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Workers Comp 101: The facts about drug testing

If you suffer an injury at work, you are more likely than ever to be tested for drugs and alcohol. (Some of our clients tell us they were forced to pee in a cup even before being offered first aid!) Recent changes to Illinois workers’ comp laws have made it easier for employers to use drug tests to challenge claims.

This does NOT mean that a positive test kills your right to care and compensation! It does mean that you need to know your rights. drugtest

A few tips:

1. Don’t refuse a drug test. Current law allows your refusal to take the test to be used as proof of “intoxication.”
2. Remember: “illegal drugs” includes any drug that you don’t have a doctor’s prescription to take – including legal narcotic painkillers, sleep aids or stimulants. Borrowing meds from family and friends can be risky in more ways than one.
3. Do make a list of any drugs you took in the past few days. A wide variety of medicines (and even foods) can produce “false positives” on a urine drug screen, including the ones listed here.
4. Do get an attorney at once if you get a positive test! Even if the employer fires you, you may still have the right to medical care and compensation – but you will need expert advice.
In general, you can’t be denied benefits in Illinois unless your alcohol or drug use was the “proximate cause” of your accident. (It doesn’t have to be the only cause, but your boss must be able to make a case that the accident likely would not have happened if you hadn’t been under the influence.) They can also deny benefits if they can show you were so intoxicated that you were “outside the scope of your employment” – essentially playing hookey while still on the job.

Call EE&A at (312) 226-2650 for a free consultation and advice on defending your rights.

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Verizon Strikers Appeal for Solidarity Nationwide

We’d like to pass along a bulletin we got this morning from the Working Families Party, on behalf of 40,000 Verizon workers on the East Coast who walked out on strike this morning. Please see below:

40,000 Verizon workers just went on strike this morning. Verizon strikers

From Massachusetts to Virginia, this will be the largest workers’ strike in recent years. And if they’re going to win a fair contract, they’re going to need you standing with them in solidarity.

On Monday night, Bernie Sanders visited Verizon workers in Buffalo, New York and pledged his support and solidarity for the strike. Will you? Join us and Bernie to support the Verizon strike by signing our solidarity petition. Click here.

Why the strike? Because Verizon workers have been trying for 10 months to win a fair contract from their CEO. Verizon made $1.8 billion in profits just since January 1st, but instead of providing benefits to their hardworking employees, they want to cut job security, outsource positions overseas and keep wages stagnant.

10 months is a long time for talking. Now it’s time to picket!
We can win, but only by standing together.

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Not An Accident

Celeste Monforton and her team at the Pump Handle Blog have been running a series of articles on workplace deaths. It makes for grim reading. But perhaps the most important thing is the title:

“NOT AN ACCIDENT.”

“An ‘accident’ suggests the circumstances were unforeseen or could not have been avoided,” they explain. That’s not the case with too many workplace fatalities that could have been avoided by purchasing or fixing a few simple pieces of equipment – or slowing down the rush for production for five or ten minutes.

Two of the latest tragedies in this series: In September 2015, Terry Leon Lakey, 51, was crushed to death by a hydraulic aerial lift he was servicing. His employer, Terex Services of Waco, Texas, was cited for three serious violations by OSHA for their ineffective lockout/tagout policies. The fine? A whopping $21,000. Not an accident

And just last week, Robert Derkacs, 45, and Joseph Donahue, 25, were killed at a construction site in Hanover, New Jersey. The township’s mayor told reporters that “a 10,000-pound generator was being hoisted by a crane, when a strap gave way.” Or it could have been two straps, according to CBS. Of the five construction contractors on the site, at least three have been cited for serious safety violations since 2010. The top fine was $2,625.00.

Our thanks to Dr. Monforton and the Pump Handle team for telling it like it is. We’d just add that there’s one other excuse companies should not be allowed to make: “It Was The Contractor’s Fault.” General contractors are responsible for work injuries to their own employees, no matter whose equipment or staff were responsible. And companies who employ subcontractors without workers’ comp coverage can be held responsible for those employees, too.

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Who Can Peoples Gas Customers Count On? The Union Workforce.

18007 blue“Peoples Gas’ union is declaring war on the utility’s new owner,” according to Crain’s Chicago Business. Well, we’ve known Utility Workers Local 18007 for a long time, and can assure you they are nice, hard-working, peace-loving people. They’re just standing up for their own jobs – and the interests of ratepayers too.

At the heart of this mess is Peoples Gas’ attempts to use contractors to perform work traditionally done by its permanent workforce. That’s a bad deal for consumers as well as gas workers, as mounting cost overruns show. It’s also a bad deal for safety. Chicago needs a skilled, stable gas workforce with the experience to keep the system running without outages – or explosions. This is not the place to impose a “gig economy” of workers who are here today, gone tomorrow.

Peoples Gas is now four years into a massive, government-mandated program to replace its antiquated infrastructure. When we say “antiquated,” we’re talking cast-iron pipes that date back to the 1850’s in some cases.

From an initial estimate of about $2.2 billion, the price tag quickly ballooned to over $4 billion. Last year, when Peoples Gas was sold yet again, Integrys executives told the Illinois Commerce Commission they weren’t sure what the final cost would be. Now the ICC is investigating charges that they had an estimate all along that they hid from regulators: $8 billion. They’re also looking into allegations of a “revolving door system” between top gas company management and the big construction firms getting those profitable contracts.

Local 18007 is calling for expanding the permanent workforce to 1,300 (a 30% hike from current levels, but still slightly below 2000 levels). They want to keep expanding the union-led training program that is preparing Iraq-era vets for skilled jobs with Peoples Gas. And they want to keep senior workers on the job, mentoring and supervising younger workers in the field.

If that’s “declaring war”, EE&A is ready to enlist.

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Illinois Trial Lawyers’ President Perry Browder Issues a Statement Regarding Gov. Rauner

Statement from Illinois Trial Lawyers President Perry Browder
February 17, 2016

Across Illinois, seniors, individuals with disabilities and other vulnerable citizens are going without vital services because Gov. Rauner is holding the budget hostage until he succeeds in upending our workers’ compensation and legal systems. However, his proposals would do nothing to improve the state’s financial standing or fund the state services necessary to support individuals in need of critical assistance.

In his budget address today, Gov. Rauner continues to demand that lawmakers roll back the financial safeguards that our state’s workers’ compensation and tort systems afford to Illinoisans.

To maximize insurance industry profits, the governor has renewed his crusade to undercut the rights of injured workers. He and his political allies willfully ignore the fact that the 2011 rewrite of the workers’ compensation system – those changes sought by the business community, and which were largely to the detriment of men and women injured on the job – is producing the desired result: lower costs for insurance companies and employers.

As the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission stated in its FY 2014 report, Illinois employers experienced the largest decrease in workers’ comp premiums among all 50 states. And the commission anticipates further savings once the full effects of the 2011 workers’ comp overhaul are felt.

The governor would like to see Illinois emulate states like Texas and Massachusetts. However, following the lead of those two states would come at a great cost to taxpayers. Texas has fewer regulations, lower wages and a weaker safety net – resulting in a shrinking middle class. The poverty rate in Texas is nearly five percent higher than Illinois.

In Massachusetts, doctors who care for those injured on the job are the lowest paid in the nation, which raises concerns about access to quality care. If Illinois further reduces the rate doctors are compensated to treat injured workers to match Massachusetts’ levels, a patient’s choice of physicians will be seriously limited and wait times for treatment are sure to rise significantly.

No matter how many benefits are cut, medical reimbursements are lowered, and claims are denied, the state’s businesses won’t see additional savings without our leaders addressing the promises previously broken by the insurance industry. Strictly regulating insurance premiums, not further curtailing injured workers’ rights, is the key to managing employers’ workers’ compensation costs.

The governor also wants to erode the constitutional rights of citizens to access the courts that their tax dollars fund – helping shield the profits of his big business allies at the expense of those who suffer due to their malfeasance.
The fact is that very few injured Americans ever file lawsuits. In Illinois, the number of civil cases filed has dropped 33 percent from 2010 to 2014. More than 60 percent of court actions are initiated by businesses suing other businesses or individuals for money, but the governor has not proposed limiting the access of corporations, banks and investment companies to the court system.

Gov. Rauner needs to focus on real, meaningful solutions to fix our state’s problems. The state budget cannot be balanced on the backs of those injured due to no fault of their own.

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What’s Happening at Asarco/Grupo Mexico

Over 2,000 workers at Asarco/Grupo Mexico facilities in Arizona and Texas have been fighting for a fair contract for more than two years. The company’s response has been to retaliate against workers, threaten them and refuse meetings.asarco_petition

Grupo Mexico is one of the wealthiest companies in Mexico with a reputation for abusing workers and harming communities. On Dec. 1, 2015, they began making a number of unlawful changes to Asarco workers’ hours, benefits and compensation. Their greed is bad for workers, their families and communities.

These workers haven’t had a raise in seven years, yet they continue to work hard every day to make Asarco a leading copper company. They deserve a fair contract that includes good wages and benefits for active workers and continued, reliable healthcare for retirees.

At EEA, we fight for workers’ rights. If you want to show your support for Asarco/Grupo workers, sign this petition to Asarco/Grupo Mexico management.

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From Flint Water Crisis to LA Gas Leak, Our Infrastructure is Crumbling and Working People Pay

We know our readers share our horror and outrage at the ongoing “water crisis” in Flint, Michigan. In order to save a few bucks, Flint’s state-appointed emergency managers switched the city’s water supply to the polluted Flint River. Before long General Motors had stopped using City of Flint water because it was corroding their engine parts – but the state of Michigan continued to tell the people of Flint it was safe. As a result, children across the city were exposed to lead levels that could permanently damage their growing brains. And many low-income residents still don’t have a safe water supply.

LA Gas leak
Now Southern California Gas Co. has admitted to a massive gas leak that has poisoned the air for a whole swath of Los Angeles County for at least three months. More than 5,000 families have had to flee their homes, and thousands have been taken ill.

These are preventable disasters – and they would never have been allowed to happen in the wealthy communities where the bondholders and corporate executives live. Ordinary working people, particularly in low-income minority communities like Flint, are always the ones who suffer.

Chicago’s infrastructure is cracking at the seams too. Employees of Peoples Gas in Chicago have already seen several explosions like the Loop accident that claimed the life of a union member in 2010, and the one that blew a hole in the Ford City Mall back in 2005. A serious infrastructure improvement program could create much needed jobs. Even more important, it could preserve communities and save lives.

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Workers’ Comp 101: The Case of the Dueling Insurance Companies

“WorkersComp denied my claim. But my group insurance won’t pay because I reported a work injury. Help!”

We see injured workers caught in this trap every day. The employer’s workers’ compensation carrier – often a private insurance giant like AIG or Liberty Mutual – denies their claim for a work injury. So they try to Rock & hard placeuse the employer’s regular group insurance policy, only to find that THAT insurance company won’t pay because there’s a work injury involved!

Is there anything you can do? YES.

Here at EE&A we have helped hundreds of workers use their group insurance policy to get the care they need while the workers’ compensation carrier ties their case up in legal wrangling. One way to do this is to get an official written denial from the workers’ comp carrier. The group insurance carrier will then know it has a “right of subrogation” if you win your work injury claim after all. The workers’ comp insurer – NOT you – will then be obliged to pay the group insurer back for any injury-related expenses they covered.

The law also protects you from medical debt collectors while your workers’ comp case is being disputed. Once they have legal notice of your work injury claim, medical providers cannot send your debt to a collection agency or credit bureau while the claim is still pending. Call us at (312) 226-2650 to learn more about your right to prompt medical care.

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Workers’ Comp “Reform” – Attack of the Company Doctors

Last week National Public Radio (NPR) told the heartbreaking and infuriating story of Ken Schiller, a Texas man disabled in a serious work accident.  A catastrophic head injury left Schiller unable to work, in physical pain and barely able to think straight.  Yet his workers comp benefits were cut off when company-paid doctors claimed his injuries were either psychological, or just plain fake.

How does that happen in the USA?  It’s called “workers comp reform.”  Or at least that’s the label put on it by pro-business lobbyists.  In a few states like Texas and Oklahoma, Co Doctor Cartoon companies are allowed to opt out of workers comp in favor of self-insurance plans that leave the boss holding all the cards.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner hasn’t yet proposed going that far in his war on workers comp.  But as a hearing last year in Springfield Company Doctormade clear, his “reform” plan has one thing in common with the disaster in Texas: A bigger role for company doctors.

At Elfenbaum Evers & Amarilio we deal with company doctors like the ones Ken Schiller’s boss hired every day.  Sometimes we get our client an expert exam of his own. But often the best defense is to work with the client’s actual treating physician to answer these company-doctor reports. In Illinois, treating physicians are often (though not always!) granted more credibility than hired experts from either side.

If Rauner’s “reforms” go through, the Workers Comp Commission will be forced to give the company’s hired expert equal weight with the doctor who has known and treated you for years.  That’s what we call “Worker’s Comp Deform.”

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Behind Rauner’s Attacks on Workers Comp: The Truth About “Pre-Existing Conditions”

“Workers’ comp reforms” are a central part of Gov. Rauner’s agenda for Illinois.   But what kind of “reforms” does Rauner want, exactly?  According to his “Turnaround Plan”, he’d like to narrow the definition of a work injury.  Workers should not be compensated for injuries that merely aggravate a pre-existing condition, Rauner says – the work should have to be a “major contributing cause” of the employee’s disability.

That may sound OK at first.  But those of us who know Workers’ Comp know the law already requires workers to prove their conditions are work-related – and it’s already tough enough.  A few examples of the challenges our clients face every day:

  • An assembly line worker develops severe pain in her right wrist, with numbness and weakness in her hand, after several months using a new rivet gun.   Her doctor says she has carpal tunnel syndrome brought on by her work.  The insurance company notes she is over fifty, has diabetes, and smokes a half-pack of cigarettes a day.   All these things are “risk factors” for developing carpal tunnel, they say – so they refuse to pay.
  • A traveling home-health nurse has had off-and-on left knee pain, with minor surgery a few years ago.  Her doctor has told her she might need a knee replacement “someday.”  After her knee is badly twisted in a fall on ice at work, however, the doctor says she needs that knee replacement right away, or she’ll never walk normally again.   Her employer says she was “pending knee replacement surgery” before her fall, so they shouldn’t have to pay for it now.
  • An airport baggage handler has done his job for 25 years without problems – but has had occasional nagging backaches for the past few years.  His family doctor prescribed pills and exercises, but never took him off work.  Then one day, while lifting a heavy load, he seriously injures his back, requiring surgery to repair a herniated disc.  A company doctor claims the surgery is not work related – it’s just due to his age and “chronic back complaints.”  He points to an MRI that shows age-related wear and tear in addition to that herniated disc.

At EE&A, we’ve fought and won claims like this for years.  But if Rauner gets his so-called reforms, few  workers over 40 may ever be able to win a claim – and many younger workers may be shut out as well.

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