Proposed changes to the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA) “will negatively affect public servants and their families,” APWU Human Relations Director Sue Carney said in testimony [PDF] before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. The Department of Labor’s proposed Federal Injured Employees Re-employment Act (FIERA), if adopted as written, would strip injured workers of benefits.
At a congressional hearing on May 12, “Reviewing Workers’ Compensation for Federal Employees,” Carney enumerated significant deficiencies in the proposed legislation, stating that the sweeping changes proposed in FIERA provisions would “bring additional favor to employing agencies; cause unnecessary harm, in some cases irreparable harm, to injured workers and their families, and do little to promote the non-adversarial program FECA is intended to be.”
“They should not be permitted to stand,” she said.
Among other sweeping changes proposed by the Department of Labor, FIERA would grant authority to place employees with temporary medical restrictions into OWCP’s vocational rehabilitation program; would permit a reduction in wage compensation even when workers are unable to find suitable work; and would reduce benefits for total and partial disability when injured workers reaches retirement age.
The APWU also objected to proposals that would corral all injured workers, even those with existing approved claims, into FIERA — regardless of their individual medical circumstances. In addition, the union opposed provisions that would reduce income from families of injured workers.
“Injured workers do not reap greater benefits, nor do they lack motivation to return to work when capable, as some have wrongly implied,” Carney testified. “In addition to the physical, mental, and emotional pain that workplace injuries bring, it is important to understand the losses compensationers presently suffer before we consider asking more of these workers.”
The APWU pointed out that the FECA represents a long-standing agreement between the government and federal workers: Its primary purpose is to shield injured federal employees and their families from loss, while limiting the employers’ liabilities.
The Department of Labor failed to support its claims that the proposals would “produce potential cost savings of approximately $400 million over a 10-year period for the American taxpayer,” Carney said. The APWU refuted the figure, pointing out that not all of the costs related to workplace injuries are borne by taxpayers.
Establishing procedures that favor employers over injured workers does little to maintain a fair and equitable atmosphere, she said. “Shrouding them as ‘modernization, return-to-work and administration simplification’ is disingenuous.”
The union believes that the current law should be improved to create more meaningful safety and health mandates to protect workers, and provide better mechanisms to enforce them, Carney said. “APWU feels strongly that the FECA should continue to strive to be a model program, not work to be comparable to insufficient state programs.”
The union offered suggestions to improve the program that would provide better training for claims examiners; improve outreach to employee representatives, physicians, and claimants; and grant OWCP authority to compel employers who have been skirting return-to-work obligations to comply.
“Before we consider passing legislative changes, we must ensure they are meaningful changes,” Carney said, “and examine how the consequences of our actions will impact workers and their families.”
Other witnesses at the hearing were Daniel Bertoni, Director of Education, Workforce and Income Security, Government Accountability Office; Elliot P. Lewis, Assistant Inspector General for Audit, U.S. DOL Office of Inspector General; Gary A. Steinberg, Acting Director of OWCP, U.S. DOL, and Scott Szymendera, Congressional Research Service.
Click here to view all the testimony and watch a video of the hearing on the House Education and Workforce Commmittee’s Web site.
For more information about FECA, visit the Human Relations Dept. pages at www.apwu.org.