Volume 18 • Issue 30 | December 9 - 15, 2005

Protest group criticizes state compensation bill

By Daniel Wallace

A small group of protestors gathered Wednesday at noon across the street from Governor Pataki’s Midtown office building to denounce his proposed Workers’ Compensation bill, announced early in November, and his alteration of the Family Health Plus insurance application.

The protest lasted about an hour. People in thick coats and hats, holding posters with messages in multiple languages, gathered around an amplifier on a tripod and took turns at the microphone.

The group included ground zero workers, one of whom was a member of the

National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, the other event sponsor, who spoke early in the meeting, and residents hurt by 9/11 together with injured workers and working families.

Wah Lee, a representative of the Chinese Staff and Workers Association, an event sponsor, held the microphone in one hand and a sheet of paper in the other, screaming and shaking the paper in the air. Wei Chin, of the same organization, translated.

“The governor’s new bill will cut benefits and hurt people and their rights,” Chin said. “It’s an inhuman policy.”

Sharda Sekaran, associate director of the National Economic Social Rights Initiative, took the microphone next.

“Governor Pataki wants to increase the hardship of injured workers by placing limits on benefits for permanent disability,” she said. “Makes you wonder what part of permanent is hard for him to understand.”

“The fight is on,” said one of the demonstrators, Lea Geronin. “We are taking this fight all the way to Albany.”

She turned and faced the governor’s office building, where, standing at various windows, a few workers were looking down. A spokesperson for the governor said later that the protest groups have not accepted an offer to meet with the compensation board.

“Our Workers’ Compensation board has offered to meet with this group on numerous occasions,” said Kori-Ann Taylor, a spokesperson for Pataki “but they’ve never taken us up on the offer. It seems they just want to protest.”

Taylor said the governor has been meeting with labor leaders and business leaders since he made the proposal.

“The proposal strikes a balance between the needs of injured workers and the needs of businesses,” Taylor said.

Governor Pataki’s proposal actually raises the weekly benefits for injured workers by 25 percent, which, according to Taylor, is the first time Workers’ Compensation has been raised since 1992. Furthermore, by capping the weekly compensation for permanent partial injuries, the plan also saves businesses money.

“It’s based on a tiered system,” Taylor said, “which matches the cap to the level of your injury.”

She rhetorically asked whether, if you’ve lost a thumb—even though it’s a permanent partial injury—you should continue receiving weekly payments for the rest of your life.

“This is common sense reform,” she said.

Taylor added that, although compensation will be capped, health care and insure benefits will not. The bill was sent to the legislature last week.

Protestors are particularly upset about the section of the Workers’ Compensation bill that proposes capping at 10 years the lifetime benefits that workers with permanent partial disabilities now receive. They also denounce the “strict new barriers to accessing Family Health Plus,” a health insurance program for low-income families.

Family Health Plus eligibility was in the past based mainly on household income. Now the program includes an assets test, which evaluates a family’s resources as well.


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