Texas politicians like to take credit for the so-called “Texas miracle”. They claim the states relatively stable economy has been made possible by their zealous opposition to “over-regulation, greedy trial lawyers and profligate government spending”. Researchers are finding, however, that this so-called “miracle” has been a horror story for many Texas Workers. A report this week takes a look at a dismal situation that state leaders have rarely mentioned – the grim side of the workplace: The State of Teas has a record of high worker fatalities and weak benefits. In fact, Texas has led the nation in worker fatalities for seven of the last 10 years, and when Texans get hurt or killed on the job, they have some of the weakest protections and hardest-to-obtain benefits in the country. The New York Times reports:
Texas is the only state that does not require private employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance or a private equivalent, so more than 500,000 workers — about 6 percent of the work force — receive no occupational benefits if they are injured on the job. On-the-job injuries can leave them unable to work, and with little recourse.
More than a million Texans are covered by private occupational insurance from their employers. Those plans are not regulated by the state but are often written to sharply limit the benefits, legal rights and medical options of workers.
Companies that carry workers’ compensation are given immunity from employee negligence lawsuits. While employers offering private compensation insurance are not protected from such lawsuits, many limit their legal exposure through the fine print of private occupational policies that employees accept when they are hired.
“Negligence liability can be contained by mandatory arbitration,” boasts one pro-industry study, conducted by claims processing company Sedgwick.
A 1998 Texas Supreme Court ruling, The Texas Mexican Railway Co. v. Lawrence P. Bouchet, also cleared the way for employers that do not carry workers’ compensation to fire injured workers without fearing a state retaliatory firing lawsuit. The decision was written by Greg Abbott, then a justice on the court and now the Republican attorney general and a candidate for Texas governor.
It is still illegal for employers in the workers’ comp system to retaliate against a worker for pursuing an injury claim, but the Bouchet ruling removed that prohibition for employers that do not carry the state-regulated coverage.
I now see an increasingly large number of employees who come through my office who have been injured on the job and can't get benefits or terminated for reporting an injury, or both and I simply cannot do anything for them because Texas law simply doesn't protect them. The message to Texas employees is clear: if you get hurt on the job in this state nobody cares and no one will help you. And it looks like it will stay that way as long as the governor, the attorney general, the commissioner of the Texas Workers Compensation Commission and many in the legislature remain in the pocket of big business.
More: You can read the entire New York Times report here.