Workers deserve protections for on-the-job injuries

Our state’s workers’ compensation system is the only recourse for Iowans injured on the job, but it may soon be turned upside down by a bill scheduled for debate today in the Iowa Senate.

Iowa’s workers’ compensation has delicately balanced the interests of employers against the need to provide reasonable medical care and fair benefits for workers who suffer disabling on-the-job injuries.

The system exists to protect those who are injured, become sick or lose their hearing because of the dangers of their employment. However, SF 435 makes sweeping changes that gut those protections, reduce an employer’s liability for workplace injuries, and encourage employers and insurance companies to avoid paying claims.

This is another attempt by the Legislature to fix something that isn’t broken–and another act that cuts away workplace rights for hard-working Iowans. Our workers’ compensation system earns an “A” grade from the Insurance Journal, and the Iowa Economic Development Authority raves that our state is below average for workers’ compensation premiums.

In addition, work injury claims are down in Iowa, dropping by 21 percent over the last eight years, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance. The costs of workplace injury and illness are already borne primarily by injured workers, their families and taxpayers. The bulk of workers’ compensation dollars in Iowa goes to medical providers for care.

Some of the worst measures in SF 435 include:

  • Discriminating against older workers. Iowa workers permanently and totally disabled by a work injury prior to age 67 lose their benefits at age 67; and those injured at age 67 or older are limited to 150 weeks of benefits. This leaves taxpayers to pick up the costs when these older workers become disabled simply because they need to work later in life to make ends meet.
  • Eliminating protections based on an employee’s loss of earning power if the employer returns the injured employee to work for a made up job, but then terminates them, leaving them with no compensation for lost earning ability due to injury.
  • Reducing protections for workers who suffer a shoulder injury, one of the most common work-related injuries that can easily end a career for a manufacturing, construction or meat-packing worker. A workers’ loss of earning capacity would no longer be taken into account when calculating benefits for severely limiting shoulder injuries.

SF 435 is an overreach that does nothing to help workers or move Iowa’s economy forward. It’s phase two in the attack on the working Iowans whose labor is the very backbone of our economy.

It’s unforgivable to do this to the workers who literally sacrifice their bodies to provide for their families and Iowa’s economy as a whole.