FOR RELEASE – 12:01 am:
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2005
Contacts: Mark Hayes 562/630-1235, cell 714/396-5260,
Peggy Sugarman 510/465-3974, cell 510/520-6052
Steve Hopcraft 916/457-5546, cell 916/956-4592
INJURED WORKERS LAUNCH POLITICAL GROUP:
19 Protests Kick Off Campaign to Protect Injured Workers;
Injured Workers Revolt to Stop Attacks on Rights, Care & Compensation,
Propose Twelve California Workers Compensation Solutions
SACRAMENTO, CA – Injured workers across California today formed a new political group to fight for the rights of voters injured on the job. VotersInjuredatWork.org kicked off a new campaign to stop attacks by insurance companies, the governor and other politicians on injured
workers’ rights, medical care and disability compensation with a series of statewide protest news
“Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democrats in the Legislature cut worker
Compensation benefits by as much as 50% and took away our right to choose our doctor,” said Mark Hayes, president of the new non-profit political organization of injured workers and their
families. Hayes, an Orange County court reporter spent over 31 years working in the Orange
County Superior Court. Unfortunately, after years of dedicated hard work, Mark now suffers from work-related injuries (including hypertension, hypertensive heart disease, post surgical neck, post surgical right shoulder, left shoulder tendonitis, tendonitis in both elbows, left shoulder tendonitis, low back injury, wrist and hands). “They forget,” said Hayes at the Santa Ana protest, “we are Voters! The Republicans and Democrats ganged up on us to help the insurance companies that fund their campaigns. Now, workers’ compensation insurance companies are making more money. But we’re the ones who got injured. Worker compensation isn’t welfare that comes from taxpayers. The California Constitution guarantees Workers Compensation. Politicians, shouldn’t cut our benefits because special interests tell them to. We
earned them, sacrificing our health at work. The only thing the politicians understand is power.
VIAW.org will fight to win back the right to choose our doctor, restore our benefits, and punish
fraud by insurance companies.”
VotersInjuredatWork.org launched its organizing drive with statewide protests at 18 Regional
Workers’ Compensation Appeals Boards and the Fresno office of Sen. Charles Poochigian.
Poochigian authored the governor’s SB 899 that took away basic rights, medical care and
disability compensation. Groups of angry voters who’ve been injured at work and their families
and supporters protested in Anaheim, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Pomona, Redding,
Riverside, Sacramento, Salinas, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Ana,
Santa Monica, Santa Rosa, Stockton, and Van Nuys.
“Hundreds of thousands of voters are injured on the job in California each year, yet have no
political voice,” said “We were injured in the service of our employers and California as a whole.
We demand the medical care and compensation guaranteed us in the Constitution. The governor and Legislature harmed us worse than our on-the-job injuries by taking away our rights. We are going to fight back, and we will go after those politicians who scapegoat injured workers. Today is the beginning of an effort to organize tens of thousands of voters injured on the job to elect our friends, and punish our enemies.”
“Voters Injured at Work.org will provide a strong voice in Sacramento to help enact legislation that will rebalance the California workers’ compensation system that has been ‘fixed’ at the
expense of injured workers,” said Steve Duncan, a VotersInjuredatWork board member and Tosco Oil Refinery worker who was caught in an explosion that killed four workers and left him
permanently injured when he leapt from a height of 47 feet – an act that ultimately saved his life
– to try to escape the explosion. “VIAW will work to prevent others from having to go through the severe physical and financial hardships that I have experienced. What the governor and the politicians have done to injured workers is often worse than our work injuries.” Victor Villa, of Lomita, a Southern California Gas Company employee, fell, while carrying 65-
85 pounds of equipment, and injured his shoulder when a gas meter broke loose in a crawlspace.
The series of injuries, which were originally diagnosed as minor, culminated in the need for
shoulder surgery for a torn rotator cuff. He had surgery for the second time to his shoulder in
May of 2004, only to be told that he will have to have it replaced in the near future with a metal
ball and socket. Victor experienced cynicism, financial hardship and harassment by his employer since his injuries on the job. Mr. Villa was originally sent to a company doctor who concluded that Victor was not a qualified injured worker. Despite Victor’s need for shoulder surgery, he was called back to work and suspended by the company. “I voted for our new Governor because he said he would work to resolve the problems of the workers compensation system and get our state going in the right direction and grow jobs. He apparently wants to make changes in the workers comp system at the expense of the injured workers. We will no longer remain silent. It is time that the injured had a voice.”
The VotersInjuredatWork.org agenda includes:
• Access to appropriate medical care with a physician of our choice.
• Improved benefit levels.
• Assistance in returning to gainful employment.
• Increasing enforcement of existing laws that protect workers.
• Improving benefit delivery and system performance.
The Executive Director of VotersInjuredatWork.org, Peggy Sugarman, is a former Chief Deputy
Administrative Director for the Division of Workers’ Compensation under governors Pete Wilson and Gray Davis. Peggy took on the task of helping organize VotersInjuredatWork.org
because, “California workers are hurt in the line of duty and have no choice but apply for
workers’ compensation benefits – it’s their only remedy in California. Yet, they and their
families are treated like second-class citizens, having to deal with long delays in getting
necessary medical treatment, denials of care, and late payment of their meager benefits. The
California Constitution requires the system to provide necessary medical care and to relieve
workers from the consequences of the injury. It’s failing and we have to do something about it.
Getting hurt in the service of your employer is not supposed to be an immediate ticket to pain
Ms. Sugarman announced the launch of the group’s website, VotersInjuredatWork.org, and
urged injured workers and their families to visit the site, join the group and help fight for the
rights of California voters who are injured on the job. “Today is historic. Hundreds of thousands
of Californians are injured at work each year. They are angry, and well they should be. We
intend to focus that anger on changing the politicians, laws and practices that don’t heal injured workers, but just hurt them more. The days of scapegoating injured workers are over as of today.
By the end of 2005, we intend to have tens of thousands of members who will work to elect
leaders who’ll fight for injured workers, and to get rid of those who won’t.”
Other members of the VotersInjuredatWork.org board of governors are:
Dolores Gallegos, a former computer science high school teacher and current member of the
Hanford City Council, developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Her employer sent Dolores to a
company doctor who initially denied her injury was caused by her work. Dolores was fired from
her job two weeks after filing her workers compensation claim, “I lost my car, my home, and almost two years of my life. The insurance company tried to make it look as if I was not injured. They denied and delayed and ran me around, hoping that I would drop my case. I’m sure that
with many injured workers these tactics are successful.”
Larry Anderson spent 30 years as a Firefighter for the City of Orange. He was diagnosed with
Non Hodgkins lymphoma in March, 2000, and with asthma in June, 2000. After being taken off
the job, Larry’s benefits were discontinued by the fire department. After benefits were reinstated with the help of his attorney, the County of Orange fell into bankruptcy. Larry was left without any disability pay for months. Since then, three different adjusting agencies have handled Larry’s claim. He has been subjected to four depositions and has appeared in court seven times with no
end in sight. “Injured workers are subjected to emotional and financial losses on top of our work injuries. I’ve gone to 40 doctors, 9 workers compensation courts and came within a week of
losing my home. All our savings are gone, and so is our good credit. I’m now retired, though
with very little money. I look forward to fighting for the dignity of the injured workers of
Scott Hayes of Sacramento brings a unique perspective to VotersInjuredatWork.org, having been a Workers’ Compensation claims examiner for five years before developing back and neck
problems as a result of his job. His employer fired him for filing a claim. “I became involved in
the fight to protect injured workers as a result of my experiences dealing with my injury claim,” said Scott. “If I, with my knowledge of workers’ compensation rules and regulations, have had such a difficult time in getting treatment and benefits, how can we expect the average person
with no experience to get what they need and deserve?”
Connie Cardinalli, of Manteca, is the widow of John Cardinalli, Jr., an injured electrician who
committed suicide in despair after fighting unsuccessfully to get the care needed to recover from his work injuries. “The workers’ comp system treats injured workers worse than convicts in prison.”
Ms. Cardinalli blamed her husband’s suicide on “a never-ending battle with a system
that was never on his side.” Ms. Cardinalli charged that “company doctors want to overmedicate
and not treat the injuries. My husband did not take his own life, he was murdered by a system
that ignores, delays and avoids the needs of the injured worker.”
John Cardinalli was 43 years old when his life ended. The Manteca resident had worked as a
production worker and electrician for many years, and developed back injuries while on the job.
John had a failed back with intractable pain. After years of dealing with disabling pain, and after a request for psychiatric care was not approved, Mr. Cardinalli killed himself on August 15th by overdosing on pain medications.
VotersInjuredatWork.org will work to elect political candidates who care about the plight of
California’s injured workers and their families.
Twelve California Workers Compensation Solutions
VotersInjuredatWork.org has identified a dozen of the most pressing problems in workers’’
compensation today, along with our proposed solutions.
Problem No. 1: Injured workers are not getting proper medical care.
Solution: Medical Treatment Appropriate for the Individual’s Injury.
Problem No. 2: Medical Treatment is being Delayed or Unfairly Denied
Solution: Tighten Timeframes and Increase Accountability
Problem No. 3: Choice of Doctor has been Restricted
Solution: Workers must be allowed to Choose Their Own Physician
Problem No. 4: Temporary Disability Benefits were Capped at 104-Weeks
Solution: Temporary Disability Benefits Should Not be Capped
The arbitrary limit on the payment of temporary disability benefits of 104 weeks within a two-year period is just plain ridiculous.
Problem No. 5: Vocational Rehabilitation Benefits Were Eliminated
Solution: Injured Workers Need Help Returning to Work
Problem No. 6: Permanent Disability Benefits Were Cut; Pain Ignored
Solution: A permanent disability schedule that fairly compensates workers disabled due to an injury or illness that arises out of their employment and that does
not ignore the pain that accompanies a disability.
Problem No. 7: 15% is Unfairly Subtracted from Permanent Disability if worker returns to
Solution: Stop punishing workers who have a permanent disability yet still return to work.
We need a fair system of compensating workers for lifetime disabling injuries.
Problem No. 8: Disability benefits have been reduced (or “apportioned”) to “causation.”
(Labor Code 4663).
Solution: The laws governing “apportionment to causation” must be eliminated or
clarified to mean that a prior condition had to have been work disabling in
order to be subject to apportionment. The introduction of “fault” only against workers when employers still can’t be sued for negligence in workers’ compensation is both unfair and, we believe, unconstitutional.
Problem No. 9: There is no longer any meaningful penalty for insurance companies or employers who unreasonably delay or deny benefits.
Solution: Increase Penalties for Unreasonable Claims Handling
Problem No. 10: State Audits Show Poor Claims Practices
Solution: Raise the Standards for Proper Claims Handling and Increase state audits
Problem No. 11: The price of Workers’ Compensation Insurance is unregulated.
Solution: Adopt authority for the Insurance Commissioner to regulate rates so that
documented cost savings will be passed on to employers in the form of lower and reasonable rates.
Problem No. 12: Fraud in the system hurts legitimately injured workers.
Solution: Support fraud prosecution that is fair and balanced.