March 5, 2019

Maine AFL-CIO backs bills that would revise workers' compensation law

Members of the Maine AFL-CIO expressed support for two bills that the labor organization said would bolster the safety net for Maine workers who have been injured on the job, including those with a mental injury caused by work-related stress.

The two bills sponsored by state Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, were discussed in a public hearing Monday before the Committee on Labor and Housing. They are:

  • LD 600, "An act to achieve mental health parity in workers' compensation," would change the standard of proof required to demonstrate entitlement to compensation for a mental injury caused by stress so that it is the same standard that's required for physical injuries. In addition, the bill specifies that a work-related injury that aggravates a preexisting mental condition may result in a "compensable disability," similar to what workers who've aggravated a preexisting physical condition might be entitled to receive.
  • LD 601, "An act to create fairness by reinstituting the cost-of-living adjustment for workers' compensation benefits." This bill establishes cost-of-living adjustments for workers' compensation benefits, stating that beginning on the third anniversary of the injury, the weekly workers' compensation benefits must be adjusted annually. The proposed bill states that "the adjustment is equal to the actual percentage increase or decrease in the state average weekly wage, as computed by the Department of Labor, for the previous year or 5%, whichever is less."

Prior to the 1992 revision of the laws governing workers' compensation, benefits for total incapacity were adjusted annually based on the percentage increase or decrease in the state average weekly wage, according to a news release sent to Mainebiz by the Maine AFL-CIO, which represents 40,000 working men and women in Maine.

Support from Maine AFL-CIO

During Monday's public hearing today, firefighters expressed support for LD 600's intent of extending Maine's workers compensation laws so that mental health injuries are treated the same as physical injuries.

Retired firefighter Ronnie Green, district vice president with the Professional Fire Fighters of Maine, told the committee that during his career he had "witnessed things that people should never have to see."

"I have also witnessed first hand the toll that these mental injuries take on firefighters and other first-responders," he said in his testimony. "Some that were previously happy-go-lucky people became isolated, withdrawn, and in some cases, unable to function, some have committed suicide. It is time to recognize that mental injuries are just as real and as debilitating as physical injuries and there is absolutely no reason why someone who has suffered a mental injury at work should have to prove more than someone who has suffered a physical injury at work."

Support for LD 601's restoration of annual cost-of-living increases for workers' comp benefits that had been eliminated by the Legislature in 1992 was voiced by Carol Sanborn, a paralegal at the Topsham-based law firm McTeague-Higbee and a member of Machinists union Local S89.

Sanborn told lawmakers on the committee that passing LD 601 "would be a small step toward rectifying some of the inequity that has been caused by the erosion of our workers' comp laws over the last 25 years."

"These workers are real people who have day-care contracts, mortgages, car payments, vehicles registrations and repairs, child support payments — all of the same financial obligations that the rest of us have until they get hurt and can't fulfill those contracts and obligations and lose everything they've worked for," she said in testimony included in the Maine AFL-CIO news release. "The cost-of-living adjustment is one very tiny way that you could help these people.'

The committee is expected to vote on the two bills in the coming weeks.


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