The Utah AFL-CIO president is prepared to clash heads with Gov. Norm Bangerter over a bill change approved by the Legislature affecting the rehabilitation and training of injured workers.
During the special session Tuesday, legislators passed HB3, the amended version of the Second Injury Fund Bill approved in February, limiting rehabilitation and training benefits available to injured workers to $3,000 per year.Rep. Frank Knowlton, R-Layton, the bill's sponsor, originally asked for a $1,000 cap, but after three hours of discussion, it was raised to $3,000.
Knowlton, who also sponsored the first bill, said the change was intended to correct an unintentional error in the bill. He said the words "up to $1,000" were inadvertently left out of the final draft.
However, Ed Mayne, Utah AFL-CIO president, said the "correction" was a ploy to appease employers. He said a compensation cap was not included in the original bill. He said the employers persuaded Knowlton to push for a cap - three months after the bill was approved - after they realized it allowed unlimited compensation.
Knowlton said that a $1,000 cap was included in the previous law and both the laborers and manufacturers knew the new bill would include the same limitation. He said everyone assumed the cap was already in the bill, so the "mistake" wasn't discovered until recently.
Mayne said the change was unfair because it was not approved by the task force committee. Bangerter set up the committee in February after both groups voiced opposition to the newly approved bill. In a letter to committee members, Bangerter said the committee should "review the new law and its impacts and make recommendations for any additional changes which would be acceptable to both labor and management. . . ."
Mayne said Bangerter's compliance to place the bill on the agenda without the committee's consent is a violation of the agreement.
"The governor jumps when the manufacturing association, mining association and state insurance company, the big employers in the state, say jump. It's all politics at this point," Mayne said.
"The one who is responsible is the one that appointed a special committee and then caved in to the pressures of the manufacturers and mining associations." He added that the bill involved issues too serious and extensive to be considered in a hasty special session.
Mayne said he and several other members of the committee plan to resign. "If you appoint a committee and then circumvent it, there is no need for it to function. It just means you're lying to us."
Mayne said getting the Legislature to raise the cap was a small victory, but it still leaves injured and handicapped employees in a lurch. "It's only about 20 percent of the cost of rehabilitation and is only a one-time payment. It can cost $10,000 to $13,000 a year for a serious injury." He said many injured workers will be forced to go on welfare or become wards of the state.
Knowlton said although he was working toward the $1,000 cap, he is satisfied with the Legislature's decision. "In the Legislature you're always satisfied with what you get. In our minds, we weren't making any changes other than what we thought the original bill was."