Last week Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he reached an agreement with legislative leaders on his 2016-2017 budget, touting the final version as a victory for working and middle class families. Some of the beneficial provisions for working class families include an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour, a new family medical leave act granting workers up to 12 weeks to care for family members, an increase in state aid to schools, an allocation of funds to improve infrastructure of our roads and rail systems that will create thousands of additional union jobs, and the reduction in the personal income tax that will save working people billions of dollars in the next 10 years. All of these initiatives will create opportunities for working and middle class families, and many in the labor movement are thrilled.
As many of you know, I have been highlighting during the last couple of months the controversial proposals regarding Workers’ Compensation benefits in the original budget. The Business Council was looking for a reduction in the overall cost of business and was proposing changes to the current system that would negatively impact injured workers, as they are an easy target. Many injured workers don’t have the financial ability or the time to fight back, particularly when they are concerned with recovery and paying bills.
As the Governor has been courting business interests for most of his tenure, it seemed almost inevitable that the attacks on injured workers would continue and the negative proposals would be enacted. During the last couple of months, members of labor, the medical community, and representatives of injured workers united in their opposition to these proposals. There were online petitions, requests to contact elected officials, and meetings with members of the State Senate and Assembly by dozens of advocates with the goal to educate and explain the negative ramifications of those specific sections on the Workers’ Compensation law. This coalition, along with members of the public, made their voices heard and we are relieved to report that those sections of the budget that would have hurt injured workers were removed from the final version. We truly thank our elected officials for seeing the proposals for what they were and for understanding that the final agenda for big business was at too high of a cost for working and middle class people.
This is a major victory for injured workers and their families, and one that we do not take lightly. The battle was rough and the stakes were high, but we cannot let down our guard yet. The Business Council’s mission to attack the limited benefits available to those injured on the job will continue. The Business Council and the insurance industry together have been very successful in making sure the focus of Workers’ Compensation reform stays on the costs of the system rather than on what will be provided to the injured worker. They will continue their rallying cry that the current Workers’ Comp system is what leads to the high cost of doing business in New York.
The system is not perfect. It is in need of reform but the reform should be to benefit injured workers. They are the ones who have lost the most. Their medical benefits have been reduced, their doctors’ opinions have been undermined, the amount of time they can receive indemnity benefits has been slashed, and they are forced to navigate through a system that is bloated with bureaucracy, convoluted, and almost impossible for the average person to understand. That is the area that really needs reform. Workers’ Compensation is for assisting the injured worker and that’s where the focus should stay.
Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.
Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.