Bloodletting of workers’ comp system begins

By Andrew Thomason
Illinois Statehouse News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The shakeup of the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Board is the first of many changes in Illinois’ workers’ compensation system as the state’s economic environment becomes more business-friendly.

State Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, who sponsored the workers’ compensation legislation, described the 12 new board appointees as the start of a bloodletting prescribed by the General Assembly to heal the system.

“I’m glad to see the governor appoint so many new faces and hope they will be able to implement not only the letter of the law but also the spirit of the law, which is to shake the system up and basically reinvent workers’ comp,” Bradley said.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) announced July 20 the appointees, which include a mix of workers’ compensation attorneys, labor union representatives and business community members.

Board members are expected to recommend workers’ compensation case arbitrators, who decide claims, and help guide the direction of workers’ compensation policy in Illinois.

“Each of these appointees brings the knowledge and experience to support us in reforming Illinois’ workers’ compensation system,” Quinn said. “Our efforts to overhaul and modernize workers’ compensation are critical to improving our state’s business climate.”

The legislature took up the task of revamping how the state handles injured workers after reports surfaced about possible gaming of the system, most notably in the southern Illinois Menard Correctional Center, where an excess of carpal tunnel and other cases were reported.

Lawmakers and members of the business community said the overhaul will save employers at least $500 million. They cite a 30-percent cut to compensation rates for doctors treating workers’ compensation cases as the major area of savings.

Other changes include clearing the state’s 29 workers’ compensation arbitrators. Current arbitrators can reapply for their current job.

Bradley said he was looking for three traits in Quinn’s appointees: the quality of the appointee, new faces and geographic diversity.

“All three (qualities) are represented,” Bradley said.

The state Senate, which is expected to return to the statehouse in October to address Quinn’s vetoes, must approve the new unpaid board members.

Jim Nawrocki, a workers’ compensation attorney at Goldberg, Weisman and Cairo in Chicago, said the scandal in southern Illinois needed to be addressed, but scrapping the advisory board and arbitrator positions and starting over from scratch was “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

“I don’t think the system in the long run will be as efficient, because I think it will be politicized, and I also think that you’ll end up with people who may well not have backgrounds in workers’ compensation, so they won’t know what they’re doing,” Nawrocki said.

Nawrocki and others with similar views might get their way. Five current arbitrators filed a joint lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Springfield to keep their jobs.

They said they performed their work competently and their firings were unjustified.

Quinn’s nominations to the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Board are as follow:

• Mitchell Abbett, human resources and safety manager at Holten Meat Inc., a family-owned meat distribution company in Sauget.

• Richard Aleksy, a partner at the Chicago law firm Corti, Aleksy & Castaneda PC, which specializes in workers’ compensation cases. He has served as president and director of the Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Association, a membership group for Illinois lawyers engaged in workers’ compensation matters.

• Aaron Anderson, director and representative for the Painters District Council No. 30 in Aurora, a union representing people in the finishing trades.

• Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO labor union. He’s been on the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission Advisory Board since 2005.

• John Carpenter, senior vice president of public policy for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce in Chicago.

• Mark Denzler, vice president and chief operating officer for the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, an organization headquartered in Oak Brook that furthers policy friendly to manufacturers.

• David Halffield, vice president of Sears Holdings Management Corp. in Hoffman Estates, which owns the Sears chain of department stores, among others, and which has threatened to leave Illinois over possibly expiring tax breaks.

• Phillip Gruber, general vice president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union, which represents workers in the machinist and aerospace industries.

• William Lowry, an attorney at the Chicago law firm Nyhan, Bambrick, Kinzie and Lowry PC, which handles workers’ compensation cases.

• Mark Prince, an attorney at the Prince Law Firm in Marion, which specializes in cases of negligence or intentional misconduct brought by employees against their employers.

• Sean Stott, director of governmental affairs for the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which represents workers in the building and construction trades, among others.

• David Vite, president and CEO of the Chicago-based Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which is a lobbying group that advances retailers goals in the legislature.

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