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Just Faking It

The Only Workplace Injury the Boss is Concerned About
The Only Workplace Injury the Boss is Concerned About ...

Bosses 'Reform'
Workers' Compensation

UE Political Action Director

If You Get Hurt on the Job:

  1. Get proper medical attention.

  2. File a complete accident report.

  3. Make sure the union is aware of your situation.

  4. If necessary, apply for workers’ compensation.

  5. Keep any evidence regarding your accident or injury.

  6. Make notes of the circumstances of your accident, names of witnesses, etc.

  7. Keep a diary of your medical treatment and of developments with your claim for workers’ compensation.

  8. Watch what you say when talking to your employer, the insurance company, or company "consultants." Whatever you say, or anything you sign, WILL be used against you.

  9. Follow through on your medical treatment.

  10. From beginning to end, stay in close contact with your UE local (and your attorney, if you need one).


Top Ten Jobs with the
Highest Illness/Injury Rates:
  1. truck drivers

  2. non-construction laborers

  3. nursing aides

  4. janitors

  5. construction laborers

  6. assembly workers

  7. carpenters

  8. cooks

  9. stock handlers and baggers

  10. welders

(source: U.S. Dept. Of Labor, 1997)


Most Frequent On-the-Job
Injuries Requiring Time Off:
  • sprains and strains

  • bruises

  • lacerations and cuts

  • fractures

  • heat burns

  • carpel tunnel syndrome

  • tendinitis

  • chemical burns

  • amputations

(Source: U.S. Dept. Of Labor 1997)


You may have seen this on television. The grainy video shows a robust young man running up a twenty-foot ladder, carrying a very heavy bundle of new shingles. We watch as he puts a new roof on his house in the blazing sun. The scene shifts to lawn mowing or furniture moving, water skiing or snow skiing.

The host of the TV show finally gives us the punch line: "This man, who claims he was so severely injured in a workplace accident that he was unable to work, is now being prosecuted for insurance fraud. His claim for workers’ compensation has been denied." End of story.

While these hidden-camera productions purport to "expose" other kinds of insurance fraud, such sensationalism turns every injured person into a suspect. This is the impression big business wants to create — injured workers are just faking it.

Hype about fake injuries provides a cover for business-inspired, phony reform of a system in desperate need of genuine improvement.


Our current workers’ compensation system has evolved over the past 90 years as a way of helping working people deal with on-the-job injuries and deaths. And the U.S. workplace can be hazardous to your health. U.S. Department of Labor statistics tell some of the story. In 1997, a total of 1.8 million injuries and illnesses that required time away from work were reported in the private sector alone! Almost 70% of those injured had been on the job for at least one year. Almost one quarter of all injuries required more than three weeks off the job.

It’s the "lucky" ones who only get hurt. In 1997, a total of 6,218 working people were killed on the job in the United States, an unfortunate increase of 106 deaths over 1996.

Still, workplace health and safety has significantly improved during this century. Enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970 due to labor agitation has meant a steady improvement in the rate of injury and death in the workplace. A look back to the early part of this century offers evidence of the progress.

Research by the University of Chicago conducted in the mid-1930s paints a horrific picture of more than 20,000 U.S. workers killed every year on the job, in a workforce that was less than half of today’s size. This would translate into more than 50,000 annual workplace deaths today. This research also revealed more than 100,000 working people severely maimed at work each year, and almost 7 million working people injured and requiring time away from work.

Go back in time further and the statistics become even worse. A study by the National Safety Council in 1922 reported more than 76,000 working people killed at work during 1921!


The current workers’ compensation system is a state-by-state patchwork of plans that began to evolve early in this century, designed primarily to pay the medical bills and lost wages of injured workers.

In response to the wholesale slaughter of working people on the job — and because of growing bad publicity and legal problems for negligent employers — various state legislatures created the first programs to compensate workers who are killed or hurt at work. Big business reluctantly agreed to support the creation of the state-by-state system, figuring that it would be much easier to influence and control the state legislatures who maintained control of the program. In return for the "cooperation" of the employers, the vast majority of state compensation systems were established as "no fault" plans where workers are prevented from taking their employers to court regarding their injuries.

New York State passed the first legislation to compensate injured workers in 1910, expanding it with another law in 1913. Other states slowly followed, primarily those states with active labor unions and reform movements pushing vigorously for this critical legislation. In 1917, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the New York compensation plan, opening the door to rapid growth of workers’ compensation programs in the states. By 1935, only Arkansas and Mississippi had failed to enact some sort of compensation system for working people injured at work.

The history of legislation and statistics about improvements in workplace health and safety are of little consolation to the woman or man who is injured or poisoned on the job. And the pain and trauma of the injury itself begins to pale in comparison to the confusion and frustration that many encounter when they step into the labyrinth world of workers’ compensation.


Many state compensation systems have been inferior, anti-worker and in need of improvement virtually from their inception. Few plans ever worked very well, but even the worst of the state systems provided a minimal safety net for injured working people. Almost all state workers’ compensation systems are based on a model of private insurance companies selling insurance policies to employers, policies that pay for the medical costs and lost wages of employees injured on the job. The individual states are given the task of regulating this system, supposedly making sure that working people are treated fairly by their employers and the insurance companies. This is the basic flaw of most workers’ compensation systems.

Even at its best, workers’ compensation is confusing and intimidating to the average worker. It is all the more so to an injured worker. Working people fortunate enough to belong to a labor union at least have the option of seeking advice and assistance, but the vast majority of the working population has no choice but to confront the system on their own. The sad fact is that millions of working people who are injured on the job simply accept their employers’ explanations when they encounter problems or have questions.

Some workers are also steered by their bosses into applying for sickness and accident payments instead of filing a claim for workers’ compensation. Many workers find this to be a less confusing option — but then find themselves out of luck when injury or illness becomes chronic or disabling. Many employers aggravate the situation by administering disciplinary warnings to nearly all injured workers, blaming the victims from the start.


Spurred by the high costs of the insurance company model and by a general desire to rid themselves of any responsibility for employees who become injured or poisoned at work, bosses have gone on the offensive against workers’ compensation. Over the past decade corporate and insurance company lobbyists joined hands and swarmed through virtually every state capitol. State lawmakers have been bribed and stampeded into making drastic and anti-worker cuts to workers’ compensation systems that were already inadequate.

To further their phony "reform" bosses told politicians that these cuts were needed because millions of working people were faking serious illness and injury in order to cheat the system. They also threatened to pick up and move their operations to states with cheaper compensation systems.

In Pennsylvania, the state legislature adopted several bills that rolled back benefits for injured workers and costs for employers. Employer costs in Pennsylvania plummeted more than $1.2 billion between 1993 and 1998, while benefits to injured employees have dropped several hundred million dollars. In Ohio, with the enthusiastic support of then-Gov. (now Sen.) George Voinovich, the legislature passed a bill that brazenly transferred more than $200 million of funds for injured workers’ claims back to business. And in a show of strength not seen very often in recent years, organized labor mounted a successful campaign to repeal this outrageous law at the ballot box in 1997. In Massachusetts in 1991, then-Gov. William Weld led a major campaign to reduce benefits for injured workers.

During the course of this decade more than 40 states have enacted workers’ compensation reforms that have largely meant fewer rights and benefits for injured workers and lower costs for companies.

In addition to the legislative attacks on workers’ compensation systems, companies have been increasingly monitoring and supervising the care and rehabilitation of their injured employees. Some corporations like General Electric have retained full-time, outside consultants who set up shop in-plant and do nothing but monitor the cases of injured workers. Company officials and their outside agents are in regular contact with the injured workers, in many cases pressuring them to make decisions that are in the best interests of the company. Corporations large and small are also expanding their surveillance and secret videotaping of injured workers as a means of entrapping injured workers. The growing micro-management of the cases of injured workers by employers reminds all of us that our union needs to make sure that these members are not left to fend for themselves to deal with the confusing world of workers’ compensation.


The ultimate solution to the current workers’ compensation crisis is to dramatically expand organized labor’s political action at the state level. All working people — including UE members — need to rebuild our political muscle in every state capitol across the country. And while there is nothing wrong with dreaming about the eventual enactment of a national, federal workers’ compensation system to replace our patchwork system, in the meantime, our work needs to be concentrated on defending and improving the existing arrangement.

State lawmakers need to hear directly from UE members about the problems of the current system, and they need to hear our ideas for the kinds of changes and improvements that will restore some measure of fairness and dignity to injured workers in each state. The workers’ compensation issue reminds us of the need for UE members to mount regular state "Political Action Days," when UE members visit state capitols to meet with their lawmakers regarding workers’ compensation and other key issues at the state level. In the absence of our voices at the state level we should expect little more than a continued assault on our already anemic workers’ compensation systems, as lobbyists for big business work year-round to reduce benefits and tighten eligibility requirements.

And while we fight to defend and eventually improve workers’ compensation, we have the ability through our union to work as hard as possible to defend our injured members. UE shop stewards can assist injured workers with problems arising from injuries and filing claims for workers’ compensation. UE locals are strongly encouraged to designate someone within the local to become the resident expert on workers’ compensation. It’s important that locals make an effort to stay in touch with members who are off work due to an on-the-job injury, to prevent members from falling victim to self-serving advice from the boss, the insurance company or from returning to work prematurely due to pressure from the employer.

Despite our best efforts to force our employers to maintain a safe and healthy workplace, injuries and illnesses do occur. When they do, our imperfect workers’ compensation system is there to pay for medical treatment and to provide income for workers who are off work. And while we condemn the abuse of any safety net program by a tiny minority, we should re-affirm our demand that working people are entitled to their maximum benefits under the law.

Injured and poisoned workers should enjoy the ability to recuperate and rebuild their health. We shouldn’t be forced to run a minefield of confusion, fear, and suspicion as we do so.

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