Opting Out Of Workers’ Compensation Laws

Back to the good old days.

“Lewis Wickes Hines – Harry McShane 1908” by Lewis Wickes Hine – Library of Congress. Age 16. “Pulled into machinery in a factory in Cincinnati and had his arm ripped off at the shoulder and his leg broken without any compensation.”

One of the less-difficult thought experiments is whether rolling back New Deal-era work protections and social insurance would greatly diminish the lived experience of the average person compared to the status quo. I don’t believe I’m alone, or just wearing my ideology merit badge, in assuming companies would generally do a lot less and folks would be worse off.

Unfortunately for many workers in Texas this isn’t an imaginary exercise; it’s the reality of living in a state that provides companies an opt-out of the state’s compulsory workers compensation law:

“A new investigation by ProPublica and NPR unpacks the dramatic ways that workers’ comp laws are changing around the U.S. these days, as well as what effect these changes are having on working people. It finds plenty of evidence of people who would have been covered under the old laws laws, but are left behind by the new system. One woman, who injured her back while trying to help a patient into a wheelchair, lives off of her son’s Social Security payments. Another man, a disabled truck driver who struggles to afford his pain medication, reveals that he has lived off of just half a can of SpaghettiOs a day.

Firms are arguing that allowing them to opt-out of state compensation laws would be better for companies, consumers, employees, and stray puppies crossing busy streets. Of course whenever business tells you it’s a win for everyone they usually mean it’s only a win for them:

The new plans “almost universally have lower benefits, more restrictions and virtually no independent oversight,” write Michael Grabell of ProPublica and Howard Berkes of NPR.

Surprise! Somehow I doubt this has likewise markedly increased employee health nor resulted in lowered prices for Great Value diet soda. Yet because it’s been such a rousing success (for businesses) companies are pressuring other states to pass opt-out laws.

This is a good example of how much these issues matter on the state and city level. Further, that who you elect on the down ballots really ‘effing matters. Given the medium-term likelihood of continued glacial federal movement on legislation, intra-state policy is where all the action will, and where all the movement pressure should, be concentrated.

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