District Council 37 (DC 37), the largest public employee union in the nation’s largest city, is taking part in an all-out effort to fight proposed changes to the workers’ compensation system in New York — changes that affect all workers injured on the job.
The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board has proposed medical treatment guidelines and regulations that would eliminate monetary awards for dozens of arm and leg injuries, while also denying workers the right to have an independent medical examination. The change would also deny benefits and care to workers injured on the job who fail to answer all the questions posed by an employer’s medical examiner.
Workers’ compensation, which has been on the books in New York for a century, is threatened by right-wing business interests, such as the Business Council, that pressured the Workers’ Compensation Board to issue proposed changes to longstanding regulations earlier this year.
The board’s action unleashed a firestorm of criticism and a fightback by unions and workers’ advocacy groups.
“Who will gain more with these proposals? Certainly not an injured worker,” said DC 37 Safety and Health Director Guille Mejia. “The only beneficiaries from these proposals, should they be implemented, will be employers and insurers who have been pushing the board to control and ultimately eliminate monetary awards beyond wage replacement to injured workers.”
“This plan is an insult to all working men and women,” said New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento. “Benefit cuts for injured workers are wholly unjustifiable.”
In a letter to Clarissa M. Rodriguez, chair of the state’s Workers’ Compensation Board, DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido wrote, “The Board’s proposals would strip out members of important protections and due process and rights and would create a system ripe for abuse by employers, insurers, independent medical examiners and IME vendors. They impose new burdens on DC 37 members who are injured on the job, and may also limit their earning capacity.”
Along with powerful testimony before the state legislature in Albany by union leaders and letters from state legislators and other elected officials, the response had a strong impact on the board, which is now under pressure to revisit its proposed regulations and not deviate from its mandate outlined in the state budget.
“The campaign has been effective and put a lot of pressure on Albany to do a rewrite,” said Mejia. “But we have to continue to fight.”