Workers’ Compensation Reform – we need it now

President and CEO of the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce & Executive Director of the Manufacturers Association of the Southern Tier

We are hearing loud and clear from our membership that workers’ compensation costs are out of control. Based on a recent Siena Research Institute survey, 90 percent of upstate business leaders say workers’ compensation reform is needed. Here is a good example of why employers are frustrated: right in our own community we found a situation where the workers’ compensation costs for a light manufacturing company are eight times higher in New York compared to locating that same operation across the border in Pennsylvania. Workers’ compensation costs employers in New York State $10 billion each year. Notably, rising workers’ compensation costs are also significantly impacting local governments as well and driving up the cost of local government and property taxes.

We are partnering with over 60 organizations across New York State including the Business Council of New York State with whom we are calling for workers’ compensation reform. We agree with Heather Bricetti of the Business Council of New York State when she stated, “Workers’ compensation was created to help injured workers by replacing lost wages and providing needed medical care, but it isn’t working. Major payments are being made in ways never intended by statute. Our Scheduled Loss of Use (SLU) awards pay large sums for minor injuries that lead to little or no missed time from work. We have replaced fairness with chance and moved away from the fundamental goal of workers’ compensation replacement for lost wages. It’s time for a change.”

There are currently three pieces of legislation proposed in the Assembly and Senate that would accomplish the following:

1. Correct a flaw in the 2007 workers compensation reforms that have allowed claimant attorneys to extend the total time of benefits beyond the 10 year cap. Currently claims have on average extended beyond the 10 year cap by 4 ¢ years.

2. Limits “scheduled loss of use” awards to cases with 85 percent impairment ratings; in these cases, injured workers would receive the SLU award adjusted for indemnity benefits for lost time. These additional SLU awards have no relationship to lost time or lost earnings. In fact, New York State Workers’ Compensation Board data show that 75 percent of SLU awards are payments in excess of actual lost, while costing the system over $1.2 billion annually. This bill would guaranty that severely injured workers would continue to use the current schedules, while those with less serious injuries, who have missed little time from work, continue to receive workers’ compensation benefits in the exact same way that their colleagues with non-SLU injuries.

3. Require the Workers’ Compensation Board to release and adopt already completed Impairment Guidelines for the “scheduled loss of us” (SLU) awards. The current guidelines have not been overhauled since 1983, and reflect 30-year-old medical assumptions. The new guidelines have been developed with input from medical professionals and system stakeholders, which reflect modern medical evidence. Adopting the new impairment guidelines will result in more appropriate calculations for SLU awards.

We encourage and the community to convey a message to Albany that we need a workers’ compensation system that is fair and equitable. Please call or write our local representatives today.

Fredonia Chamber annual meeting and award banquet

The Fredonia Community Chamber of Commerce will hold its Annual Election and Awards Banquet on Thursday, March 23, at Shorewood Country Club, West Lake Road, Dunkirk.

Receiving awards this year are: Business of the Year, Fred’s; Retailer of the Year, Pucci’s Carpet One, Furniture & Bedding; Community Service Award, Daniel Reininga, CEO of Lake Shore Savings Bank; Service to Humanity Award, Rev. Dr. Cynthia Wickwire Lundquist of the Fredonia Presbyterian Church; and Spirit of Fredonia Award, Larry Fiorella of HBKS Wealth Advisors.

The cocktail hour will begin at 5:30, with dinner served at 6:30. The cost is $30 per dinner. You may register online at www.chautauquachamber.org/events, or can call Fredonia Chamber Coordinator Heidi Seddon at 679-1565.

Hanover Chamber Member Appreciation luncheon April 20

The Hanover Community Chamber of Commerce will hold its annual Member Appreciation Luncheon on Thursday, April 20. The event will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Colony Seafood and Steakhouse, 876 Main Road, Irving. Kelly Borrello, Hanover Community Chamber President, will give a brief introduction and opening remarks. Additional speakers will be announced soon.

The cost of the lunch is $22. You can register by calling the Chamber at 366-6200 or use our online registration at www.chautauquachamber.org/events. Please RSVP by April 13.

Chamber has tickets available for LECOM Health Challenge

If you’re looking for the perfect gift this spring for the golfer in your family, or if you’re thinking summer yourself, the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce is proudly helping to support the PGA Web.com LECOM Health Challenge at Peek’n Peak. We have tickets available for this spectacular event, to be held in July. The cost is just $10 for a day pass and proceeds help to support initiatives of the Chamber of Commerce and its Community Chambers including community events, workforce development, business training programs, and more. For more information, call us at 484-1101 or 366-6200.

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