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Lodi City Council, firefighter at odds over worker’s compensation bill

Bill would extend time for families to file for worker's compensation after death

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Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:32 am, Thu Aug 23, 2012.

If a police officer or firefighter dies of a work-related injury or illness within 4 years and 8 months of retirement, their family can currently file for a hefty worker's compensation payment.

A proposed Assembly bill would extend that period to 9 years and 3 months — costing California's local governments substantial sums.

This week, the Lodi City Council opposed that extension, drawing criticism from a representative of the city's firefighter union.

Councilman Bob Johnson suggested the city write a letter opposing the legislation because he is concerned that expanding the timeline would cost the city significantly more money.

The council approved drafting a letter in a 4-0 vote during Tuesday morning's study session. Councilman Alan Nakanishi was absent.

Mayor JoAnne Mounce signed off on an opposition letter Wednesday.

"This increased benefit will impose additional costs on public employers at a time when we can least afford it and when we are struggling to provide the most basic services," the letter said.

Under the bill, the law would remain mostly the same. The injury or illness still has to have occurred while on the job, and families must file a claim within a year of the firefighter or police officer's death.

Originally, Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, proposed the bill with no limits on the time frame of an employee's death, but he changed it on Tuesday to 480 weeks.

Lodi Firefighters Association President Brad Doell said he believes 480 weeks is a good compromise.

"Reading the bill and the amendments offered, the changes are fair and narrowed the scope of the bill. In turn, it reduced the economic liability to the city and the state," Doell said.

The time frame for people to file does need to be extended, Doell said. For many of the cancers most closely associated with firefighters, Doell said latency periods — the time from exposure to the first symptoms — are 60 months or longer. With blood-borne diseases, it can be 10 to 30 years.

Doell said he is frustrated the council would oppose the bill.

"By the city of Lodi writing an opinion piece saying the bill is unnecessary, I think what they are doing is banking on people dying after that 240 week limitation because now they are going to save money. Is that really the business you are in, gambling with people's health? I don't think that's fair at all," he said.

The League of California Cities opposes the bill because it would dramatically increase costs for local governments, according to a news release from the league.

"Death benefits are designed to provide protections against financial hardships when a public safety officer dies due to a job-related illness; this bill goes far beyond that purpose," according to a news release. "The liability to local government budgets is enormous."

Lodi deputy city manager Jordan Ayers said he did not have numbers specifically on families who have filed workers compensation claims after a family member died. Ayers cited numbers from The Sacramento Bee that stated on average each death benefit claim costs about $250,000 to $300,000.

"One of the telling things is the state's legislative analyst indicated they could not calculate the fiscal impact of the legislation but it would be in the millions range," he said.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com. Read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/citybuzz.

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  • Jay Samone posted at 8:02 am on Fri, Aug 24, 2012.

    Jay Samone Posts: 359

    Demodan - your example is not what this bill is asking for. In your example, if an officer gets into a car accident while on duty, a claim is immediately filed. The wife and kids would still not be entitled to benefits because that is not what workers' compensation is about. The wife and kids are entitled to his pension, disability, and possibly social security depending on the age of the kids. Not workers' compensation. All that WC claim will do is pay for his injuries and the cost of his healthcare directly related to those injuries. That is the true intent of Workers' Compensation. It is not a death benefit.

    What this bill is trying to do is allow an extension of the time you can file a claim.

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 1:32 pm on Thu, Aug 23, 2012.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    Demodan stated...It was more than five years and you are telling me his wife and young children are not entitled to this benefit

    no.. the fact is California is next to bankrupt and now is not the time to improve benefits to a group that already has the best benefits in the world...Greed in motion...

  • Joanne Bobin posted at 12:40 pm on Thu, Aug 23, 2012.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4306

    From what I gather in this article, the employee would have had to have filed a WC claim when an initial injury occured and, after retirement, if they die from complications of the initial injury, the family can collect.

    Let's say a police officer is shot and the bullet cannot be removed due to its location. Later, after retirement, he dies because the bullet moved and finished him off.

    Since police officers in particular seem to retire at a very young age, I can see why they want this extended benefit. But I agree with the City Council that this should be opposed due to the high cost of this coverage.

  • Jay Samone posted at 11:34 am on Thu, Aug 23, 2012.

    Jay Samone Posts: 359

    Now - to comment on this particular article, I have a hard time believing that you can prove a blood borne illness is directly related to your line of work. NO ONE is a saint. You can get anything from anywhere at any time, and chances are it had absolutely nothing to do with your job. Yes there are risks, but you knew that when you decided to become an EMT/Paramedic, or firefighter. My department pays out around a half a billion in comp claims every year. Imagine howmuch it would be if 10 yrs after people retire they're able to file more claims. It's bad enough we have staff who file a claim for straining their butt on the crap per or getting a paper cut; but to extend the eligibility is ridiculous.

    I wonder if a family member of the senator who introdued this bill was denied claim coverage for a supposed injury. That's usually how these things come about.

  • Jay Samone posted at 11:26 am on Thu, Aug 23, 2012.

    Jay Samone Posts: 359

    Jackson, you couldn't have been more accurate in your statement. SEIU being the worst offenders. Because of SEIU, the state workforce has been downgraded to a bunch of whining, uneducated losers with very little value in the workplace. Those who are of value and actually contribute are shunned and have their workloads reduced to next to nothing because they make the rest of the lazy workers look bad. 95% of the people I have worked with in state service would have never passed a probationary period in the private sector. The rest of us just sit and watch the insanity and pray that our skillsets haven't become so outdated that we can't transition back to the real world.

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 10:45 am on Thu, Aug 23, 2012.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    Jackson... I thought fire fighters and police had courage and principles... if so, its time to get backbone and buck the system and do the right thing. If I were shunned for doing what was right, I would think of it as a badge of honor.

    Anything else would simply be cowardly.

  • Jackson Scott posted at 10:19 am on Thu, Aug 23, 2012.

    Jackson Scott Posts: 382

    Darrell, anyone, in any union (cta, seiu, etc), who goes against union policy is black balled. Those with "positive character" will be shunned socially and draw the short straw somehow one work assignments. They are all looking out for each other at the tax payers expense.

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 5:55 am on Thu, Aug 23, 2012.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    "This increased benefit will impose additional costs on public employers at a time when we can least afford it and when we are struggling to provide the most basic services," the letter said....( not to mention leaving less money for other things)

    then...This week, the Lodi City Council opposed that extension, drawing criticism from a representative of the city's firefighter union

    Can there be any doubt that complete blind selfishness is entrenched in the union. This bill should be opposed and the opposition is very appropriate. I hope the workers themselves apply pressure on the union to back off. If they have any positive character, they will.



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