Changes to work­ers comp laws are a power grab

The Buffalo News - - OPINION - By Gre­gory Con­nors Gre­gory Con­nors is a found­ing part­ner of Con­nors & Fer­ris, a law firm with of­fices in Buf­falo and Rochester.

In the film “The Empire Strikes Back,” Princess Leia fa­mously says, “I have a bad feel­ing about this,” as the Mil­len­nium Fal­con seeks refuge from the Empire, un­know­ingly fly­ing into even greater dan­ger.

The same phrase could be ap­plied to the dra­matic changes in work­ers com­pen­sa­tion – and work­ers as well as those fight­ing for jus­tice have a bad feel­ing about what lies ahead.

While Gov. An­drew M. Cuomo seems to ex­press con­cern for work­ers – pub­licly sup­port­ing unions and la­bor, reaching out to ev­ery­day New York­ers for photo ops – the re­al­ity of his ac­tions re­veals an­other side.

Cuomo has turned back the clock on the Empire State’s proud his­tory, negat­ing worker rights and im­pos­ing his agenda.

Up un­til re­cently, New York State’s his­tory of ad­vo­cat­ing for worker rights was un­par­al­leled, with pioneer­ing worker safety ef­forts fol­low­ing the Tri­an­gle Shirt­waist fac­tory fire in 1911.

To­day we are wit­ness­ing an un­prece­dented power grab as the gov­er­nor and his ad­min­is­tra­tion demon­strate a to­tal dis­re­gard for the phys­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal, and fi­nan­cial chal­lenges of in­jured work­ers, lim­it­ing ac­cess to jus­tice with:

• Last-minute changes to ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­cesses – unan­nounced and in­tro­duced out­side of the leg­isla­tive process. Im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict, th­ese have al­tered the le­gal land­scape. By cir­cum­vent­ing the leg­isla­tive process, in­jured work­ers and their le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion are blind­sided by changes.

• No re­sponse to re­quests for hear­ings, or de­lays stretching months and even years once they are granted. With lit­tle re­course out­side of the hear­ing process, cases are in limbo, im­pact­ing ev­ery facet of the in­jured work­ers life.

• In­tro­duc­tion of a litany of sud­den new “stan­dards” in work­ers comp, par­tic­u­larly im­pact­ing cases that might have mul­ti­ple out­comes. Even the le­gal com­mu­nity pro­tect­ing the in­jured work­ers is af­fected, as ex­em­pli­fied by the un­doc­u­mented re­quire­ment by the state for sub­mit­ting at­tor­ney fees in ad­vance – which is nearly im­pos­si­ble in cases with mul­ti­ple in­juries and po­ten­tial out­comes.

What can you do to help pro­tect in­jured work­ers and their ac­cess to jus­tice?

• Take ac­tion to keep ev­ery­one safe at work. While we can­not pre­dict when a work­place in­jury will oc­cur, we can col­lec­tively make a dif­fer­ence in en­sur­ing worker safety and ac­count­abil­ity.

• De­velop an ad­vo­cacy mindset. Pro­mote trans­parency. De­mand that our gov­er­nor and his ad­min­is­tra­tion fol­low the leg­isla­tive process.

• Help all gen­er­a­tions in the work­force un­der­stand the his­tory be­hind work­place safety and worker pro­tec­tions.

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