legislative business. If the legislator’s injuries result in death, Workers Comp benefits may help surviving family members avoid bankruptcy while they scramble to replace income lost as a result of a fatality. Never happen, you say? We know at least one legislator was killed while traveling. In 1971, Rep. Nancy Wallace, a Uinta County Republican, died in a crash while driving home from Cheyenne. Unfortunately, the Star-Tribune has chosen to attack the idea. The ESPC and the League of Women Voters suggested a study by the Legislature’s Management Council after it learned of the economic troubles faced by Rock Springs Rep. Steve Watt after he fell at a legislative training session last December and was taken to the local hospital by ambulance. Watt had no personal medical insurance to cover the medical costs.

Rep. Steve Watt

But that didn’t stop the Star-Tribune from attacking Watt personally in an attempt to discredit the idea. “ … Rep. Steve Watt miscalculated a sneaky chair that slipped out from under him. Will the state cover the rest of us who fell off our chairs laughing when we read about the idea?” the CST wrote in its March 23rd Cheers and Jeers section. Sometimes, Steve Watt does have a difficult time sitting and walking. Sometimes the former Wyoming Highway Patrolman must use a wheelchair because of the injuries he suffered when he was shot five times by a bank robber during a 1982 traffic stop in Sweetwater County. One of the bullets remains in his body, near his spine, more than 30 years later. Providing Workers Compensation coverage to legislators is not a radical idea. Others states already do. For instance, “employee” is defined under Connecticut’s Workers’ Compensation Act to include any person who “is elected to serve as a member of the General Assembly of this state.” See: CSG 31-277 No matter if the legislator is part time or full time, if a legislator is collecting a salary and is otherwise on the state’s “payroll,” she should be eligible to be covered by Workers’ Compensation while providing services to the state. The cost of ensuring Wyoming legislators would be low, just over $300 a year per legislator, according to initial estimates provided by the Department of Workforce Services. When a state legislator like Rep. Watt does incur an injury on the job, justice dictates that we provide him fair and equal treatment in consideration of his injuries. These civil servants should be afforded the same protection as other state employees – many of whom also have families to support whether they are healthy or otherwise. Workers’ Compensation exists to provide the medical care an injured worker needs to get back to his or her job after an injury. It means a family suddenly deprived of a primary breadwinner has decent support from the Workers Compensation fund. In return, employers know they face no civil liability for ordinary or even willful negligence. The insurance policy buys them protection, too. That’s the promise of Workers’ Compensation in the private market. It protects both parties to the contract. We urge the Management Council to give the idea careful consideration.   (ESPC op-ed on this proposal was published April 5, 2013 in the Casper Star-Tribune.)  
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Tip pooling bill dies

Sponsor gives up on tip pooling

Withdraws bill from “free committee” consideration

HB112 took wages for distribution to others by employers

The tip pooling bill finally expired this week when the sponsor withdrew it from consideration by a conference committee Thursday.

Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff

Sponsor Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff convinced legislative leadership to name a “free committee” to take the bill up. Unlike an ordinary conference committee, which is restricted to working only on the differences in the versions of the legislation passed by the House and Senate, a free committee can work on all aspects of a bill. But Petroff called off the discussion. In a Thursday story that appeared in the Sheridan Press, she blamed the media for distorting the bill’s effect. “Because the perception has gotten so far off base because of some of the media coverage, we didn’t want to proceed and have people think we were trying to harm the employees,” Petroff told the Sheridan paper. Though couched in assurances that the bill, HB 112 Tip distribution policies, would ensure fair pooling of tips to a “team” of employees, the ESPC believes one intention of the sponsors was to legalize an employer’s use of money that servers contribute to tip pools to pay the federal minimum wage owed other workers. Here’s how it would work: State law says a worker cannot be considered a tipped employee unless they receive at least $30 per month in tips. Most bus staff and many other workers don’t meet that threshold. Employers must pay those workers the federal minimum wage of $7.25. But if employers can force those workers into a tip pool, they will receive more than $30 a month in tips. Once a worker hits that threshold, the employer can pay the state authorized “tipped minimum” wage of $2.13/hour rather than the federal minimum of $7.25/hour. With the pool set up, the employer then can close her checkbook and take money from the tips pool to bring the bus staff (and/or other “qualifying” employees) up to the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The bill is dead for 2013, however, the restaurant industry will not give up its effort to get their hands on wages earned via tips. Tip pools have been legalized in many other states. They are authorized under federal law with fewer restrictions than those Rep. Petroff included in her bill. Unfortunately, most of the targets of this legislation are low-wage workers with few benefits. A 2011 paper titled “Tip-Misappropriation, Minimum Wage, and other Common Service Industry Wages Issues” notes this: “The typical tipped employee is an adult woman who is poor and has few fringe benefits. Of all tipped employees, 70% are women, 47% have a high school education or less, 45% are age 30 or older, and almost 15% are below the federal poverty line (more than double the rate for all workers). “Compared with all working people, food service workers are only about half as likely to have health insurance, sick leave, and retirement benefits, and only two-thirds as likely to have paid vacations.”
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