Dozens of public workers gathered Wednesday at the Iowa Capitol in opposition to a bill that would reduce compensation for getting injured on the job, just weeks after legislators voted to severely limit their collecting bargaining rights.
The proposed legislation, which was introduced Monday, cuts off worker benefits at 67, minimizes late fees for employers and reduces benefits for injuries tied to a pre-existing condition, among other provisions that critics say will overhaul the current system to burden employees and favor businesses.
The bill cleared House and Senate commerce subcommittees Wednesday, with full committee consideration expected Thursday. The legislation will need approval from a committee before the end of the week to survive a legislative deadline for policy bills.
Morgan Miller, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Iowa Council 61, said the workers’ compensation bill discriminates against older people, decreases employer liability for injuries and reduces employer incentives to pay claims on time. If passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, the bill would take effect immediately.
“It removes protections that our workers have on the job right now,” Miller said. “In general, the bill tips the scales in favor of employers and away from hardworking Iowans and those who are very vulnerable because they have suffered workplace injuries.”
John Stineman, executive director for the Iowa Chamber Alliance, defended businesses in favor of the legislation. He said many companies support the Iowa’s Workers’ Compensation Act but object to rising benefit costs and legal efforts that target employers.
“The reality is that we have seen great increases and it needs to be addressed,” he said. “It’s not so much that this legislation is a radical departure from what today’s law is. It’s more that the interpretation and application of today’s statute is a radical departure from what its original intent was.”
Jason Neifert, a workers compensation lawyer with the Iowa Association for Justice, warned that medical costs for injured workers would simply be transferred from businesses to taxpayers if the measure becomes law.
“These are not tweaks. These are not little fixes,” he said. “This is a major overhaul of our workers’ compensation system.”
Thomas Jochum, from the Central Iowa Building Construction Trades Council, criticized lawmakers for rushing to introduce the bill without asking workers groups for input on its impact.
“If we’re going to work together to solve problems, then you have to bring everybody to the table,” Jochum said. “You missed an opportunity here.”
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