Thursday, July 11, 2013

Just The Way It Is

Workers' compensation is a statutory creature, created by special interest factions representing various elements of society in a politically negotiated manner for whatever may benefit any particular group of similarly situated constituents.

When all is said and done at the end of the day, workers' compensation simply works the way it is intended by those responsible for putting the language in the books.

There may be details that get overlooked, "loopholes" that allow some previously unanticipated activity, but overall the system operates as intended the vast majority of the time.

That is, employers pay into a risk allocation system that finances as efficiently as humanly possible the distribution of resources for medical care and income support to the few employees that sustain injuries or incur disease on the job.

Employers complain that it costs too much. Workers subject to the system complain that they don't get enough when they need it. Vendors complain that they are underpaid and under-appreciated. Insurers complain about compliance and complexity. Administrators complain that legislators don't appreciate the difficulty executing the laws.

That's just the way it is.

And the other 99% of the voting population doesn't care. They just want their football. Or baseball, basketball and hockey, as it may be.

Which of course leads us back to the national trend of limiting the rights of certain professional athletes to pursue workers' compensation claims, particularly in California.

Business loves California because it is such a huge economy. A lot of people with a lot of money live in California and that simple fact makes the state nearly irresistible to many businesses.

So business either imports goods and services to the state, which of course requires some sort of logistics and/or distribution system (typically employing people in California either directly or indirectly) or requires establishing operations in California, likewise engaging in employment activity in the state.

Which means that there is exposure to California law.

California law irritates a lot of people. Some complain it is too liberal. Some complain that it is too sloppy. Some complain that it is too complex.

When California law irritates enough people with enough money and power then there is pressure to change the law to fit the interests of those complaining, regardless of the impact on other interests, regardless of the logic or philosophy or culture of the state.

That's just the way it is.

AB 1309 is one of those laws. It is the California professional athlete workers' compensation constriction bill sponsored by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno. This is the bill that would limit the ability of football, baseball, basketball and hockey players to seek redress for claimed continuing trauma injuries in California unless the athlete can prove some minimal connection, as defined by the bill, with the state.

The bill is progressing nicely through the legislature with the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations on Wednesday unanimously passing an amended version of the bill.

The amendments seek to clarify its operation and application.

Professional sports businesses support the bill. Professional athletes and employees oppose the bill.

And the vast majority of citizens, including lawmakers, really don't care.

That's just the way it is.

Public service unions typically have had a lot of power in the California legislature which is why there are workers' compensation laws granting presumptions in favor of law enforcement and fire fighting occupations.

Professional sports player unions don't have that kind of clout.

At this point in time in history, professional sports businesses have the legislative power and momentum to secure their interests into law, riding on the coattails of Big Business' success with SB 863.

I have no doubt in my mind that AB 1309 will be law. The bill's ultimate shape and form may still be tweaked, then it will be subject to the interpretive forces of the judiciary.
The workers' compensation industry, the carriers, administrators, vendors, will respond as best it can with the tools provided.

And we will move on to the next special interest demand seeking to address some other complaint because the system doesn't work the way they want it to.

That's just the way it is.


  1. David,

    While all of what you write is true, some legislation and "tweaks" have a deeper and longer lasting effect than others. AB 1309 will, probably sooner than later, foster collateral damage to virtually any California worker who attempts to claim a cumulative trauma. That's a shame and a real step backward.

    1. I agree Steve. That doesn't change the fact of "that's just the way it is."