Dismantling Wisconsin's workers comp system slowed, for now. Gov. Walker's budget bill had big changes in Wisconsin's workers' compensation system. The same workers' compensation system that is the model for most states and is generally regarded as the best workers compensation system in the country. The governor's office and the republicans in the legislature claimed the changes were just moving offices around to save money, but that was not true. There were no savings, and it was not just moving offices. We were able to stop some of the unnecessary shenanigans, but not all.
Next week the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) will vote on the budget bill including the overhaul of the Worker's Compensation (WC) program. Based on lobbying efforts of dedicated Wisconsin attorneys who practice workers' compensation law, the JFC made significant changes in the Governor's original proposal to break up the WC system.
The Wisconsin worker's compensation division will remain its own program in the Department of Workforce Development (DWD). Unfortunately, some of the Administrative Law Judges (ALJ's) will move to the Department of Administration, but at least 80% of their work will remain WC cases. Some ALJ's will remain with DWD to oversee the administrative functions of the department.
The republican plan was not to save money. There was no savings. The plan was to break apart the workers' compensation system apparatus and clear the way for future changes in the law, which are designed to reduce benefits paid to injured workers. This is not speculation. There is a draft bill floating around which contains many negative impacts on workers, but most significantly brings back worker contributory negligence as a defense to paying worker's compensation benefits. Contributory negligence was eliminated in 1911, in return for lower benefits, as a way to make the system easier and faster than suing in court for negligence. Employees, employers and our economy and quality of life have all benefited from Wisconsin's workers' compensation system. Now that success is threatened by ideology that does not understand or respect history.
We know that the forces opposed to labor will continue their fight, but so will we. The sad part is most of the legislators voting have no idea the consequences of their actions. They are simply voting the party line. My hope is that we can make, and publicize, a factual, reasoned argument to the people during the next election so they vote out those that are trying to dismantle Wisconsin's model workers' compensation system.
At McCormick Law Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin our attorneys and paralegals have spent time and resources this year to protect Wisconsin's very successful workers compensation system. We will continue that fight.