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Another Voice: Changes to workers' compensation laws are power grab

By Gregory Connors

In the film “The Empire Strikes Back,” Princess Leia famously says, “I have a bad feeling about this,” as the Millennium Falcon seeks refuge from the Empire, unknowingly flying into even greater danger.

The same phrase could be applied to the dramatic changes in workers' compensation – and workers as well as those fighting for justice have a bad feeling about what lies ahead.

While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo seems to express concern for workers – publicly supporting unions and labor, reaching out to everyday New Yorkers for photo ops – the reality of his actions reveals another side.

Cuomo has turned back the clock on the Empire State’s proud history, negating worker rights and imposing his agenda.

Up until recently, New York State’s history of advocating for worker rights was unparalleled, with pioneering worker safety efforts following the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in 1911.

Today we are witnessing an unprecedented power grab as the governor and his administration demonstrate a total disregard for the physical, psychological and financial challenges of injured workers, limiting access to justice with:

• Last-minute changes to administrative processes – unannounced and introduced outside of the legislative process. Impossible to predict, these have altered the legal landscape. By circumventing the legislative process, injured workers and their legal representation are blindsided by changes.

• No response to requests for hearings, or delays stretching months and even years once they are granted. With little recourse outside of the hearing process, cases are in limbo, impacting every facet of the injured worker's life.

• Introduction of a litany of sudden new “standards” in workers' comp, particularly impacting cases that might have multiple outcomes. Even the legal community protecting the injured workers is affected, as exemplified by the undocumented requirement by the state for submitting attorney fees in advance – which is nearly impossible in cases with multiple injuries and potential outcomes.

What can you do to help protect injured workers and their access to justice?

• Take action to keep everyone safe at work. While we cannot predict when a workplace injury will occur, we can collectively make a difference in ensuring worker safety and accountability.

• Develop an advocacy mindset. Promote transparency. Demand that our governor and his administration follow the legislative process.

• Help all generations in the workforce understand the history behind workplace safety and worker protections.

Gregory Connors is a founding partner of Connors & Ferris, a law firm with offices in Buffalo and Rochester.

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