California’s Workers’ Compensation System: Achieving Social Justice?
While insurance company lobbyists and think tanks spend their days getting laws changed in Sacramento so they can extract more profit from the workers’ compensation system, workers are falling into poverty after a work injury.
That’s why it’s time for a conversation about the lack of social justice in the California workers’ compensation system.
There are plenty of opinions on how to “fix” the worker’s compensation system. Newsletters, magazines, conventions, legislative hearings, committees, and “thought leaders” all have ideas about making the system better – but the question is always “Better for who?”.
Rarely, if ever, is the system examined from the standpoint of social justice because that would require identifying who the “winners” and “losers” are in legislative and regulatory wars.
So what is “social justice” in the context of workers’ compensation?
The idea of social justice is that all people should have equal access to wealth, health, well-being, justice, privileges, and opportunity regardless of their legal, economic, or other circumstances – other circumstances being the injured workforce.
Therefore, whether the system is delivering just medical treatment and wage replacement benefits to injured workers – in other words, the “output” to those the system is supposed to be serving – is what matters in determining if the system is achieving social justice.
It’s not. Not by a long shot.
Medical treatment and evaluations are routinely delayed and denied. California’s State Auditor found that the Division of worker’s compensation “failed” to address the shortage of medical evaluators to meet demand.
Equally appalling is that the Department of Labor found that low-wage workers ( especially Latinos ) have disproportionally high injury rates, and injuries can reduce 15% off a person’s earnings over ten years after the work injury. “Workplace injuries are driving low income America’s deeper into poverty and casting middle-class workers into dire economic straits” according to findings of the Department of Labor and ProPublica.
California’s current workers’ compensation system remains focused on assuring that the “winners” in the system stay winners at the expense of injured workers.
The struggle to achieve social justice for California’s injured workers will require a consistent and clear counterpoint to the multi-billion dollar interests that seek to maintain the status quo – namely, social justice will be only achieved when injured workers are given the same access to justice and opportunity as everyone else.
Forcing the conversation to address the social justice frame is a step in the right direction.
“The workers’ compensation system is broken – and it’s driving people into poverty” By Lydia DePillis
“Workplace injury, Illness pushing Americans Deeper into Poverty” – NBC News
“Left waiting: Workers’ comp creates lengthy delays for Californians injured on the job” – CalMatters