The other day, Patricia Grillot was "down to $12 in cash with $30 in my checking account with a gas gauge hovering on empty. It's that tight."
As Isthmus reported last year, Grillot is on permanent total disability stemming from a brutal on-the-job rape in 1985, which caused physical and psychological damage. But because worker's compensation rates are not indexed to inflation, she receives virtually the same monthly payment today as she did 22 years ago.
Efforts to raise the bottom for the 700 state workers on permanent total disability have floundered for years. Now the labor reps on the state's Worker's Compensation Advisory Council are trying to bring older recipients to within six years of current levels.
If that happens, Grillot says her monthly stipend would rise from $338 to $777 a month. (She also gets some money from SSI Disability.)
Ron Kent, who represents AFSCME on this council, says the insurance companies that write worker's comp policies have been supportive. The change would cost about $185 million over many years. But Kent says insurers annually receive about $1.5 billion in payments; their payouts over the last decade have ranged from 60% to 80%. The rest is profit: "They're making plenty of money."
But the council's business reps have said they'll agree to raise payments only if certain conditions are met. These include cutting off payments to people on permanent total disability at age 67 and ending a death benefit for their survivors, as well as axing two supplemental benefit funds for other injured workers.
"These are poison pills," says Kent, who notes along with state AFL-CIO chief David Newby that labor has already agreed to concessions sought by management.
The issue will likely come to a head at the council's Sept. 6 meeting. Grillot says people who lose their ability to work while on the job are entitled to "be treated fairly, respectfully and equitably." The state's business leaders apparently disagree.