The Ohio Legislature is considering a bill that would exclude some workers from Workers’ Compensation protection.
The Ohio House of Representatives in May passed a budget bill–HB 27– for the state agency that oversees the state’s Workers’ Compensation program. The bill contains an amendment that bars undocumented immigrant workers from receiving Workers’ Compensation benefits.
The bill was sent to the Senate where it was referred to the Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee.
That committee held hearings on the bill on June 13.
Prior to the hearing the Central Ohio Worker Center mobilized people to oppose HB 27.
“This bill is bad for all Ohio workers, and will work against those employers who comply with the law,” states the Worker Center in a posting on its website. “If this bill passes, it will reduce the incentive for companies to provide safe conditions for its workers—and serious injuries among Ohio workers in the most dangerous industries will increase.”
Immigrant workers work in some of Ohio’s most dangerous industries. There are two in particular that rely heavily on immigrant labor–agriculture and food processing.
According to the National Agricultural Work Survey, 78 percent of agricultural workers in the US are immigrants and according to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “agriculture ranks among the most dangerous industries in the US.”
Meat and poultry processing plants also rely heavily on an immigrant workforce.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that “immigrant workers often constitute a significant portion of the worker population on poultry farms and poultry slaughter and processing facilities.”
CDC goes on to report that these workers have a high incidence of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, skin disease, and job related accidents.
Reported injuries in the meat and poultry processing industry are 40 percent higher than in other industries.
By all accounts, undocumented workers make up a significant percentage of the immigrant workers in these two industries.
These workers as well as thousands of others would be left unprotected should HB 27 pass in its present form.
A letter from Ohio faith leaders to senators on the committee, states that denying Workers’ Compensation to one subset of workers exposes them to unacceptable risks and “is an affront to common sense and our common faiths.”
But it’s not just undocumented workers who will suffer if HB 27 passes with its limitations on Workers’ Compensation intact.
In another letter to the senators, food justice advocates point out that “HB 27 will create a subclass of workers who are outside the normal protection afforded to them by Workers’ Compensation. This could encourage employers to subject workers to greater physical risk without fear of legal or financial consequences. Cutting corners with regard to workplace safety will ultimately make all workers less safe.”
According to the Workers Center, saving money by scrimping on safety will give unscrupulous employers a competitive advantage over other employers, which could result in a lowering of safety standards for all workers regardless of their immigration status.
As HB 27 is taken up by members of the Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee, there is some evidence that senators are having doubts about establishing a two-tiered Workers’ Compensation program.
Sen. Jay Hottinger, who chairs the committee, expressed doubts about how the ban on Workers’ Compensation would work in practice.
Hottinger told reporters after the committee hearing ended that it would be difficult to track people’s immigration status for the purpose of denying them Workers’ Compensation benefits.
“How do you get it beyond just making political statement or a policy statement and actually impact change on it, that’s yet to be determined,” said Hottinger.
Hottinger’s committee will take up HB 27 again on Tuesday, June 20.