Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for the ‘Compensation’ Category

The War on Workers’ Comp

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

Stephen FranklinFor nearly a century, millions of workers have endured punishing jobs in construction, mining and factory work—jobs with high levels of work-related disability and injury. As a tradeoff for the dangers, they’ve had the assurance of workers’ compensation if injured permanently on the job. Employers accepted this deal, albeit sometimes grudgingly, because it  removed the possibility of being sued over work-related injuries.

But as labor has weakened and Republicans have won control of more and more statehouses, states have slowly chipped away at workers’ compensation benefits.

Since just 2003, more than 30 states have passed laws that have “reduced benefits for injured workers, created hurdles for medical care or made it more difficult for workers to qualify,” according to a recent investigative series by ProPublica and NPR. Some of the harshest cuts came in California, Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Kansas, Indiana and Tennessee. Today, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), many injured and disabled workers “never enter the workers’ compensation system.” OSHA also estimates that workers’ compensation covers only about 21 percent of the lost wages and medical bills encountered by injured workers and their families.

Illinois, long a union stronghold, could nevertheless join the pack of those closing the doors for some to workers’ compensation if right-wing millionaire Gov. Bruce Rauner gets his way.

Traditionally, when companies hired workers, they bought their work histories. That is, they assumed responsibility for the physical problems employees developed over years of difficult work. But Rauner wants to narrow eligibility for compensation dramatically, requiring an injury to account for at least 50 percent of the claim.

Rauner’s argument is that workers’ compensation was designed for “traumatic” injuries, and that including repetitive injuries which accrue over time, effectively requires employers  to pick up non-workplace injuries. He contends that changing this standard would put Illinois on the same track as many other states.

John Burton, a veteran workers’ compensation industry expert, disagrees.

“What the governor is proposing is to take a lot of cases that have been compensable for the last 50 years and to throw them out,” he said.

One of these is Steve Emery.

The third-generation coal miner rode the wave downward, working in one mine after another as the industry collapsed. Then his hands, once powerful enough to manage the grueling job of breaking up large chunks of coal with a sledgehammer, failed him.

The spiraling numbness in his wrists and hands ended with a doctor saying he would never work in a mine again. He was 50 years old and had spent more than 30 of them in southern Illinois mines.

After a four-year battle with insurance companies arguing that Emery’s injuries were not job-related, he received $1,815 a month in workers’ compensation—enough to live on, but one just about one fourth of what he used to earn

Under Rauner’s proposed rules, Emery might not have received workers’ compensation at all. Democrats asked Emery to tell his story at an Illinois State House hearing last year as an illustration of the workers who would be left out in the cold under Rauner’s plan.

Dave Menchetti, a veteran workers’ compensation attorney in Chicago, adds that the shift proposed by Rauner would be “extremely difficult for doctors,” who are not trained to quantify the causes of injuries. “It would severely prejudice older workers and workers in heavy industries because those are the kind of workers who have pre-existing conditions.”

So what happens when business-minded workers’ compensation reformers get their way?

What the bottom looks like

A federal commission that examined workers’ compensation laws in 1972 was “disturbed” by the wide divergence of rules between states, and an “irrational fear” driving states and employers to search for “less generous benefits and lower costs.”

“We were talking about a race to the bottom,” explains Burton, a Republican, lawyer and economist, who led the groundbreaking study.

The study recommended mandatory federal standards; none were ever put in place.

And the race hasn’t abated, Burton says.

Indiana offers an example of what happens when a state wages the race to the bottom.

Starting decades ago, as Indiana’s leaders sought out factory jobs to supplant the state’s mostly rural economy, they embraced  a low-cost, employer-friendly workers’ compensation system. And it has stuck, as the state’s Senate has largely stayed under control of the GOP.

Workers in Indiana must wait seven days before receiving benefits (as opposed to three in Illinois). While permanently disabled workers in Illinois can receive benefits for life, Indiana caps benefits at 500 weeks, just under 10 years.

To qualify for permanent total disability in Indiana, workers must meet a “pretty high bench.” as Terry Coriden, a former chairman of the Worker’s Compensation Board of Indiana, describes it. “If you can be a greeter at any type of store, then that type of employment could be deemed to be reasonable, which would preclude you from total permanent disability,” he says.

Only 45 workers out of 597,058 who filed claims between 2005 and 2014 received permanent total disability status in Indiana, according to statistics from the Worker’s Compensation Board of Indiana. The rate was twice as high in Illinois, according to data from the National Council on Compensation Insurance provided by Burton. Only 13 percent of the Indiana workers who filed claims over those years qualified even for permanent partial impairment.

And the system simply pays out less.

Consider the case of a steelworker in northwest Indiana who suffered third- and fourth-degree burns over two-thirds of his body after being hit by hot metal and slag from a blast furnace.

In the nine years since, he has undergone 38 surgeries and still has no feeling in parts of his arms and legs.

Before the injury, he was earning as much as $130,000 year because of extensive overtime. Today, he gets $600 a week in workers’ compensation as a totally disabled individual, as well as $2,200 monthly in Social Security Disability income. In order to stay afloat, he has dipped heavily into his savings and his wife has picked up low-wage part-time jobs.

The worker did not want his name used because he feared that the company would retaliate. “I don’t want any blowback from the company until my workers’ comp ends,” he says. “I don’t want them kicking me out of it.”

He is especially concerned, he says, because despite having his employer authorize and provide the majority of his treatment, several recommended procedures were not authorized In Indiana, workers must go to the company’s doctors and follow whatever they prescribe. If they don’t, they lose their benefits.

Steve Emery, in Illinois, saw what happened when he visited a company physician.

His hands were “killing” him when he saw a local Southern Illinois physician of his own choosing in 2010. “The doctor said, ‘We’ll have to do surgery and you’ll never do work again,’ ” he recalled.

Peabody Energy, however, said he had to see the company’s physician in St. Louis. “[The doctor] said, ‘Mr. Emery, did you hurt this way when you was a kid playing baseball or mowing grass?’ ” Emery recalls. “I told him I didn’t play baseball and didn’t push a push mower “ Nonetheless, he says, “They denied my claim ASAP.” Peabody officials in St. Louis did not reply to requests for comment.

Fortunately for Emery, Illinois workers typically have the right to choose their doctor as well as their treatment (unless their employer has set up a “preferred provider” network, in which case they have the right to choose any two doctors within the network). Illinois also allows workers to seek a boost in their payments if they can show that they will suffer from a marked decrease in earnings. Indiana lacks both of these rights.

Low workers’ compensation payouts mean that workers in the state may even have more difficulty getting a lawyer to help them pursue a claim, given that legal fees are set according to the settlements received.

“The well-known truth is that it is hard to make money doing the work,” said Kevin Betz, an Indianapolis lawyer.

The business argument

To justify his plan, Gov. Rauner blames the “high costs” of workers’ compensation with driving jobs to other states, including Indiana.

“Employers are flat-out leaving the state, and they are saying it is because of the workers’ compensation policy,” says Michael Lucci, an official with the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank that has received financial support from Gov. Rauner and also supports Rauner’s anti-union right-to-work drive.

There’s no disputing that nationwide, the downward race has paid off financially for employers. Workers’ compensation costs as a percent of payroll fell in 2014 to the lowest figure since 1986, Burton notes. Some of the decline has come from improved safety, but some, he says, has come from restrictions on workers’ compensation.

Lucci’s organization has churned out reams of information backing up the argument that Illinois’ workers’ compensation’s costs are uncompetitive as compared to its neighbors, especially Indiana. For Illinois steelmakers, workers’ compensation costs account for about 7.3 percent of their payrolls, for example, as compared to only 1.3 percent in Indiana, according to the Illinois Policy Institute.

That’s just as Indiana intended it. The logic behind its laws is “inducing businesses from other states to Indiana,” explains Coriden.

Experts say that the idea that high costs are actually driving companies to relocate, however, may be little more than a myth.

West Virginia is one of those states that have slashed benefits to drive down costs for employers. But Emily Spieler, a former head of the state’s Workers’ compensation Fund, says it didn’t boost business much in the economically troubled state. Similarly, Spieler, a professor at Northeastern University’s School of Law, says she has yet to see any studies showing a positive financial impact for states. She is also dubious that workers’ compensation is a large enough factor to lead a business to change locations.

Asked for evidence that workers’ compensation costs may be driving firms out of state, officials from the Illinois Governor’s office cited their contacts with employers and site selectors and suggested contacting business groups for more information.

But when In These Times posed that question to the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which has been outspoken about the need to drive down workers’ compensation costs in order to remain competitive, Jay Shattuck, a contract lobbyist for the group, said he was not aware of any studies specifying that workers’ compensation alone made Illinois noncompetitive. (He also notes that the Chamber, while supporting most of Rauner’s plan, doesn’t see Indiana’s low payout system as the ideal.)

Victor Bongard, a lecturer in Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, is familiar with Indiana’s pitch about attracting businesses through its low-cost workers’ compensation. He agrees that it is one factor in where businesses choose to settle, but “not a determining factor,” he says. He points to California, which “draws business to relocate there and manages to foster lots of new businesses despite its high workers’ compensation costs.”

Cost-shifting—but to whom?

With employers and the states’ workers’ compensation systems paying less, who picks up the bill?

In addition to workers themselves, the federal government is on the hook. These changes shift injured workers from state workers’ compensation programs to the government’s Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) system, as the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) pointed out in a June 2015 report. OSHA estimated that in 2010, SSDI picked up as much as $12 billion to cover injured and ill workers.

Looking at the District of Columbia and 45 states, where the ranks of workers receiving compensation fell by 2.4 million between 2001 and 2011, researchers at the Center for Economic and Policy Research said last year that more than one-fifth of the rise in disability income payments appeared to be linked to cuts in workers’ compensation.

The calculations were age-adjusted to take in the growing ranks of elderly receiving the federal Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

“The logic of cutting back on workers’ compensation is that we’ll be tough on these workers,” says Dean Baker, an economist and co-director of the organization. “But if you are just shifting the cost from workers comp to disability, you aren’t saving public money.”

Shifting the financial burden raises another problem. The workers’ compensation system was created to make employers responsible for the problems encountered by their employees. The shift to SSDI not only frees them from any financial accountability, but makes it harder for public officials to spot troubled workplaces and jobs.

In Indiana, because worker compensation payments are so low, attorney Richard Swanson said that injured workers who can’t return to their jobs “often make SSDI their first choice for income replacement.” That’s especially the case for older factory workers used to higher wages. “That’s their first question if they cannot return to work due to their work injury. You see it constantly,” he says.

Which way Illinois?

In Illinois, the fate of injured workers has become hostage to a larger political squabble that has left the state without a budget since last July.

Reforming workers’ compensation is part of a broad package of anti-union measures from Rauner, policies that have had no traction in the Democrat-dominated state legislature.

Rauner’s workers’ compensation proposal isn’t as draconian as some of his other policies aimed at workers, such as letting communities strip out numerous issues from collective-bargaining arguments, killing the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act, and allowing local communities to set up right-to-work rules. His cost-cutting proposal would mirror  the national downward trend in workers’ compensation—but he isn’t proposing (yet) the squeezes that states like Indiana, Florida and Oklahoma have put on injured and disabled workers.

But state Democrats think it’s only a matter of time.

“There isn’t much support for ending the workers’ compensation system, which is where the governor is going,” said Steve Brown, spokesman for State Rep. Michael Madigan, the powerful speaker for the State House.

The thinking of the Democrats, and the state’s trial lawyers, is that Illinois has already opened the door to reforms and cost cutting for the workers’ compensation system with the 2011 reforms and they should be allowed to roll out.

And the figures reflecting the impact of a 2011 reform by the state are significant, as reported by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. The state’s worker compensation premiums dropped from the nation’s fourth highest to the 7th highest between 2012 and 2014—the largest decline among all states. So, too, benefits payments fell by 19 percent between 2011 and 2015.

Whatever Illinois’ private carriers lost in premium income seems to have more than offset by the savings on benefit payouts. After losses in 2009 and 2010, state insurers broke even in 2011 and have since seen profits climb steadily, according to data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. According to Menchetti, “it seems that some of the decision-makers would like stricter scrutiny [of the industry], evident in a provision in House Bill 1287 that has to do with how the Department of Insurance would regulate excessive premiums.”

So it appears that the new law has been a boon for both employers and insurance companies—if not workers.

And if employers’ costs have been dropping, “Is there really need for more reform?” Menchetti asks.

The wrong kind of reform

There’s a case to be made that workers’ compensation needs to be reformed in a different way—to help workers get on their lives, not to force them down the economic ladder and into a bureaucratic hell.  Even in relatively worker-friendly Illinois, Steve Emery saw firsthand the determination of employers and insurance carriers not to give up a cent they don’t have to.

Before his hands failed him, Emery worked six or seven days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day, and was taking home as much as $80,000 a year. He worked at a number of mines across southern Illinois, and the last was the Willow Lake mine, owned by a subsidiary of the Peabody Energy Corp., which calls itself the world’s largest coal producer. It recently declared bankruptcy.

The company shuttered the mine and laid off 400 workers in the fall of 2012. The shutdown took place soon after a worker died, and the company said it had difficulties meeting safety and performance standards there. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) had put the mine on notice in 2010 for repeat safety violations.

After filing for workers’ compensation, Emery fought the company for four years. Despite the fact that his exceptionally punishing job had left his hands virtually frozen, his attorney Steve Hanagan says, the coal company considered his injuries not job-related. It is a “typical dilemma” that applies “to many,” he said. “The battle over causation is very common.”

Emery appealed his case to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, which found that his his injury was job-related and hindered his ability to work.

“He essentially used his hands more than you can imagine, having bangs and jolts and all kinds of trauma,” said Hanagan. “The causation is quite evident.”

Confronted by money problems as he waded through his workers’ compensation battle, Emery’s marriage broke up. His wife “just couldn’t take it” and they couldn’t keep the house. He moved into a small apartment and started learning how to cope on his $1,815 a month benefits. He never qualified for a pension or had a pension plan despite decades of work in mostly non-union mines.

Emery, whose father and both grandfathers were miners, never expected things to end this way.

“I lost everything, man. My whole life changed.”

This post originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on June 13, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Stephen Franklin, former labor and workplace reporter for theChicago Tribune, is ethnic news director for the Community Media Workshop in Chicago. He is the author of Three Strikes: Labor’s Heartland Losses and What They Mean for Working Americans(2002), and has reported throughout the United States and the Middle East.  He can be reached via e-mail atfreedomwrites@hotmail.com.

Indiana Working Families Win Dramatic Improvements In Workers' Compensation Insurance

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallThe Indiana State AFL-CIO fought for and won dramatic improvements in the workers’ compensation system this year. Over the next three years, several major increases in benefits and new workers’ rights will be phased in. This will mitigate the effect of workplace injuries on those hurt on the job and their families in the Hoosier State, the Indiana State AFL-CIO reports.

The first part of the new legislation will increase wage replacement benefits. Starting in July 2014, the cap (currently at $975) will be raised by 20% over the following three years to a total of $1,170 in 2016. More workers will receive a full two-thirds of their weekly wage.

The next effect of the legislation deals with increasing compensation for people permanently impaired from a work-related injury. Current law requires doctors to determine how much the injuries impair the employee and compensation is paid to the injured party based on the severity of the impairment. Starting in July 2014 and phased in until 2016, the compensation for work-related injuries will be increased 18 to 25% (based on the severity of the impairment).

Finally, the last new effect of the law will be to place a cap on the amount hospitals will be paid for their services. Hospitals will be paid 200% of the amount Medicare would pay for the same service. Injured employees will not be charged for medical services, which are paid by the employer or the employer’s insurer.

Nancy J. Guyott, president of the Indiana State AFL-CIO, applauded the changes as a move in the right direction via press release:

“Let’s be clear: it’s never OK when your job hurts. And we have a long way to go to make our worker’s compensation system what it should be for workers and their families when an injury does happen. However, these increases are the largest increases workers have won in decades and they begin to move us in the right direction. “

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO NOW on July 23, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Employers: Be Careful What You Wish For - Your Motion to Compel Arbitration Can Lead to Expensive, Class-Wide Arbitration

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

In the wake of ATT Mobility v. Concepcion and Stolt-Nielsen v. AnimalFeeds,* many employers have sought to enact new arbitration agreements or to enforce arbitration provisions in older agreements to eliminate their employees’ ability to come together when seeking to vindicate their rights to enforce statutory protections for workers. Employers should be careful what they wish for, in seeking to compel arbitration. They may indeed wind up in arbitration – but unable to strike class allegations, and required to pay the full and exorbitant costs of class-wide arbitration. 

In a case on which Bryan Schwartz Law serves as local counsel for Richard J. Burch of Bruckner Burch, in Houston, Texas, the employer is now feeling the danger of a Stolt-Nielsen-based strategy seeking to compel individual arbitration in a putative, wage-hour class action. In the Laughlin v. VMWare case, in which VMWare employees assert they were misclassified as exempt employees and denied overtime and other compensation to which they were entitled, the company moved to compel arbitration based on an agreement which did not specifically provide for class-wide arbitration. 

Judge Edward Davila of the Northern District of California struck some of the more offensive provisions of the arbitration agreement under Armendariz v. Foundation Health Psychcare Services (2000) 24 Cal.4th 83, such as a provision which would have required Plaintiff to share the costs of arbitration. However, Judge Davila found these unlawful provisions severable (i.e., refused to kill the whole arbitration agreement). Perhaps most importantly, though, Judge Davila referred to the arbitrator the decision on the Stolt-Nielsen argument – namely, as argued by VMWare, the notion that class-wide arbitration cannot proceed where the parties’ arbitration agreement did not expressly consent to class arbitration. His initial decision from early 2012 is available here: 

http://www.bryanschwartzlaw.com/VMWare.pdf

In arbitration, AAA arbitrator LaMothe then rejected the employer’s Stolt-Nielsen motion to strike class allegations, notwithstanding the fact that the agreement did not expressly give permission to bring class allegations, finding the parties’ agreement intended to encompass all claims by Plaintiff Laughlin, including her class claims. The AAA order is available here: 

http://www.bryanschwartzlaw.com/Laughlin.pdf

In the last 18 months, numerous other arbitrators from JAMS, AAA, and other nationwide arbitration services have likewise denied motions to strike class allegations, employing similar reasoning. 

On review, Judge Davila confirmed the arbitrator’s partial final clause construction award allowing class allegations to proceed, meaning – in light of all the foregoing – that VMWare will now be forced to arbitrate a putative class action, and will be forced to bear all of the costs of doing so: 

http://www.bryanschwartzlaw.com/VMWare-12-20-12.pdf

Be careful what you wish for, employers. You may find that sometimes, allowing employees their day in court is better than the alternative. 

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this article is intended to form an attorney-client relationship with the reader. You must have a signed representation agreement with the firm to be a client. 

*See our numerous prior blog posts relating to the subject of arbitration class waivers in light of Concepcion andStolt-Nielsen, including: http://bryanschwartzlaw.blogspot.com/2012/09/california-supreme-court-grants-review.html

http://bryanschwartzlaw.blogspot.com/2012/09/wage-and-hour-class-actions-sky-is.html;

http://bryanschwartzlaw.blogspot.com/2012/01/landmark-decision-by-national-labor.html

http://bryanschwartzlaw.blogspot.com/2011/05/civil-rights-lawyer-and-employee.html.

This post was originally posted on December 26, 2012 on Bryan Schwartz Law. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Bryan Schwartz is an Oakland, CA-based attorney specializing in civil rights and employment law.

Women Haven’t Gained A Larger Share Of Corporate Board Seats In Seven Years

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

In addition to grappling with a persistent pay gap, working women also have to deal with extreme difficulty ascending to powerful corporate positions, according to a report by the research organization Catalyst. As Bryce Covert explained at The Nation:

Women held just over 14 percent of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies this year and 16.6 percent of board seats at the same. Adding insult to injury, an even smaller percent of those female executive officers are counted among the highest earners—less than 8 percent of the top earner positions were held by women. Meanwhile, a full quarter of these companies simply had no women executive officers at all and one-tenth had no women directors on their boards. […]

Did this year represent a step forward? Not even close. Women’s share of these positions went up by a mere half of a percentage point or less last year. Even worse, 2012 was the seventh consecutive year in which we haven’t seen any growth in board seats and the third year of stagnation in the C-suite.

Overall, more than one-third of companies have no women on their board of directors. But economic evidence shows that keeping women out of the board room is a mistake. According to work by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, “companies with at least one woman on the board would have outperformed in terms of share price performance, those with no women on the board over the course of the past six years.”

This post was originally posted on Think Progress on December 11, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author:  Pat Garofalo is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.

Broward Is Second Florida County to Address Wage Theft

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Kenneth Quinnell

This week, Broward County—one of the most populous counties in South Florida—became the second county in the state to pass a local wage theft ordinance, joining Miami-Dade County. In a 7-2 vote, the Board of County Commissioners voted to create the new law to deal with a significant and growing problem in Florida. Wage theft occurs when workers are not paid overtime, not paid at least the minimum wage, are forced to work off the clock or are not paid at all for work they have completed.

“I was at the meeting yesterday asking commissioners to vote yes for the ordinance, speaking on behalf of my close friends who are victims of wage theft in our county and haven’t been able to recover their wages after months of effort,” says Maria Isabel Fernandez, a resident of Dania Beach in Broward County. “I was thrilled when the ordinance passed! It may be too late for my friends, but it will help other people like them in the future who will now have the possibility of recovering the salaries they earned through their work without having to hire a lawyer and wait months without any income.”

Florida is considered one of the worst states in the country for wage theft, and Broward County is the third worst county in the state. Nearly 5,000 wage theft cases have been reported in Broward in the past three years, totaling more than $2 million in back wages. More than $28 million in unpaid wages have been recovered in Florida. Miami-Dade created a similar ordinance in 2010 and has recovered more than half a million dollars in unpaid wages in that county alone.

Several factors contribute to the problem. Florida does not have a state-level Department of Labor, has a high percentage of workers who are not covered by federal wage and hour laws and has a legislature that is openly hostile to wage theft laws, so much so that it recently tried to ban such laws at the local level.

Cynthia Hernandez of the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University says:

Policymakers need to consider the ramifications of Florida becoming a glaring example of a state that tolerates and even encourages wage violations. Broward County and Miami-Dade’s wage theft ordinances are examples of good government policy addressing this growing issue. These ordinances are critical to maintaining a fairly competitive business environment so critical to Florida’s economy.

Alachua County, where Gainesville and the University of Florida reside, is considering becoming the third county to pass a wage theft ordinance. For more information or to report wage theft in Florida, contact the Florida Wage Theft Task Force.

This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on Monday, October 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is is senior writer for AFL-CIO. He is originally from Florida and is the father of three sons. He can be reached at Kquinnell@aflcio.org.

How A Proposed Pennsylvania Law Would Make Workers Pay Taxes To Their Boss

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

According to Good Jobs First, an organization that promotes accountability in economic development, several states allow corporations to literally pocket their employees’ tax payments. Rather than having those taxes go towards public services, the companies withhold money from their workers’ paychecks and just keep it, never remitting it to the state, under the guise of a job creation program.

Good Jobs First found that “nearly $700 million is getting diverted each year. And it is very unlikely that the affected workers are aware, given that no state requires that the diversion be disclosed on pay stubs.” Now, Pennsylvania is considering becoming the latest state to participate, as the Philadelphia City Paper reported:

Republican Governor Tom Corbett is deciding whether or not to sign legislation that would require some workers to pay taxes to their bosses. Yes, you read that right. The bill, which would allow companies that hire at least 250 new workers in the state to keep 95-percent of the workers’ withheld income tax, is an effort to to recruit Oracle to the state.

Your taxes would get withheld by your boss like normal, but they would then keep them and spend it on private jets or monogrammed bathroom fixtures or whatever instead of turning them over to the state–turning your tax dollars over to the state being the whole reason they were ostensibly “withheld” in the first place.

“These deals typify corporate socialism, in which business gains are privatized and costs socialized,” wrote Reuters David Cay Johnson. “Leaders in both parties embrace these giveaways because they draw campaign donations from corporate interests and votes from people who do not understand that they are subsidizing huge companies.” The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center listed a host of reasons that Gov. Tom Corbett (R-PA) should reject the law, including its effect on state revenue and its loopholes that will allow companies to collect their workers’ tax payments even if they create no new jobs.

This post originally appeared in ThinkProgress’s Wonk Room on October 24, 2012.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Pat Garofalo is an Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.

Meal and Rest Period Litigation Given Another Boost: Supreme Court Reverses Court of Appeal’s Kirby v. Immoos Fire Protection Decision Which Could Have Ended Meal-Rest

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

1In Kirby v. Immoos, 113 Cal.Rptr.3d 370, the Court of Appeal held that an employee not prevailing on a meal-rest claim (or, even one who settled the claims) could be subject to paying the employer’s attorneys’ fees under Cal. Lab. §218.5, which provides for two-way fee shifting. The consequences of this decision, had it been allowed to stand, would have been disastrous – no employee could risk paying an employer’s attorneys’ fees to pursue claims arising from meal/rest period violations. The plaintiff’s claims might amount to $5,000 and the employer’s fees might amount to 100X that much or more – amounts that would bankrupt the average, hourly, non-exempt worker. Since the California Supreme Court and California Legislature have repeatedly emphasized the importance of promoting wage/hour litigation under the Labor Code (see, e.g., Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. (2007) 40 Cal.4th 1094), the Court of Appeal’s wage/hour claim-killing decision seemed out of line.

Fortunately, this morning, the Supreme Court, in Kirby v. Immoos(http://www.bryanschwartzlaw.com/Kirby_v_Immoos.pdf), rejected the Court of Appeal’s incongruous decision, holding as follows:

As we noted in Murphy, “[m]eal and rest periods have long been viewed as part of the remedial worker protection framework,” and low-wage workers are the “likeliest to suffer violations of section 226.7.” (Murphy, supra, 40 Cal.4th at pp. 1105, 1113-1114.) In giving no indication that section 218.5 applies to meal or rest break claims when it enacted section 226.7, the Legislature could reasonably have concluded that meritorious section 226.7 claims may be deterred if workers, especially low-wage workers, had to weigh the value of an “additional hour of pay” remedy if their claims succeed against the risk of liability for a significant fee award if their claims fail. In light of the statutory text and the legislative history of section 218.5 and section 226.7, we conclude that section 218.5’s two-way fee-shifting provision does not apply to section 226.7 claims alleging the failure to provide statutorily mandated meal and rest periods.

Kirby, Slip Op. at p. 17.

The Court did not accept the employees’ invitation to treat meal/rest period claims as claims for a “minimum wage” under Cal. Lab. §1194, which expressly precludes two-way fee-shifting for minimum wage and overtime claims. The Court reasoned:

As a textual matter, if plaintiffs were correct that a “legal minimum wage” refers broadly to any statutory or administrative compensation requirement or to any compensation requirement based on minimum labor standards, then section 1194’s reference to “legal overtime compensation” would be mere surplusage. For, under plaintiffs’ reading, overtime compensation would already be encompassed by the term “legal minimum wage.”

Slip Op. at p. 8.

However, the Court left for another day the battle over whether one-way fee-shifting for employees is available for meal/rest claims in suits where they are alleged alongside overtime and minimum wage claims (Slip.Op. at p. 18) –i.e. in most cases where these claims are alleged. This battle – the sequel to Kirby v. Immoos– will most likely be where the rubber meets the road. In the meantime, employees and their advocates should continue to seek attorneys’ fees for meal-rest claims alleged alongside overtime and minimum wage claims under §1194. We will also continue to seek fees under Cal. Code Civil Procedure §1021.5, which allows fee-shifting in certain cases brought to vindicate the public interest – like meal/rest litigation so often does.

If you have questions about your meal or rest period claim, contact Bryan Schwartz Law.

Nothing in this article is intended to form an attorney-client relationship with the reader or to provide legal advice in a particular case, but is intended as commentary on a matter of general interest.

About the author: Bryan Schwartz is an Oakland, CA-based attorney specializing in civil rights and employment law.

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog