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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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Workers’ Comp 101: Are Temps and Part-Timers Eligible?

New HireThe short answer? YES.  Under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, employers must carry workers’ compensation insurance on ALL their employees.  It doesn’t matter how many hours you work, whether you are “temporary” or “permanent”, or how long you’ve been there.

It also doesn’t matter how large or small the employer is.  Finally, your right to workers’ compensation has nothing to do with your eligibility for other benefits the employer might choose to provide, like group health insurance or paid sick leave.   Workers’ comp coverage is mandatory for EVERY employee, starting with their first day on the job.

A very small number of employers are exempt from this mandate in Illinois, mainly farmers who employ casual laborers and private citizens who hire domestic workers.  Even these employees may be eligible if they work more than a limited number of hours.  (If you do this type of work through an agency, such as a temp labor, home-health or maid service, then the agency is your employer – and they ARE required to cover you.)  Give us a call at (312) 226-2650 to learn more about your rights.

NOTE: This is the first in our “Workers’ Comp 101” series of blog posts explaining your rights under the law.  Got a question you’d like us to answer?  Let us know!

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“All this because someone got hurt at work?”

VegasThe folks at ProPublica have hit another home run with an expose of the “Workers Comp Industrial Complex.”  It’s an apt name for the flock of for-profit healthcare companies, case managers, rent-a-cops and miscellaneous experts for hire that have glommed onto the workers’ compensation system.  They promise to save employers money and control “excessive” claims by getting injured workers back on the job faster.  

In reality, they cut off benefits to people with real and serious injuries, while costing the system billions.   One example:  In California, 36% of workers’ comp premiums now go to “overhead”!  Which may be just a euphemism for Las Vegas conventions, fat bonuses and other perks for this booming industry.

 At Elfenbaum Evers & Amarilio, we know all about these consultants and the insurance companies who hire them.  Nurse case managers?  Video surveillance spooks?  “Vocational counselors”?  If you’ve had a serious injury, you may find a whole army of these self-styled experts interfering with your recovery.  We can help you deal with them, and stand up for your rights under law.  Call us at (312) 226-2650 for a free consultation.   

 

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U. of C. Medicine to Build Adult Trauma Center

Trauma Center NowA Health Care Holiday Miracle happened in our fair city this month – and we owe it to some determined young people who refused to give up and go home.  It’s not a workers comp story, strictly speaking, but working people all over Chicago should celebrate.

On December 17, the University of Chicago Hospitals agreed to begin construction on a Level One Trauma Center.  That’s the type of hospital service qualified to treat victims of gunshot wounds, serious auto accidents and other life-threatening injuries.  It’s expected to open in 2018.

Incredible as it may seem, the South Side has been without an adult trauma center since the mid-1990’s.  Its largest medical center, the world-renowned University of Chicago Hospital, had no interest in opening its doors to critically injured residents without regard to the insurance cards in their pockets. Victims of serious trauma had to take their chances on an ambulance ride up to Northwestern or down to Oak Lawn. For an area with close to a million people, and burdened with more than its share of Chicago’s gun violence epidemic, it’s been a public health disaster.

An activist group called FLY – Fearless Leading by the Youth – knows this better than anyone.  In 2010 one of their own members, Damian Turner, succumbed to a gunshot wound at Northwestern after a 10-mile ambulance ride through big-city traffic.  FLY led a crusade for a Trauma Center that mobilized doctors, nurses and students at the U of C; won the support of religious groups like the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and ARISE Chicago; and even put a question mark over plans for Obama’s Presidential Library on the South Side.

Here at Elfenbaum, Evers & Amarilio we believe health care is a human right, not a commodity to be sold only in upscale markets.  Our thanks to the young activists who have given seriously injured workers in Chicago a better shot at recovery!

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Governor Rauner’s “Workers Comp Crisis”: Time for Some Facts

Demolition of workers compFor months, Governor Rauner has held the state’s budget hostage to his personal crusade against the labor movement – disrupting vital services for children, seniors and the disabled, among others.   And he has put the need to “rein in” Workers’ Comp front and center.   To listen to Rauner, you’d think that injured workers in Illinois are getting luxurious benefits for frivolous claims every day, bankrupting Illinois businesses in the process.

Too bad the facts say otherwise.

For a dose of reality, there’s no better place to start than “The Demolition of Workers’ Comp”, a hard-hitting expose by the investigative reporters at ProPublica.  They detail how pro-business lobbyists across the nation have weakened workers’ comp to the point of near-breakdown.  As a result, employers pay less per dollar of wages in workers compensation costs than at any time in the past 25 years – even though health care costs have soared during that time.

Here in Illinois, employers paid $3.58 per $100.00 of wages back in 1988.  Rising medical costs pushed it to a high of $5.48 in 1995.   By 2011, when the last round of “reforms” to workers comp were being debated, it was $3.05.   And four years later, after those “reforms” were passed?  Just $2.35.  If anyone is living high on the hog in Illinois, it’s definitely not workers injured on the job.

We invite everyone to read the report, play with the interactive charts, and get a dose of reality.   If you or your union, workers’ rights or community group would like to know more, give us a call at (312) 226-2650.

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College Faculty join the “Fight for 15” – and a Union Contract

U of C Faculty Join Fight for 15For working people in Chicago, 2015 has not been an easy year.   Maybe that’s why we at Elfenbaum Evers & Amarilio were so encouraged by a union organizing victory here on December 8th.   By a 4-1 margin, non-tenured instructors at the University of Chicago voted to join the “Faculty Forward” unit of Service Employees International Union Local 73.

Better still, the spirit of solidarity was evident in this new union right from the beginning.  Fast-food workers from the Fight for $15 movement joined their picket lines, and received a warm welcome.  Turns out an “adjunct professor” at U of C and a server at Burger King or KFC have a lot in common: At just $5,000 per course, many part-time faculty make as little as $10,000 a year, with virtually no benefits.  Despite their PhD’s, they often rely on food stamps and Medicaid to make ends meet.   Over 40% of the teaching is done by these non-tenure-track instructors at University of Chicago – where tuition tops $50,000 a year.

Already part-time faculty at Loyola University are seeking to join Faculty Forward as well.  Meanwhile the newly organized workers at U of C are preparing their bargaining platform for the university.  Word is they’d like to launch a Fight for 15 of their own:  $15,000 for teaching a year-long course, along with job security, health benefits and fair promotion policies.  We wish them success in the New Year!

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