Labor leaders, attorneys push measure for more benefits

The Associated Press
Saturday December 08, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Labor unions and an attorneys’ group are pushing an initiative that would raise benefits for California workers who suffer job-related injuries. 

The measure, intended for the November 2002 ballot, would raise benefits to the national average for workers injured after Jan. 1, 2003, and adjust benefits each year after that for the cost of living. 

Maximum temporary disability benefits, for example, would jump initially from $490 to $651 a week. 

Supporters say that California now ranks 49th out of 50 states in the amount of benefits paid to most injured workers. 

“Many workers are living in poverty because they have not had a benefit increase in over 10 years,” said Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation. “They deserve a raise.” 

For the last three years, Gov. Gray Davis has vetoed bills that would have raised injured workers’ benefits, saying they didn’t include enough cost-saving changes in the workers’ compensation system. 

Davis said recently that he hoped to work out a compromise he could sign next year. His press secretary, Steve Maviglio, said Davis hopes “to sign into law added benefits as a result of negotiations that we hope will resume in the next legislative session.” 

But critics said they can’t wait for the governor, normally an ally of labor. 

“After this third veto we can only conclude that the administration lacks either the political will or the political competence to solve this issue,” said Daniel Curtin, director of the California Conference of Carpenters. 

Proponents of the initiative need to collect signatures of at least 419,260 registered voters to put the measure on the ballot. 

The proposal is sponsored by Gnesa Duncan, whose husband was seriously injured in a Tosco refinery fire in 1999. 

Besides the labor federation and the carpenters’ union, the measure’s supporters include the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, United Farm Workers and the California Applicants Attorneys Association, whose members represent injured workers.