By Cindy Gomez-Schempp
(Originally published in the High Plains Reader August 15, 2010 by Cindy Shawcross*)
Since the recent Performance Audit report was released, WSI’s new director, Bryan Klipfel, and other WSI cheerleaders have been lauding WSI’s “improvements.” Unless we’ve missed something, there are no significant improvements. Can anyone tell what the hype is about?
In the article “The Walking Wounded Unite: Injured Worker’s Save Themselves” (which printed in HPR over two years ago) North Dakota workers gave a long laundry list of complaints about WSI’s broken policies and mistreatment of workers. Check it out for yourself at http://thepeoplespressproject.org/community-events-and-news/the-walking-wounded-unite-injured-workers-rescue-themselves. Of the 15 recommendations given, most have yet to be implemented by either WSI or state legislators.
Supporters of fair and humane treatment for North Dakota’s workers were given false hopes of legislative changes by Republican US House candidate and former House Majority Leader and influential member of the IB&L (Industry Business and Labor) committee, Rick Berg.
Berg spoke to injured workers, telling them he couldn’t see any reason why their reasonable demands wouldn’t be adopted. Of course, the reality was that almost none of the requests were considered or adopted by the legislature in the past two sessions. Meanwhile WSI is reluctant to change internal policy practices and philosophies on the basis that they require “legislative” actions. Does this feel like one hand washing the other to anyone else?
Past Audit reports, (like the one from 2008), highlighted previous recommendations that WSI ignored or “concurred” with (i.e., admitted was a problem), but refused to correct. Mr. Klipfel is clever with words and tells us that WSI has already “concurred” with many of the recommendations of this year’s audit. Who cares if it “concurs”? The real question is, will WSI comply?
For those who haven’t followed the shame parade that has been the saga of Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI) for the past five or six years, let’s get you up to speed.
* Criticism of WSI mounts by media as well as injured workers in the state over treatment of injured worker claims after the hire of Charles “Sandy” Blunt in 2004.
* Investigations into felonious activity by the CEO begin in 2006 and Blunt is removed (with golden parachute in hand) in 2007 and subsequently convicted in December 2008 for his misconduct. Blunt appealed but the North Dakota Supreme Court upheld the conviction this July.
* Audit reports that came out since 2006 indicate that injured workers are still having claims incorrectly denied!
* The most recent audit report says the adjusted rate of denied claims has gone up “drastically” (almost 51%!) from 2005-2009.
* While workers unable to get claims resolved by WSI lose their literal and proverbial shirts, WSI is providing over 80 million dollars in rebates to employers.
So why all the articles praising WSI for another lackluster performance review? Where is the point of view of North Dakota workers represented in these articles praising WSI? Given WSI’s history of punitive and adversarial treatment of injured workers, we think they should at least get an opportunity to give their opinions of the latest WSI audit.
Perhaps WSI is receiving all this unearned praise because of the political climate in the state, what with Hoeven running for senator and his long silence and laissez faire attitude toward WSI. Then, of course, there’s Rick Berg, another candidate whose track record on behalf of injured workers puts him at a political disadvantage in the state.
Maybe that’s why instead of acknowledging the train wreck that WSI has been, and the mess it continues to be, politicians and WSI apologists are celebrating. Maybe that is why they are breaking off their arms patting each other on the back over some few mediocre improvements.
According to WSI Director Klipfel, “overall” claims denials are down and WSI accepts “92%” of all claims. Is Klipfel so disconnected from claimants that he fails to see that neither of these statistics (taken out of context) make up for the abysmal record WSI has had for the last five years?
Given its shoddy track record, WSI’s most recent audit should be a source of shame, not celebration.
[Author’s Note: To read about the Bill of Rights for Injured Workers of North Dakota, prepared by the North Dakota Injured Worker’s Support group, which was founded by Syl Loegering with the consulting assistance of Cindy Gomez-Schempp go here: http://www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/61-2009/docs/pdf/wc032210appendixb.pdf
To view the Worker’s Compensation Review Committee minutes, where Cindy Gomez-Schempp (then Cindy Shawcross) represented two injured workers, go here: http://www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/60-2007/interim-info/minutes/wc092508minutes.pdf]
**Questions and comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Original publication in HPR under the author’s former last name Shawcross and email. Updates to HPR’s website have inaccurately changed the name of the post publisher and date. Original post date listed above.
**Current contact email updated.