Citing new data showing the depression-like unemployment conditions for the commercial construction industry AGC has called on Rep. Steve Conway (D-Tacoma) Chairman of the House Commerce and Labor Committee to hold hearings on workers’ compensation reform.
“Now is the time to consider all opportunities to get people back to work” said David D’Hondt AGC’s Executive Vice President. “The construction industry is already experiencing alarming unemployment shedding 32 percent of total jobs during 2009 alone. Worse yet a survey of commercial construction firms released by AGC of America indicates that 47 percent of contractors in the state expect more layoffs in 2010.”
D’Hondt and AGC were responding to news reports that Rep. Conway is refusing to even hold hearings on reform legislation that has bi-partisan support. Conway has been quoted as saying that the issue should be considered during the interim between legislative sessions and that he might consider it in 2011.
“It’s easy for Rep. Conway to ignore this matter until 2011” said D’Hondt. “Unfortunately the construction industry has to deal with the economic conditions today. In Washington State 17 percent of the construction firms responding to the AGC survey indicated that they are having to bid projects at a price less than their costs in order to keep their doors open in the short term. Although the workers’ comp system isn’t to blame for the economic crisis inefficiencies in the system add to the cost of doing business and are a drag on employment.”
The Department of Labor and Industries raised workers’ comp taxes paid by employers and workers an average of 7.6 percent for 2010. The department said that the increases should have been higher but they drew down savings to make up the difference. This approach is not sustainable and without system reforms the industry is bracing for larger tax increases next year.
“Rather than ever-higher taxes the Legislature – and Rep. Conway specifically – should consider common sense reforms to the system” said D’Hondt.
The specific reforms sought by AGC through House Bill 2950 are:
Create a Settlement Option. Allow workers employers and L&I the option to settle and release claims for a lump sum. Washington is in a tiny minority of states that forbid this proven claims resolution mechanism.
Better Define Occupational Disease. Washington has one of the broadest occupational disease definitions in the country. It must be revised to exclude conditions that are not work-related.
Establish Medical Provider Networks. Injured workers deserve access to medical providers trained and experienced in treating their particular condition – as is the practice in 42 other states. We need to establish these networks to treat injured workers statewide.
For more information on the workers’ comp legislation contact AGC’s Government Affairs Manager Christine Swanson at 360-352-5000.