4/16/13 Article by the Texas AFLCIO, writer Ed Sills:
Texas is the only state that doesn’t require employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance, which protects injured workers. At long last, it appears a consensus of lawmakers who understand the issue may be ready to address the situation, at least in part.
About one-third of employers choose to self-insure. Some of those employers are responsible and provide actual compensation when a worker is injured or dies in the workplace. Some provide little or nothing.
There is no real prospect of obtaining mandatory workers’ compensation insurance in the Texas Legislature in 2013, but today the House Business & Industry Committee heard two bills by Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, that would address the situation in different ways.
HB 3310 would require employers who choose not to carry workers’ comp insurance to buy life insurance policies of at least $200,000 on their employees. As recent reports have highlighted, fewer than 40 percent of those who die on the job in Texas receive workers’ compensation benefits. Texas had an official count of 433 job-related fatalities in 2011.
The star witness for the bill was Christian Hurtado, whose father died as the result of a fall in a workplace accident.
Hurtado, whose situation was cited not long ago by AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, testified that the subcontractor, who had no workers’ comp coverage, promised to help with the funeral, but ultimately the family struggled to pay even burial costs. He spoke haltingly about how, as a high school student, he had to step up and lead his family.
Texas AFL-CIO Legal Director Rick Levy said HB 3310 is aimed at employers who do nothing for injured workers, where “there is absolutely nothing there for them…It’s such a simple matter. It’s a matter of justice and fairness.”
Also testifying for the bill was Emily Timm of the Workers Defense Project, which advocates for immigrant workers and has backed legislation aimed at dangerous construction sites.
Margaret Greenshield, chair of the Texas Alliance of Non-Subscribers, testified against the bill. Greenshield said that while she “understands” situations like the one that hit the Hurtado family exist, she doubts employers could buy life insurance for part-time employees. Greenshield said she tried to do so on behalf of the jewelry company she works for and could not obtain it.
The bill was left pending.
The committee also heard HB 3311, which would require employers who don’t carry workers’ comp insurance to provide specific information on workplace injuries, cost of treatment and benefits provided. A substitute version of Rep. Walle’s bill by Rep. Mike Workman, R-Austin, conforms the data to information that non-subscribers already prepare so that additional information could be accessed more readily.
Levy said the bill would be a first step to understanding the depth of problems with employers who don’t carry workers’ compensation.
“In Texas we don’t have a clue what goes on out there,” Levy said, arguing it’s high time the state begins to balance the needs of employers against the needs of workers who are injured or killed.
Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, said he agrees lawmakers have a “duty” to do something about situations in which “the least among us” are left to fend for themselves when they are injured.
HB 331 was also left pending.
The committee could vote on the measures as soon as tomorrow.