To the Editor:
In view of the fact that there has been over a 71 percent reduction in litigation of workers’ compensation cases since the 2004 reform, and in view of the fact that disability benefits were cut 40 percent across the board, the Tennessee’s Workers’ Compensation System is not broken, my conversations with Gary Moore of the Tennessee AFLCIO confirms this. There is no need for the taxpayers to buy into the program recommended by out-of-state consultants from states, which have problems unique to their state and not the State of Tennessee. We need a caucus of common sense Tennesseans.
The current House Bill 194 includes proposed changes that rob injured workers of fair and adequate compensation. The reduction in workers’ compensation benefits along with the previous cuts, which were made in disability benefits, means that an injured worker who goes back to work will collect 60 percent less workers’ compensation benefits than before the last reform. Instead of expediting distribution of benefits, it will make it more difficult for an injured worker to collect adequate and fair compensation when injured. This Bill represents the greatest assault on injured workers in the last century.
President Abraham Lincoln had this to say about workers when recognizing the contribution of working men and women:
“Inasmuch as most good things are produced by labor, it follows that all such things of right belong to those whose labor has produced them. But it has so happened in all ages of the world, that some have labored, and others have, without labor enjoyed a large proportion of the fruits. This is wrong, and should not continue. To secure to each laborer the whole product of his labor, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government.”
You and the current General Assembly could leave a legacy of fairness and equality by considering the following nine points:
Keep the current workers’ compensation system intact. – The Distribution of benefits has been streamlined by the current administration.
Eliminate the mandatory benefit review conference and allow the benefit review conference or mediation to be voluntary. – This would eliminate the “race to the courthouse” and would encourage employers and employees to attend the benefit review conference in good faith.
Motivate the injured and disabled to return to the workplace through rehabilitation.
Encourage employers to retain and/or otherwise hire an experienced workforce with new technological training and/or rehabilitation. – All of this can be accomplished by a reallocation of resources which we currently have.
Increase business wealth and save taxes while preserving the dignity of the disabled by simply closing the rehabilitation gap, which has existed for nearly a century.
Keep the distribution of benefits in the courthouse rather than the commission house, which will save taxpayers over 100 million dollars. – This draconian measure of creating commissioners solely answerable to the executive branch of government, without any accountability will cost millions of dollars. Benefits can be expedited by simply awaiting judicial redistricting. The judicial districts need to be redrawn in order to determine the resources that are available for all taxpayers without any new expenditure for more government. To expedite a distribution of benefits, a simple amendment to the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Act giving General Sessions Courts concurrent jurisdiction of workers’ compensation claims with Chancery and Circuit Court will allow more judges, who are already trained in the law, to expedite more claims without any new taxes whatsoever and without any additional government.
Invest in rehabilitation and retraining through our technology centers and community colleges – a simple reallocation of our current resources. The amount of money saved from the creation of executive judges, support staff, and logistics should be utilized to add new equipment and new instruction to our technology centers and community colleges.
Suggest to the Governor that he appoint a new advisory committee composed of conscientious persons of goodwill, not out-of-state consultants. These individuals should be sincerely interested in improving the effectiveness of the Workers’ Compensation Act. The members of this committee should be true Tennesseans who want to close the rehabilitation gap. The Governor’s current proposal should be tabled. This is the most controversial legislation to be proposed by Governor Haslam’s administration. Restraint and dialogue should be considered by everyone involved. A better bill can be passed without the draconian measures recommended by out-of-state consultants.
Freedom of expression and civility in government demand restraint, true dialogue, common sense, and deliberation. – Remember, the taxpayer is the one most affected by this radical reform.
Also, remember the words of President Lincoln: “the working men are the basis for all governments, for the plain reason that they are the most numerous.” These suggestions will get us further and faster for building true wealth. They will also restore hope in the place of fear.
LaFollette, Tennessee 37766
David H. Dunaway