WBEZ | benefits http://www.wbez.org/tags/benefits Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Hesitant to increase wages, some employers add perks instead http://www.wbez.org/programs/here-and-now/2015-11-03/hesitant-increase-wages-some-employers-add-perks-instead-113608 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/1102_gyms-biz-e1446480067207-624x356.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="attachment_95344"><img alt="Employers are providing perks, such as gym memberships, to their employers, while showing reluctance to raise wages. (E'lisa Campbell/Flickr)" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/media.wbur.org/wordpress/11/files/2015/11/1102_gyms-biz-e1446480067207-624x356.jpg" style="height: 354px; width: 620px;" title="Employers are providing perks, such as gym memberships, to their employers, while showing reluctance to raise wages. (E’lisa Campbell/Flickr)" /><p>Unemployment may be at its lowest level in seven years, but wages for workers<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/stuck-place-american-economy-113519" target="_blank"> have not been increasing</a>.</p></div><p>It appears that a number of companies are hesitant to increase wages, but are adding other benefits, such as signing bonuses, more paid time off or gym memberships.</p><p><a href="https://twitter.com/DKThomp" target="_blank">Derek Thompson</a>, senior editor at The Atlantic, joins <em>Here &amp; Now&rsquo;s </em>Peter O&rsquo;Dowd to discuss why the trend.</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2015/11/02/perks-wages-employers" target="_blank"><em>via Here &amp; Now</em></a></p></p> Tue, 03 Nov 2015 10:45:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/here-and-now/2015-11-03/hesitant-increase-wages-some-employers-add-perks-instead-113608 Receive Social Security? No increase for you next year http://www.wbez.org/programs/marketplace/2015-10-15/receive-social-security-no-increase-you-next-year-113351 <p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/handretirement.jpg" style="height: 362px; width: 620px;" title="Cost of Living Adjustment, also known as COLA, is pegged to inflation, which, like old soda, is flat. (Alana Post / Creative Commons)" /></div><p>Every year since 1975, there has been a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security and other benefits. It&#39;s pegged to inflation,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.marketplace.org/topics/economy/inflation-barely-moving-despite-feds-efforts" target="_blank">which has been pretty much flat recently</a>, leading many economists to expect there won&rsquo;t be any COLA this year. It would be the just the third time in four decades that&rsquo;s happened, all within the last five years. About 70 million people on social security and other benefit programs will be affected.</p><p>78-year-old Jane lives in subsidized, assisted living unit at&nbsp;<a href="https://www.mercyhousing.org/" target="_blank">Mercy Housing</a>&nbsp;in Knoxville, Tennessee, and relies on social security for rent, health care, and groceries. She said those things are getting more expensive, and was looking forward to a benefits increase.</p><p>Without it, she said, &quot;I think it&rsquo;s going to work a hardship on a lot of senior citizens.&rdquo; She said she&#39;ll probably have to cut back on groceries because her prescription drug prices are going up as well and she doesn&#39;t know where else to cut.</p><p>But economists say low inflation means people shouldn&rsquo;t need the adjustment. In theory, low inflation means the cost of goods shouldn&#39;t be going up. Given what we learn each month from the consumer price index, things will probably stay that way for a while yet.</p><p>&ldquo;[People] will be able to purchase as much stuff in 2016 as they did in 2015,&rdquo; with the same amount of money, said&nbsp;<a href="https://www2.bc.edu/~munnell/" target="_blank">Alicia Munnell</a>, director of the&nbsp;<a href="http://crr.bc.edu/" target="_blank">Center for Retirement Research&nbsp;</a>at Boston College.</p><p>But small changes in prices can be particularly acute for those on a fixed income. Munnell has forthcoming research comparing whether the inflation experienced by seniors differs significantly from everyone else, as some argue. She said in the&nbsp;big picture, some higher costs for seniors, like health care, are offset elsewhere.</p><p>&ldquo;There are other components that the elderly do not spend money on, such as tuition and things like that,&rdquo; she said. Younger people have to absorb rising costs of child care and education, plus spend more in certain sectors of the economy than seniors. Munnell said that balances things out on paper, even if not in the lives of every senior.</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.marketplace.org/topics/economy/receive-social-security-no-increase-you-next-year" target="_blank"><em> via Marketplace</em></a></p></p> Thu, 15 Oct 2015 11:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/marketplace/2015-10-15/receive-social-security-no-increase-you-next-year-113351 Opt-out plans let companies work without worker's comp http://www.wbez.org/news/opt-out-plans-let-companies-work-without-workers-comp-113344 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/optout2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Billy Doyle Walker loved working in the sky. He used to say he could see forever, perched high up communications towers as he applied fresh paint.</p><div id="con448584259"><p>Three years ago, working halfway up a 300-foot steel tower at the LBJ Ranch, the panoramic view included the rolling green hills and meadows of the Texas Hill Country. The tower was used by former president Lyndon B. Johnson to communicate with the White House.</p></div><p>Walker&#39;s wife, Krystle Meloy, was 23 then. She was home at the couple&#39;s apartment in New Braunfels, Texas, with their 4-month-old daughter Kaylee, when several of Walker&#39;s co-workers unexpectedly knocked at the door.</p><p>&quot;They just walked in very silent,&quot; Meloy recalls, tears forming in her eyes. &quot;They said Billy fell and he&#39;s on his way to the morgue. And I said, &#39;What?&#39;... I just fell. And we all just started crying.&quot;</p><p>What happened next to Meloy and Kaylee is indicative of an emerging trend in how workers and their families are compensated in the wake of workplace injuries or deaths. Nearly 1.5 million workers in Texas and Oklahoma do not receive state-mandated benefits under heavily-regulated workers&#39; compensation and are dependent instead on alternative, largely unregulated benefits plans controlled by employers.</p><p>State laws in both Oklahoma and Texas allow employers to opt out of workers&#39; compensation and develop their own workplace injury plans. Those plans generally cover fewer injuries, cut off benefits payments sooner, control access to doctors and even impose mandatory settlements, according to an&nbsp;<a href="https://www.propublica.org/article/inside-corporate-americas-plan-to-ditch-workers-comp">NPR and ProPublica investigation</a>. In Oklahoma, we found that most plans blatantly violate the law, yet regulators say they are powerless to respond.</p><p>NPR and ProPublica obtained nearly 120 opt-out plans used by Texas and Oklahoma companies and analyzed how this alternative to workers&#39; comp compares to the system it&#39;s replacing.</p><p>We found&nbsp;<a href="https://projects.propublica.org/graphics/workcomp-company">widespread differences in benefits among employers</a>, and restrictions and requirements that make it easier for employees to be denied coverage. Among the details in some employer plans:</p><blockquote><ul><li>Brookdale Senior Living, the nation&#39;s largest chain of assisted living facilities, does not cover most bacterial infections</li><li>Costco pays up to $600 for external hearing aids, while the cheapest model for sale at Costco costs $900</li><li>U.S. Foods, the nation&#39;s second largest food distributor, excludes any sickness or disease &quot;regardless of how contracted,&quot; potentially allowing the company to dodge work-related conditions such as heat stroke, chemical exposures or cancer</li><li>Managers at Taco Bell can accompany injured workers to doctor&#39;s appointments</li><li>Sears and many other companies can deny all benefits if workers don&#39;t report injuries by the end of their shifts.</li></ul></blockquote><p><span style="font-size:16px;"><strong><a href="http://www.propublica.org/article/inside-corporate-americas-plan-to-ditch-workers-comp">More On This Investigation</a></strong></span></p><p>The analysis also found that many plans in Texas cover medical care for only about two years, whereas workers&#39; comp pays as long as necessary. Plans exclude payments for things like wheelchair vans and chiropractors or for injuries caused by exposure to silica dust, mold or asbestos. Appeals are often controlled by employers.</p><p>&quot;What is being allowed is the employer to have absolute and complete control over every aspect of the system,&quot; says Rick Levy, an attorney for the Texas AFL-CIO. &quot;No negotiation. No compromise. No standards. No due process.&quot;</p><p>Most of the opt-out plans we reviewed in Texas &ndash; officially known there as &quot;non-subscription&quot; plans &mdash; strictly limit payments for catastrophic injuries and deaths on the job. That&#39;s what Meloy encountered when her husband died.</p><p>His employer, Ransor, Inc., paid a lump sum death benefit of $250,000, which mostly went into a trust for their daughter and paid for bills and a place to live. If Ransor had subscribed to worker&#39;s comp, the state-prescribed formula for death benefits could have paid Meloy and Kaylee as much as $1 million during the rest of their lives.</p><div id="res448631802"><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Billy Doyle Walker with his daughter Kaylee on the day she was born. Four months later he died after falling from a tower he was painting. The opt-out plan his employer uses provided his family with only a quarter of the benefits they may have received under the state's workers' compensation law." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/10/14/workerscomp-opt-billy-walker-8d68edba0c498886afd1c5bed031c081207e2bd6-s300-c85.jpg" style="height: 224px; width: 300px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: left;" title="Billy Doyle Walker with his daughter Kaylee on the day she was born. Four months later he died after falling from a tower he was painting. The opt-out plan his employer uses provided his family with only a quarter of the benefits they may have received under the state's workers' compensation law. (Courtesy of Krystle Meloy)" /></div><div><div><p>Without her husband&#39;s income, Meloy struggles to get by on Social Security and is applying for food stamps, and says the jobs she can get don&#39;t pay enough to cover day care and other living expenses.</p></div></div></div><p>&quot;I feel desperate,&quot; Meloy says, three years after Walker&#39;s death. &quot;When you die that tragically and you&#39;re a good person... I just feel he was worth more. It&#39;s sad.&quot;</p><p>Proponents of the opt-out plans say they are not designed to reduce benefits, but rather to impose some sanity on a bureaucratic system that is expensive, slow and inefficient, and that often winds up forcing injured employees to go to court.</p><p>&quot;We&#39;re talking about reengineering one of the pillars of social justice that has not seen significant innovation in 100 years,&quot; says Bill Minick, the president of PartnerSource, a Texas company that helps draft opt-out laws and wrote many alternative injury plans. PartnerSource also setup opt-out advocacy and lobbying groups, and consults for some of the biggest and best-known employers in America.</p><p>&quot;We can take care of injured workers more effectively, get them back to their families and their work as productive members of society [and] save incredible amounts of money that create new jobs,&quot; Minick adds.</p><p>The opt-out system saves employers 40 to 90 percent in claims costs, according to Minick.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s not about reducing benefits,&quot; he says. &quot;We can objectively show you that we have saved our clients over a billion dollars against Texas workers&#39; comp over the past decade. When you&#39;re saving that kind of money, you don&#39;t have to get hung up on squeezing the employee.&quot;</p><div id="res448632046"><div data-crop-type="" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Bill Minick is the president of PartnerSource, a Texas company that helps draft laws that lets companies opt out of state workers' compensation plans." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/10/14/workerscomp-opt-bill-minick-1d05a0df8c87f8d90608118f1a8fdfededea3e81-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 405px; width: 540px;" title="Bill Minick is the president of PartnerSource, a Texas company that helps draft laws that lets companies opt out of state workers' compensation plans. (Picasa/Dylan Hollingsworth for ProPublica)" /></div><div data-crop-type="">Minick&#39;s company had no role in Ransor&#39;s workplace plan. When we told him about Meloy&#39;s plight, his voice softened.</div></div><p>&quot;This is a difficult situation it sounds like,&quot; Minick said, &quot;There&#39;s no occupational injury system that we found yet that will provide perfect results in 100 percent of cases. What we need to consider is what system is going to provide the best result in more cases.&quot;</p><p>As&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/series/394891172/insult-to-injury-americas-vanishing-worker-protections">NPR and ProPublica have reported</a>, in the past 13 years legislatures in 33 states have cut benefits, made it more difficult to qualify for benefits or given employers more control over medical treatment. Some states went through protracted, repeated and often painful efforts to rewrite workers&#39; comp statutes.</p><p>Opt-out plans provide a different path. A single piece of legislation in each state gives employers the ability to write their own workplace injury benefit plans. They avoid legislative battles over every benefit and gain far more flexibility.</p><p>Texas employers have been opting out of workers&#39; comp for decades. In neighboring Oklahoma, it&#39;s only been possible since last year.</p><p>The changes found in Oklahoma&#39;s opt-out plans include new requirements for reporting workplace injuries. Workers&#39; comp gives employees 30 days to report. Most opt-out plans require notification by the end of the shift or within 24 hours.</p><p>Last March, Rachel Jenkins was denied benefits for a workplace injury witnessed by her supervisor at a company called ResCare. The single mother of four was a job coach and personal care aide for mentally disabled adults when a client was suddenly attacked by another man. Jenkins intervened.</p><p>&quot;I was ... trying to grab this guy off my client because he was beating him,&quot; Jenkins recalls. They fell to the ground &quot;and that&#39;s when I heard my back crack... I had to put all of my strength into this man and that&#39;s when I hurt my shoulder.&quot;</p><div id="res448632777"><div><div><p>Jenkins went to the emergency room and was given pain medication that knocked her out, she says, into the following day. Still groggy, her mother drove her back to work. ResCare sent her to a company-selected doctor and 27 hours after the incident, she called the ResCare injury reporting hotline.</p></div></div></div><p>A ResCare claims representative told Jenkins she was too late &quot;because I didn&#39;t call the number within 24 hours,&quot; Jenkins recalled. &quot;And I kept...telling her I went to the emergency room. They put me on some powerful medicine ... She was like &#39;I understand you got four kids but there&#39;s nothing I can do.&#39;&quot;</p><p>Nothing Jenkins said to ResCare made a difference.<img alt="Rachel Jenkins welcomes home her daughters Kyonna Jenkins, (left), and Ti'yonna Hill from school in Boley, Okla. Rachel injured her shoulder while working as a nursing assistant and was originally denied workers' comp benefits because she reported the incident three hours too late." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/10/14/workerscomp-opt-rachel-jenkins2-d3df04c5e23f3a58eb1364ea4eb78c278e066ec5-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 464px; width: 620px;" title="Rachel Jenkins welcomes home her daughters Kyonna Jenkins, (left), and Ti'yonna Hill from school in Boley, Okla. Rachel injured her shoulder while working as a nursing assistant and was originally denied workers' comp benefits because she reported the incident three hours too late. (Nick Oxford/Nick Oxford for Propublica)" /></p><div id="res448635513">&quot;Everybody ought to report injuries quickly,&quot; says Bob Burke, Jenkins&#39; attorney and a former Secretary of Commerce in Oklahoma who was involved in major overhauls of the state&#39;s workers&#39; comp statutes.</div><p>&quot;But ... just giving the employer the right to ... deny all benefits no matter how serious the injury is because it was not reported to a toll-free number within 24 hours I believe is wrong.&quot;</p><p>Jenkins&#39; supervisor in Oklahoma City complained to corporate officials in Dallas and 16 days after the incident, ResCare agreed to provide benefits.</p><p>&quot;Simply by voicing the concern and by having the claim reviewed informally, it was determined that that was not a good denial. It was not fair to the injured worker,&quot; says Minick of PartnerSource, which wrote the ResCare plan.</p><p>&quot;And so the system worked,&quot; Minick adds.</p><p>That&#39;s not how Jenkins sees it, after enduring 16 days of pain while unable to afford treatment and worried about getting back to work.</p><p>&quot;I went through Hell, a whole lot of pain where I was in tears,&quot; Jenkins said. &quot;I was just thinking about &#39;How am I going to take care of my kids?&#39;&quot;</p><p>Minick, along with a lobbyist for the State Chamber of Oklahoma and an attorney for Unit Corporation, an oil and gas developer, claim credit for drafting the law that brought opt-out to Oklahoma, along with major changes in workers&#39; comp.</p><p>His company, PartnerSource, also wrote 53 of Oklahoma&#39;s 59 opt-out plans, for employers ranging from small health care companies to major national firms, including Macy&#39;s, Swift Transportation, Dillard&#39;s Department Stores, Big Lots and Cabela&#39;s.</p><p>On paper, the benefits in the Oklahoma plans look similar to &ndash; or better than &ndash; state workers&#39; comp. Both replace at least 70 percent of workers&#39; wages. Some plans pay 90 or even 100 percent of wages.</p><p>But benefits paid under opt out plans are taxable, while workers&#39; comp benefits are not. An analysis by ProPublica found that 80 percent of the plans actually provide lower benefits.</p><p>NPR and ProPublica discovered a departure from state law in almost every Oklahoma plan. The law permits lump-sum payments of benefits instead of stringing them out for years. These settlements must be voluntary for injured workers. But almost every PartnerSource plan includes a section titled &quot;Mandatory Final Compromise and Settlement.&quot;</p><p>The provision gives employers the right to determine when to settle and how much to pay. If workers don&#39;t accept the terms, the plans say, &quot;no further benefits will be payable.&quot;</p><p>The state&#39;s insurance department approved every one of those plans.</p><p>NPR and ProPublica cited this inconsistency between the plans and the law in emails and then an interview with officials at the Oklahoma Insurance Department. General Counsel Gordon Amini acknowledges the discrepancy and says the agency hadn&#39;t noticed it until we asked about it.</p><p>Amini also says his agency was powerless to reject plans that flout the law.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s my opinion that the insurance department does not have the statutory authority to disapprove or deny based on the content of the benefit plan,&quot; Amini says.</p><p>In fact, NPR and ProPublica reviewed more than 2,000 pages of internal emails between the agency and PartnerSource and employers. The emails describe problems with plans and suggest corrections. In almost every instance, the agency only cited errors in punctuation, spelling, grammar and even formatting. There is no mention of the mandatory settlements issue.</p><p>One email between an agency lawyer and a chain of long-term care facilities notes a missing period in a paragraph that causes a run-on sentence. The same paragraph says the employer promises &quot;no interference&quot; with the doctor-patient relationship while also warning workers that seeing their own doctor, instead of a doctor selected by the company, &quot;may result in a complete denial&quot; of benefits.</p><p>&quot;There is no regulation of these plans,&quot; says Burke, Jenkins&#39; attorney. &quot;We can&#39;t as a society say, &#39;Okay, employers, write whatever plan you want to write, provide whatever benefits or lack of benefits you want to, set up whatever scheme you want to administer those benefits, and by the way, no one is looking over your shoulder.&#39;&quot;</p><p>Amini says the agency contacted PartnerSource after we discovered the mandatory settlement language. Minick says PartnerSource is planning to revise that language. But Amini admits that the agency can&#39;t hold PartnerSource to its promise.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s up to the employee to enforce the requirements in regard to benefits,&quot; Amini says.</p><p>That&#39;s especially offensive to Burke, who is challenging Oklahoma&#39;s opt-out law on constitutional grounds.</p><p>&quot;In every other area of the law some government agency maintains accountability,&quot; Burke says. &quot;It&#39;s asinine to think that any accountability factor would be put on the backs of the victims.&quot;</p><p>The strict reporting requirements were borrowed from similar plans in Texas, where the workers&#39; comp law also gives employees 30 days to report injuries.</p><p><strong><a data-metrics="{&quot;category&quot;:&quot;Story to Story&quot;,&quot;action&quot;:&quot;Click Internal Link&quot;,&quot;label&quot;:&quot;http:\/\/www.npr.org\/series\/385540559\/injured-nurses&quot;}" href="http://www.npr.org/series/385540559/injured-nurses">Injured Nurses: Hospitals Fail To Protect Nursing Staff From Becoming Patients</a></strong></p><p>Two years after her injury at work at a nursing home in Stephenville, Texas, nursing assistant Rebecca Amador is still in pain and out of work.</p><p>It&#39;s &quot;like I&#39;m in a fire and I can&#39;t get out of that fire,&quot; says Amador, now 53.</p><p>The day she was injured, she was assisting a 250-pound man. He was holding on to her when the brake on his wheelchair slipped. Amador bore the full weight of the patient and felt a pinch in her back.</p><p>&quot;I thought, well, it&#39;s been a long day. I&#39;m tired,&quot; Amador recalls. &quot;So I paid no mind to it. I figured it would go away. It usually goes away.&quot;</p><p>But overnight the pain became so bad she could hardly breathe. Early the next morning, she returned to work, reported the injury and was sent to the hospital. But her employer, Fundamental Long Term Care, rejected any further care or benefits saying Amador hadn&#39;t reported the injury by the end of her shift. Only 19 hours had passed.</p><p>If Amador had worked for Fundamental in any of the 12 other states in which the company operated and had workers&#39; compensation, the injury would have been covered.</p><p>&quot;I think they did me wrong, me being there so long [and] helping them as much as I can,&quot; Amador says, noting 14 years of work for the nursing home. &quot;I cannot believe they did this to me. When I most need them, they don&#39;t know me anymore.&quot;</p><p>A spokeswoman for Fundamental declined to discuss the case.</p><p>Even when employers do provide benefits, workers still sometimes get less under the opt-out plans, NPR and ProPublica found.</p><p>Joe Becker, a 44-year-old truck driver in Abilene, Texas, received the medical care and surgery he needed, as well as money to replace lost pay, after he stepped down from his flatbed trailer and herniated several discs in his lower back. That was in June of 2012.</p><p>After 104 weeks, all his benefits stopped. His employer, Dent Truck Lines, has a workplace injury plan that cuts off benefits after two years. Workers&#39; comp provides those same payments for life, if necessary.</p><p>Becker needed one more surgery to ease his disabling pain. But he couldn&#39;t afford to pay for the procedure or all his medications himself. He was also unable to work.</p><p>&quot;Sometimes I have to make a choice,&quot; he says. &quot;Do I buy my pain meds ... or do I buy groceries?&quot;</p><div id="res448631397"><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Joe Becker at his home in Abilene, Texas. Nearly two years after hurting his back at work, his benefits have stopped even though he's still in pain and in need of another surgery." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/10/14/workerscomp-opt-joe-becker-78f1bbf7449a64f604f42e5947e25ea95a4f71a7-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 464px; width: 620px;" title="Joe Becker at his home in Abilene, Texas. Nearly two years after hurting his back at work, his benefits have stopped even though he's still in pain and in need of another surgery. (Picasa/Dylan Hollingsworth for ProPublica)" /></div></div><p>Dent Truck Lines owner Cliff Dent says the opt-out plan costs him 50 percent less than workers&#39; comp.</p><p>Workers&#39; comp &quot;is so expensive,&quot; Dent says. &quot;Like everything the government controls, they charge you so much you have to go out of business.&quot;</p><p>The opt-out alternative to workers&#39; comp &quot;hearkens so unabashedly back to before the industrial revolution in terms of attitudes of employers,&quot; says Levy of the Texas AFL-CIO.</p><p>Minick of PartnerSource insists employers care more for workers now in his &quot;free market&quot; solution to a &quot;hyper-regulated environment.&quot;</p><p>&quot;Workers&#39; compensation systems grew up at a time when employers did not care about their employees,&quot; Minick says. &quot;If one got hurt, you cast him aside and brought in the next immigrant to fill that job. Now companies are competing to be the best place to work.&quot;</p><p>Minick also points out that opt out employers in Texas can still be sued for workplace injuries. They give up immunity from workplace injury lawsuits when they forego workers&#39; comp.</p><p>Protection from lawsuits is a fundamental element of workers&#39; comp. It is known as the &quot;Grand Bargain&quot; and &quot;exclusive remedy&quot; and it exists because employers agreed to pay medical and wage replacement benefits, on a no-fault basis, even for life, if necessary.</p><p>So opting out removes the shield and the ever-present risk of lawsuits provides a powerful incentive to treat workers right.</p><p>The plans also claim that they are regulated by a federal workplace benefits law, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act or ERISA, even though the law specifically excludes benefit plans &quot;maintained solely for the purpose of complying with applicable workmen&#39;s compensation laws.&quot;</p><p>If ERISA applies to opt-out plans, employers are able to assert federal court jurisdiction and keep disputes out of state workers&#39; comp commissions and state courts. The burden of proof is higher for workers under ERISA and the federal court process can take far longer.</p><p>Going to court hasn&#39;t helped Joe Becker. By the time his negligence lawsuit even gets to court, he&#39;ll have an entire year of pain without the surgery he needs.</p><p>Krystle Meloy tried to sue. Her wrongful death lawsuit seemed promising because Ransor was cited and fined for safety violations in the death of Billy Walker. Minick cites the possibility of a suit as justification for Ransor&#39;s $250,000 death benefit because Meloy had the opportunity to recover much more in a lawsuit.</p><p>But, shortly after she filed her suit, Ransor filed for bankruptcy.</p><p>Minick is working to spread the opt-out gospel to South Carolina and Tennessee, where a lobbying group he formed has bills pending. His goal is a dozen opt out states by the end of the decade.</p><p>&quot;This is what we do,&quot; he says. &quot;All you can do is pray that the Lord gives you a calling where you can really do good for society ... That&#39;s what gets us up every day.&quot;</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/10/14/448544926/texas-oklahoma-permit-companies-to-dump-worker-compensation-plans?ft=nprml&amp;f=448544926"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Wed, 14 Oct 2015 14:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/opt-out-plans-let-companies-work-without-workers-comp-113344 Boosting family leave is often about getting workers to stay http://www.wbez.org/news/boosting-family-leave-often-about-getting-workers-stay-112785 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/nestle.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>This has been a banner year for employees seeking greater paid parental leave.&nbsp;<a href="https://newsroom.accenture.com/industries/corporate-citizenship-diversity/accenture-increases-us-paid-maternity-leave-to-16-weeks.htm">Accenture</a>,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.blogjnj.com/2015/04/jj-and-the-21st-century-working-family/">Johnson &amp; Johnson</a>,&nbsp;<a href="http://blog.netflix.com/2015/08/starting-now-at-netflix-unlimited.html">Netflix</a>,&nbsp;<a href="http://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2015/08/05/the-employee-experience-at-microsoft-aligning-benefits-to-our-culture/">Microsoft</a>,&nbsp;<a href="http://money.cnn.com/2015/06/01/pf/goldman-sachs-paternity-leave/">Goldman Sachs</a>&nbsp;and the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/07/08/421083589/navy-marine-corps-now-offer-18-weeks-of-maternity-leave">U.S. Navy</a>&nbsp;are among those who have increased these benefits for employees this year.</p><p>It&#39;s a big boost for some new parents. But advocates note many families are left behind.</p><p>One fact about U.S. workplace policy has galled Ellen Bravo for a very long time: &quot;There is no federally required paid leave of any kind,&quot; she says.</p><p>Bravo is executive director of Family Values @ Work, an advocacy coalition. She says the U.S. is the only major developed country offering no such leave.</p><p>Only 13 percent of U.S. workers have paid family leave, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last year.</p><p>But polls show there is increasing political support for it. Congress is considering&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/04/22/401239857/is-it-time-to-make-medical-and-family-leave-paid">a mandated paid medical or parental leave</a>&nbsp;paid for out of an insurance fund. Three states have already created systems like that, and 18 more are considering them.</p><p>Bravo says employers are finding good business reasons to extend their leave policies &mdash; like wellness, recruitment and retention. But she worries individual managers might undermine them by discouraging their use.</p><p>&quot;If you want to be promoted here, if you want to be seen as a committed and devoted employee, you get that leave, but you better not take much of it,&quot; she says.</p><p>Bravo says companies must not only offer paid leave, but encourage workers to use it. &quot;You really have to change the culture and change the accountability from managers and how they supervise people,&quot; she says.</p><p>Adobe recently nearly doubled its paid parental leave policy to&nbsp;<a href="https://blogs.adobe.com/conversations/2015/08/donna-morris-enhanced-leave.html">up to 26 weeks</a>. Chief People Officer Donna Morris says it&#39;s not just a formality. &quot;We expect people will take that period of time and in fact we want managers to look at it as a growth and development opportunity for others,&quot; she says.</p><p>Since the 1960s, college-educated workers have seen their paid parental leave increase nearly five-fold, while for high-school graduates, it has only doubled, according to the Census Bureau.</p><p>Vicki Shabo, vice president at the National Partnership for Women and Families, says today&#39;s leave policies have a socio-economic divide. Netflix&#39;s year-long parental leave policy, for example, only applies to its digital division employees,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/08/10/431273033/netflix-still-facing-questions-over-its-new-parental-leave-policy">leaving its DVD distribution centers out</a>.</p><p>&quot;As we saw with Netflix, sometimes companies have one set of policies for their most highly compensated ... white-collar workers and then a different set of policies or no policies at all for their hourly workers or lower skilled workers,&quot; Shabo says.</p><p>Companies view leave benefits as a recruitment tool, especially in fields where talent is scarce, or where companies are trying to attract more female workers, says Bruce Elliott, benefits manager for the Society for Human Resource Management.</p><p>&quot;The gender gap in Silicon Valley ... is kind of pushing this to the forefront,&quot; he says.</p><p>That is creating pressure on other industries as well. Judy Cascapera is chief people officer at Nestle, which in June&nbsp;<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/26/nestle-maternity-leave_n_7674246.html">more than doubled its paid leave</a>&nbsp;for new parents for its 340,000 employees worldwide.</p><p>&quot;Right now, more than ever, we are competing with different industries,&quot; Cascapera says. &quot;We&#39;re right next to Silicon Valley in California and we see a lot of employees now coming back-and-forth or being poached by other industries.&quot;</p><p>So in order to get them to stay, she says, companies are being more generous about letting them go on leave.</p><p>&mdash;<em><a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/09/01/436402797/boosting-family-leave-is-often-about-getting-workers-to-stay?ft=nprml&amp;f=436402797" target="_blank">NPR News</a></em></p></p> Tue, 01 Sep 2015 10:09:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/boosting-family-leave-often-about-getting-workers-stay-112785 Indiana's veterans service officers help vets get more benefits http://www.wbez.org/news/indianas-veterans-service-officers-help-vets-get-more-benefits-111398 <p><p>&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/indianavso016_custom-e39d107fe13df481bde64af40dd8510467f310ea-s1500-c85.jpg" style="height: 427px; width: 620px;" title="Grant County Veterans Service Officer Bob Kelley, right, works with World War II Army veteran Frederick Kern at the Grant County Government Building in Marion, Ind., on Monday. Aaron P. Bernstein for NPR" /></div><p><em>NPR &mdash; along with seven public radio stations around the country &mdash; is chronicling the lives of America&#39;s troops where they live. We&#39;re calling the project &quot;</em><em><a href="http://www.npr.org/series/363340041/back-at-base">Back at Base</a></em><em>.&quot; This story is Part 2 of a three-part&nbsp;</em><em><a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/13/376134776/va-data-show-disparities-in-veteran-benefits-spending" target="_blank">series</a></em><em>&nbsp;about veteran benefits.</em></p><p>The latest data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs show Indiana &mdash; which has the 35th highest number of veterans in the U.S. &mdash; receives $4,935 per veteran each year. If they received as much as Utah &mdash; which has the 35th highest return &mdash; Indiana vets would receive on average another $558. And if they received the national average of $6,088, that&#39;s another $1,153.</p><p>Retired Brig. Gen. Jim Bauerele has spent years working to match veterans with their benefits.</p><p>&quot;I think Indiana has neglected veterans,&quot; he says. &quot;I think veterans are uneducated as to what their benefits are, and there has been little effort undertaken to communicate and get that to veterans.&quot;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/map-va-benefits-in.png" style="height: 462px; width: 320px; float: right; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="Source: NPR analysis of Department of Veterans Affairs data Credit: Robert Benincasa and Alyson Hurt/NPR" />Back in 2010, a VA survey found that nationwide&nbsp;<a href="http://www.va.gov/SURVIVORS/docs/NVSSurveyFinalWeightedReport.pdf" target="_blank">fewer than half of veterans</a>&nbsp;understood their benefits, whether it was medical care, college tuition or pension and disability payments.</p><p>There are all sorts of reasons why veterans in one area may not receive as many benefits as veterans in another. Veterans from different eras, such as Vietnam or Iraq, can receive different amounts. Older vets might receive more benefits.</p><p><a href="http://www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/Applying.asp" target="_blank">VA applications</a>&nbsp;are also notoriously difficult to complete. Vets don&#39;t always get the help and guidance they need.</p><p>Bauerele says one reason for the poor showing in Indiana can be traced to what are called&nbsp;<a href="http://nacvso.org/" target="_blank">veterans service officers</a>&nbsp;(VSOs). County-level VSOs are part of a system operating in 28 states, and they&#39;re supposed to help vets get the benefits they&#39;ve earned. Some VSOs operate on the state level, and veterans groups like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars have their own VSOs, which operate in most states.</p><p>Some county-level VSOs in Indiana operate on a shoestring.</p><p>&quot;Some counties have an officer who is part-time, works three days a week, part-time and doesn&#39;t even have an office or a computer,&quot; Bauerele says.</p><p>So depending on where they live, one vet might find an office with a full-time staff trained to file paperwork with the VA, while another might find a closed office, or a VSO who can&#39;t navigate the system.</p><p>And without help, filing a VA claim can be tough.</p><p>Tom Nichols, a 29-year-old Indiana National Guard veteran, has struggled to file his disability claim. After returning from Iraq in 2010, he became addicted to drugs and alcohol. Eventually, he landed in treatment for PTSD.</p><p>Not only does Nichols not understand his benefits &mdash; he doesn&#39;t really know the best way to get them, either. He hasn&#39;t tried a VSO because he says it&#39;s too much trouble.</p><p>&quot;I&#39;ve got to go to some VFW to track down this guy, and it&#39;s only the first Thursday of every month,&quot; Nichols says.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/indianavso014_custom-2468c15859245a2a7f6c60de83e60d06824a0531-s1500-c85.jpg" style="height: 405px; width: 620px;" title="Pamphlets detailing services available to veterans are displayed in VSO Bob Kelley's office in Marion, Ind. Aaron P. Bernstein for NPR" /></div><p>So he filled out the paperwork himself. To some of the medical questions, he just wrote &quot;ask my doctor,&quot; which could be part of the reason his claim didn&#39;t go through. Advocates say the VA rejects claims for reasons as simple as using an outdated version of the form.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s basically on me to go out there and receive this,&quot; Nichols says.</p><p>But a trained VSO can cut months and years off the time it takes veterans to receive benefits from the VA.</p><p>&quot;You never want to apply for benefits on your own, unless you have some experience with it,&quot; says Bob Kelley, the VSO for Grant County, one of the Indiana counties receiving the most from the VA.</p><p>The VA&#39;s own data show&nbsp;<a href="http://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/surveysandstudies/state_variance_study-volumes_1_2.pdf" target="_blank">vets who give VSOs power of attorney</a>&nbsp;receive more than double the disability benefits of vets who file their own claims.</p><p>David McLenachen, acting deputy undersecretary for disability assistance for the VA, agrees that VSOs routinely help the system work.</p><p>&quot;It can be overwhelming for somebody to prepare a claim and submit it,&quot; he says. &quot;The VSOs can be very successful at helping with the claim process.&quot;</p><p>Kelley also goes to nursing homes and Veterans of Foreign Wars halls to tell veterans about their benefits, often on his own time. He would do more, but his county won&#39;t pay for an assistant until January.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s not a career,&quot; Kelley says. &quot;In the state of Indiana, it&#39;s not a career. When I retired from the military after 25 years, I was hired on at $28,000, and that&#39;s the average salary.&quot;</p><p>But the state is trying to give VSOs more resources in order to ensure all veterans have access to them.</p><p>In the past year, the state paid for software and training so county VSOs could file claims electronically. And for the first time, the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs set up workshops to explain federal benefits to vets.</p><p>Bauerele is part of the Military Veterans Coalition of Indiana, which is pushing to reform the system in Indiana. He&#39;d like to see better pay for county officers, and he wants the state to offer more help. VSOs like the American Legion already process thousands of VA claims.</p><p>&quot;Every dollar you give a veteran is new money from outside the state coming into the state,&quot; Bauerele says. &quot;That&#39;ll pay for a lot of Cadillacs, a lot of homes.&quot;</p><p><em>NPR&#39;s Robert Benincasa contributed to this report.</em></p><p>-<em><a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/14/374055310/indiana-s-veterans-service-officers-operate-on-a-shoe-string">via NPR News</a></em></p></p> Wed, 14 Jan 2015 08:47:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/indianas-veterans-service-officers-help-vets-get-more-benefits-111398 Allstate to trim retirement benefits http://www.wbez.org/news/allstate-trim-retirement-benefits-108085 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Allstate_130717_AYC.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Less than a month after it laid off more than 300 workers, Allstate Corp. announced on Monday plans to trim employee retirement benefits.</p><p>The Northbrook-based company said the move will boost its book value from $1.70 to $2 per share.</p><p>Jim Ryan, a senior analyst at Morningstar Inc., said the move will be difficult for employees but that it&rsquo;s what the market dictates.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s certainly something common among a lot of companies,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;To the extent that if a lot of companies do it and others don&rsquo;t, those [who] don&rsquo;t are disadvantaged on a cost basis.&rdquo;</p><p>Ryan also said he believed that Allstate would have a strong future because of plans to broaden its e-surance and online customer base.&nbsp;</p><p>Beginning this summer, the company will no longer offer life insurance to its retirees and introduce a new formula for employee pensions, reducing its contribution obligation.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid--6673237-ed63-921a-926c-01b586830a17"><em>Aimee Chen is a WBEZ business reporting intern. Follow her at <a href="https://twitter.com/AimeeYuyiChen">@AimeeYuyiChen</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 17 Jul 2013 11:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/allstate-trim-retirement-benefits-108085 Changing Gears: A live conversation about the future of unions http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/2011-03-08/changing-gears-live-conversation-about-future-unions-83435 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//Wisconsin Labor Protests_Getty_Justin Sullivan.JPG" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-March/2011-03-08/Wisconsin Labor Protests_Getty_Justin Sullivan.JPG" style="width: 496px; height: 361px;" alt="" title="Getty/Justin Sullivan" /></p><p>As legislative fights over the rights and benefits of public sector employees continue in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/19/us/19union.html">some are calling this a watershed moment</a> for Big Labor.&nbsp;</p><p>Historically, the Great Lakes states have been a <a href="http://www.google.com/search?q=history+of+organized+labor+in+the+midwest&amp;ie=utf-8&amp;oe=utf-8&amp;aq=t&amp;rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&amp;client=firefox-a#q=history+of+organized+labor+in+the+midwest&amp;hl=en&amp;client=firefox-a&amp;hs=IWh&amp;rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&amp;prmd=ivns&amp;tbs=tl:1&amp;tbo=u&amp;ei=vnB2Tff2L8Gp8AbFr4X2CA&amp;sa=X&amp;oi=timeline_result&amp;ct=title&amp;resnum=11&amp;ved=0CGQQ5wIwCg&amp;bav=on.2,or.&amp;fp=843bcea0b5a68ac4">bedrock of the labor movement</a> - going all the way back to the <a href="http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/571.html">labor struggles of the late 19th century</a>.&nbsp; But as more midwestern states and taxpayers find themselves strapped for cash, unions are coming under fire.&nbsp;</p><p>And the conversation is not just about pensions and health care benefits.&nbsp; It also includes curbing or eliminating collective bargaining rights.&nbsp;</p><p>That's raising an even bigger question:&nbsp; Should the Great Lakes states should follow the lead of their Southern counterparts and adopt expanded Right-to-Work laws?</p><p>That's just one of the questions at the heart of the Changing Gears live special Tuesday at 1pm CT called &quot;Hard Labor&quot;.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>We're talking with a range of experts about the current battles - and their possible implications for organized labor in the industrial Midwest.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Do unions have too much influence?&nbsp; Not enough? &nbsp;And what role should unions play in the economic future of our region?</p><p>Click on the audio icon at the top of the page to hear the special broadcast.</p><p><em>Changing Gears is an editorial project by WBEZ Chicago, Michigan Radio, and Ideastream in&nbsp;Cleveland exploring the future of the industrial Midwest.</em></p><p><iframe scrolling="no" height="550px" frameborder="0" width="470px" src="http://www.coveritlive.com/index2.php/option=com_altcaster/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=ab22b5cde8/height=550/width=470" allowtransparency="true">&lt;a href="http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=ab22b5cde8" &gt;Changing Gears "Hard Labor" Live Chat&lt;/a&gt;</iframe></p></p> Tue, 08 Mar 2011 17:38:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/2011-03-08/changing-gears-live-conversation-about-future-unions-83435 Time, benefits running out for jobless Hoosiers http://www.wbez.org/story/benefits/time-benefits-running-out-jobless-hoosiers <p><p>Things could go from bad to worse this weekend for thousands of unemployed Indiana residents. Beginning this Sunday, federal unemployment benefits will run out.</p><p>Many who are out of work are on federal extension 1 (EEUC &ndash; Emergency Extended Unemployment Compenstation), which provides 20 weeks of federal assistance.</p><p>But workers will lose those benefits because the U.S. Congress has been unwilling to extend them.</p><p>&ldquo;Based on this, we&rsquo;re estimating about 4,000 Hoosiers a week will begin exhausting their benefits as of this Sunday,&rdquo; said Valarie Kroeger, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, the state&rsquo;s unemployment services agency.</p><p>But the draught on unemployment benefits will likely continue. Even more unemployed Hoosiers are at risk of losing benefits as the weeks go on, Kroeger said.</p><p>According to Kroeger, an additional 16,000 people are on the Extended Benefit (EB), which provides up to 13 additional weeks of assistance through the federal government. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a benefit of last resort,&rdquo; Kroeger said.</p><p>Many Hoosiers on start to lose EB benefits starting Dec. 12.</p><p>Kroeger said unless Congress extends unemployment benefits for all programs, there&rsquo;s not much states like Indiana can do.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;re Congress. They can do pretty much whatever they want,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>But Kroeger said the state of Indiana can still provide some services to unemployed residents.</p><p>&ldquo;Our Work One centers can help Hoosiers get back in the workforce. Whether it be through resume development, whether they need to brush up on their career skills, computer skills or if they need training,&rdquo; Kroeger said. &ldquo;We also have business consultants that are out in the community working with local businesses and they know who&rsquo;s hiring. So if you come to our Work One centers we can work with you to find someone who is hiring in your field and help you get your foot in the door.&rdquo;</p><p>Unemployment news isn&rsquo;t much better in Illinois. The Illinois Department of Employment Security estimates 127,000 people in the state could lose jobless benefits this month.&nbsp;</p></p> Sat, 04 Dec 2010 16:07:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/benefits/time-benefits-running-out-jobless-hoosiers