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Ohio Gov.: Labor, management must negotiate workers’ comp reforms

Republican lawmakers in Ohio and organized labor interests in the state have historically been at loggerheads over system reforms and proposed changes to Ohio’s workers’ compensation program.

Republicans supported major benefit cuts in 1997 that were overturned in a referendum. In 2006, then-Gov. Bob Taft signed business-friendly legislation sponsored by his party that reduced the amount of total-disability designations considered permanent. The newly enacted law also cut down on the number of weeks that workers injured on the job could continue receiving a partial paycheck as they were looking for new work.

Until recently, current Gov. John Kasich has been strongly espousing workers’ comp benefit cuts and further consideration of privatizing the program. In the recent wake of a stinging defeat for Senate Bill 5, however, which sought to enact a strong anti-union collective bargaining law, his comments have moved markedly toward the center and become more conciliatory toward labor. Kasich recently spoke of “the need for both labor and management to sit down and negotiate.”

Workers’ representatives, undoubtedly buoyed by poll results, don’t seem overly inclined to do that.

“I’m surprised (by Kasich’s call for compromise),” said one labor advocate, “but I’m pleased because that is how workers’ comp reform should be done — a bargain between business and labor.”

Both sides agree that changes can be made to make the system cheaper and more competitive, but they differ on what those changes should be.

“It isn’t about labor vs. management, it’s about addressing the huge cost of doing business in Ohio,” says Roger Geiger, the executive director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, “Kasich promises talks on new workers’ comp plan” Nov. 17, 2011