LOS ANGELES – Workers Memorial Day was observed April 28 at the UCLA Labor Center’s downtown campus as workers and labor relations professionals gathered for a comprehensive “clinic” on California’s new workers’ compensation law.

According to David Estrada, president of the Southern California Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, “Each year 60,000 people in the United States die from preventable diseases and injuries caused by exposure to workplace chemicals and other agents. California had 478 work-related fatalities in 2002, and ranked number one in penalties for health and safety violations.”

Attorney Cheryl Wallach described the changes to California’s workers’ compensation law as “dramatic and confusing.” The law includes retroactive coverage, i.e. parts of the law can be applied to injury cases that were filed before the law was signed.

“Under the old law,” Wallach said, “the injured worker was given the benefit of the doubt.” Now there must be a preponderance of the evidence that the worker’s injuries were a result of their work.

The right to choose a doctor has been restricted. The doctor you choose must agree to be pre-designated and you must have a history with that doctor. You must also go to the company doctor.

Temporary disability benefits are now capped at two years. The previous cap was five years. Now employers will receive financial incentives to take injured workers back to work while the workers get 15 percent less in permanent disability benefits.

There is no regulation of insurance company rates. Community activist Karen Bass, a candidate for State Assembly from the 47th district, said, “I have a hard time believing that the insurance companies are going to regulate themselves.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.