Group rallies in Brewer against workers’ compensation cap

Posted April 09, 2012, at 7:17 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Local clergy, injured workers and others gathered at the Ivers Street headquarters of the Greater Bangor Area Central Labor Council on Monday to speak out against a bill they say would be detrimental to people who are injured at work.

At issue is LR 2787, legislation that would make changes to Maine’s workers’ compensation system and limit the duration of benefits.

Mark Richards, who was run over by a forklift while on the job, was among those who spoke during a news conference organized by the Worker Center of Eastern Maine, according to a press release from the labor group Food AND Medicine.

“It’s been really hard on my family,” Richards said of his injury. “And I don’t know what I would do with a 10-year limit on benefits. I don’t know how I’d feed my family. No one who works hard all his life should have to worry about where his next meal is going to come from.”

The Rev. Mark Doty of Hammond Street Congregational Church in Bangor called the legislation “unjust and immoral” and said the 10-year benefits limit would be “arbitrary, capricious and cruel. … For workers who have suffered permanent, disabling injuries on the job, the cutoff of funds will create monstrous problems.”

Jack McKay, an organizer with the worker center, said the state’s workers’ compensation system is working and that it is decreasing costs.

“Insurance rates have been coming down. They’ve come down 56 percent since 1993 and 7 percent last year alone,” he said. “The only people who testified in favor of this were insurance companies.”

McKay said LR 2787 was endorsed by the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee on April 4 in a party-line vote, with seven Republicans voting for the measure and six Democrats against. He said the measure is expected to be voted on in both the Senate and the House by the end of the week.

“This bill will harm severely injured workers,” McKay said. “This legislation drastically reduces the disability benefits available to severely injured workers.

“Current law has a safety net that provides benefits for the duration of disability for severely injured employees who experience permanent loss of earnings,” he added. “This proposal eliminates that safety net and caps benefits for almost all injured workers at 10 years even if their injury results in permanent earnings loss or prevents them from returning to work.”

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