Workers Comp Zone


This past Friday the California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation (CHSWC) met in Oakland.

If there was little policy drama in the policy presentations, other aspects of the meeting had drama.

Apparently concerned that protesters or rowdy commenters would disrupt the meeting, CHSWC staffers or members arranged for a watchful presence from 2 CHP officers. A flyer outlining a conduct code for public comment was distributed. Public comments were limited to 2 minutes.

The public was allowed to express opinions, but not to ask questions of the various think tank consultants and DWC staff giving updates on various topics.

When loud and spirited comments by Berkeley labor activist Steve Zeltzer went overtime, CHP staff moved in closer, leading to charges from  Zeltzer that dissent was being locked down.

One frustrated interpreter was cut off at two minutes and forced to file another request to speak form to get more speaking time. I think she was from Southern California, meaning that she traveled a long way if she was only allowed to speak for 2 minutes.

Later, an injured worker in the audience seemed bewildered that she could not direct questions to the CHSWC commissioners, half of whom are appointees from labor unions and half from employers. CHSWC member Christy Bouma of the California Professional Firefighters tried to explain that the role of the CHSWC commissioners is to commission policy studies and get feedback from those researchers and the DWC on various aspects of the comp system.

CHSWC itself does not make policy.

Not exactly, of course. And yet CHSWC was the launching pad for the SB 863 reforms.

I’ve been faithfully going to CHSWC meeting for years.

Actually, there is generally a paucity of public participation in these meetings. Most of the attendees are representatives of various “stakeholder groups”, i.e. the doctors, lawyers, insurer lobbyists, employer groups and cottage industry advocates who have a stake in the direction of California’s comp system.

Comment from disgruntled workers and activists has been very limited. Frankly, many of the stakeholders aren’t really that interested in the opinions of public commenters, particularly if they are perceived as angry gadflies.

But perhaps it would behoove the Commission to allow a bit more latitude to public comment. CHSWC meets very infrequently, and it would not seem to be a big deal to extend the meeting by an hour  or so to accommodate more extensive feedback. These meetings usually last only about 3 hours as is. I counted about 8 commenters, meaning that the commission allocated only about a quarter hour to comments.

The strictures on public comment would make sense if there were long  lines of people waiting to comment or if there was a pattern of serious disruptions.

Trust me, I’ve been to meetings of the Berkeley City Council and have observed some attendees misbehaving at the Oakland City Council, where protest can be unruly and comment very vicious. I’m not a fan of those kinds of meetings, where things can get out of hand.

But CHSWC has a unique role, and it should encourage some participation from the public. If for nothing else, giving a bit more time for public feedback would provide a greater appearance of fairness.

Julius Young