Take back workers' comp system from judges, lawyers

March 2, 2017 | Mike Ralston, ABI President

Mike Ralston | ABI President | mralston@iowaabi.org

Workers’ compensation has been a bedrock issue for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry since 1913. Iowa's workers’ compensation law was passed, thanks in large part to the work of ABI’s precursor, the Iowa Manufacturing Association, after manufacturers became concerned about the need for a cost-effective insurance plan benefiting employees.

Iowa’s workforce is also a key focus of our organization. Our member companies cannot run without healthy employees. We can all agree that compensating these injured workers, ensuring they receive good medical care and getting them back to work after they have healed benefits Iowa employees and their families and Iowa employers.

Unfortunately, this ideal system — once balanced between the interests of the employee and employer — has been eroded by aggressive plaintiff attorneys and judges who don’t understand the workers’ compensation system. Bad court decisions have changed and muddied the meaning of the workers’ compensation laws the Legislature passed.

This skewed system does not benefit workers who do their jobs well and use the system appropriately. It does not benefit the state of Iowa, which has tumbled from fifth lowest in the nation for workers’ compensation premiums in 2006 to the 24th highest in 2016, according to an annual report issued by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services. This does not benefit employers who want to pay their workers good wages and maintain existing jobs or create new ones.

We need to bring the system back to balance, and take the power out of the hands of plaintiff attorneys and the courts. The Legislature needs to speak clearly about what this system is meant to do.

ABI believes it is necessary for the Legislature to address workers’ compensation reform to move Iowa back in the right direction for employees and employers who rely on a well-functioning, fair workers’ compensation system.

This column first ran as an op-ed in The Des Moines Register.