Good morning to you. It is a rainy day in Chicago and I am sitting in the comfort of my own apartment enjoying some tea and breakfast while working on my laptop and listening to some music. I am warm and well-fed. (Some of my friends say more well-fed than need be but I digress). It is winter in Chicago, the off-season, and I am resting my body from the rigors I put it through during the strenuous summer soccer and beach volleyball activities to which I subject it. Life is good.
Everything is great here and I am extremely lucky to having been born in the U.S. By the luck of the draw I happened to be born here and so am able to enjoy the benefits and rights which come with being an American citizen. I enjoy health insurance, a roof over my head, a quality educational opportunity if I put the work in, and have a beautiful, funny, smart wife who cares about me, which makes me very lucky. I have great family and friends. Both my immediate and extended family are loving, hard-working and goofballs, which makes life a lot sweeter-if you can’t find a good laugh every day, it is a day wasted on this earth.
Yes, I know we all have our daily complaints about things that need to be changed in these United States. (Ahem, yeah this means you NSA-hope you enjoy this article). Life is not perfect and we need to keep our politicians on their toes and stay ever-vigilant where things can be improved, but also support the good ones when they get things right. I know too there are many homeless and people struggling to stay above water right now.
However, one thing that the U.S. has got right is having workers’ compensation laws on the books. Unfortunately, these laws and the Illinois worker, are constantly under attack as a scapegoat to economic problems not caused by them. If you want to see a good explanation of how and why the United States Chamber of Commerce blames the American worker for the problems of Big Business see my previous blog post here. This is an expose of how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a wolf in sheep’s clothing pretending to be the hero of the American small businessman. In fact, no, they are in the pocket of multinational corporations.
As we know, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law was amended in 2011 with lots of talk about how Illinois businesses were leaving the State in droves because of rights extended to injured workers. However, those talks were not backed up by stats demonstrating same. When the economy is not doing well it is easy to attack those who cannot easily attack back-let’s cut down on the Illinois worker, the Illinois homeless, the Illinois person who needs mental health benefits and has no place to go. Why we do not want to become…gasp…a welfare state, do we? Because we know the equation: helping people get basic rights to healthcare, workers’ rights and housing=communism.
In fact, this author thinks that many big businesses have a stranglehold over this, and other States. For example, Boeing, who moved their headquarters to Chicago from Seattle a few years ago. The States fell over themselves to give million dollar tax incentives, including Illinois. For a good article on this from the New York Times, see here. Now, again in 2014, Boeing has encouraged 22 states to bid for the right to house their new manufacturing plant. Did the tax breaks Illinois gave Boeing a few years ago secure the plant? No, Boeing decided to go to the State of Washington. They are smart and make the States work against each other as mentioned in the New York Times article here.
However, Big Business is gearing up for another attack on the Illinois worker. The 2011 amendments limited injured workers’ choice of doctors and drove down benefits to which injured workers are entitled. However, this amendment was not good enough. Big Business wants more of the Illinois worker. You should be happy strong unions are in place in Illinois or things could get much worse, as in other countries.
I have been lucky to have visited the Dominican Republic once and I had a great time. I admit I did not venture very far away from the basic resort area where I stayed. I did notice right away that the Dominicans were hard workers and friendly. They are trying to make right every day just like the American worker here in Illinois. Even a little off the beaten path there though, you can see people are living in abject poverty.
In the Dominican Republic, they are just starting to enforce workers’ rights even though these laws are on the books. Take the example of “Carlos”, who was hit by a vehicle when at work one day-he spent 3 months in the hospital and his employer refused to pay any workers’ compensation benefits. He was off work for a year and reapplied to the same company even though they paid nothing. Why? Because he needs the money and choices are limited. The article did mention how unions are becoming stronger in the Dominican and this could turn the tables. You can read about this here.
Do you think this above story is limited to the Dominican? Well , it is not. I have a potential client call me at least once every few months telling me they were fired after asserting their rights under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. It is against the law for an employer to fire you for trying to obtain medical or TTD benefits after being injured on the job. For an in-depth discussion of this see my post, What Happens if I am Fired After Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim. For a general discussion of what to do after being injured on the job, see my post, What should I do if I have an accident at work in Illinois.
The moral of the story is be proactive. You, the Illinois worker, have a say in your government. Don’t get disillusioned by the political process. Look at the union organizers in the Dominican. They are getting things done. However, they are behind us in that regard-I think-sometimes I am not sure. Talk to your local and national representatives-remember they represent YOU, not BOEING, not CNA insurance. Tell them what you think about so-called workers’ compensation reform. Tell them how your life, or a family member or friend’s, has been impacted by someone who was injured and was denied workers’ compensation benefits. Tell them how you spent 6-8 months trying to get benefits when you have a broken back and the company tells you no, we think you have “degenerative changes” in your back- so no benefits for you. Tell them how you then maxed your credit cards, were unable to pay insurance and have declared bankruptcy. The politicians need your stories to help push legislation for the Illinois worker through and keep us adding more rights, not rolling back rights, for the Illinois worker. The U.S. Chamber may be the wolf in sheep’s clothing but you can be the one that stops the wolf from succeeding.