I usually attend the annual Insurance Council of Texas' Workers' Compensation Conference, which was held yesterday in Texas. I'm participating in my nephew's wedding this weekend, complicating the travel, so I elected to stay in California.
But Texas-based WorkCompCentral reporter Joey Berlin did attend, and filed a report indicating that there was quite a bit of speculation that the Texas legislature just might look at making workers' compensation mandatory for the construction industry.
Construction work has always been a greater risk than most other occupations. The work is arduous, more often than not performed by low-wage immigrant labor lacking resources, education or nerve to seek appropriate (or any) remedy when injured on the job.
And for the most part the majority of construction "companies" are solo contractors without the assets to make pursing legal action worthwhile.
The construction industry in Texas is estimated to employ about a million people and generate about $54 billion in economic activity. About half of those workers are undocumented, doing the hard labor that doesn't require a license.
Texas construction kills more workers than any other industry, and more than in any other state - 493 in 2013 (though the ratio of workers killed per employed capita is greater, significantly, in North Dakota).
|Screen shot from Gov. Perry's website.|
"Charity care" from taxpayers, is how longtime Texas AFL/CIO legal director Rick Levy described how the injured, uninsured get along in Texas, the implication being that the cost is shifted to government programs in some fashion or another.
Levy has been pushing for mandatory coverage as long as I have followed the Texas workers' compensation industry.
Sam McMurray, probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the Texas work comp system, seems to think that the issue of compulsory comp in some economic sectors, such as construction, may be ripe for legislative review.
There's always a magic number that gets political attention. Big round numbers make good bullet points and focus attention on a problem.
In Texas, that big round number seems to be 500,000 to 600,000 - that the estimate of workers in Texas with absolutely no work injury protection whatsoever.
“And at some point, the politics are going to change,” Levy is reported to have said.
Could it be that the one state that has resisted compulsory workers' compensation since its inception, and has fostered alternative work injury protection schemes into other states, may soon mandate the construction industry to provide coverage?
According to Berlin's report, larger construction companies are calling for it because the small contractors are beating them on price since they don't provide protection to their workers, and also cheat on payroll as well.
Workers' compensation is a matter of politics - enough noise is made in the right places to the right people and things happen.
“That’s a number that’s hard to justify,” McMurry said about the large number of uncovered workers. “So I would expect the Legislature to try to address that in some way. It won’t be mandatory comp, not even for the construction industry. But at the very least, I expect to see more mandatory reporting for nonsubscribers, and perhaps an attempt – it’s probably premature this session – but an attempt to provide (some type of mandatory) coverage.”
"Texas is a land of ongoing success and endless opportunity; Texans aren't too shy about telling people about it, either," Governor Rick Perry says on his website. "It's not bragging if it's true, however, and the Lone Star State’s winning mix of low taxes, reasonable regulatory structure, fair court system and world-class workforce has been paying dividends in terms of press recognition, economic rankings and, most importantly, good jobs for hard-working Texans."
I think that statement needs to be read with a bit of circumspection in light of the alarming message about the construction industry. While McMurray could be right that compulsory comp will not be on the agenda this legislative session, it seems to me that momentum is building - which is ironic given the Lone Star State's proud independence.