The battle between management and workers continues.
This time it's over a proposal to mandate that employers or workmen's compensation insurance carriers provide some money for rehabilitation or retraining of injured workers so they can get back to work.The issue has been looked at extensively by the State Industrial Commission's Worker's Compensation Advisory Council, which had hoped a bill would be introduced to the Legislature this session, but so far there has been plenty of rhetoric and more than three dozen rewrites of a bill, but it still is being debated.
Had it not been for a motion from Ed Mayne, Utah AFL-CIO president, to hold another advisory council meeting Jan. 25 and ask the commission to draft yet another bill that includes some sort of mandatory rehabilitation requirement, the issue probably would have become lost for another legislative year.
During the council's Thursday meeting, Mayne said the group's intent was to suggest to the commission that some sort of mandatory rehabilitation help for injured workers was desirable. By a 7-6 vote, the council asked the commissioners to draft a bill with that in mind or the council would support HB9, a bill sponsored by Rep. Janet Rose, D-Salt Lake.
Rose's bill provides for a maximum of 152 weeks of injured worker rehabilitation benefits, a much higher figure than the 26 weeks with an option for an additional 26 weeks of benefits contained in one of the commission's drafts.
Commission Chairman Stephen M. Hadley said the request for a rewrite puts the commission under the gun, timewise, but the request will be honored for the Jan. 25 meeting.
The latest proposal from the commission presented at Thursday's meeting brought objections from attorneys who represent clients involved in workmen's compensation cases before the commission, representatives of injured workers and officials from state agencies dealing with injured and handicapped people.
Attorney Roger Sandack said he was concerned the latest proposal would mandate that a portion of a worker's permanent partial disability payments be used for retraining. He said between deductions, attorney's fees and other payments, the money an injured worker receives isn't enough to sustain one who already is facing tremendous financial problems.
Sandack said the last draft of a rehabilitation bill the council received contained the 26-week provision and wondered why the commission had done a complete reversal and put more of the burden on the injured worker. He wondered who had been influential in the change.
Larry Bunkall, president of the Utah Manufacturer's Association, said his members object to paying for any benefits over the regular workmen's compensation benefits. The regular benefits consist of medical payments and money to offset lost wages while the injured worker recovers.
Mayne said the commission's latest draft was a "cruel hoax," especially if any attempt is made to direct where an injured person's money should be spent. He said the issue of mandatory rehabilitation payments has been studied for many years and it's time that something is passed to make it become a reality.