April 04, 2020

The Blue Ribbon Commission’s proposed overhaul of the Maine Workers’ Compensation system gained momentum Friday when it received a qualified endorsement from the labor-management group that has been successful in forging compromise on key elements in the insurance debate.

The coalition represents important employer and labor interests in Maine — 16 different entities including the AFL-CIO, Bath Iron works and Central Maine Power Co. — and its support, even in the muted, conditional form expressed last week, is seen as a key to resolving the perennial problem of comp reform.

The coalition nudged closer to buying the package, but deferred a commitment until it reviews the final draft.

As is the case with divisive issues that defy repeated attempts at solution, and workers’ comp certainly is one, it requires unusual courage, creativity and compromise for the political system to triumph. It also takes luck, timing and understanding on the part of the participants.

All those ingredients are needed to succeed. Often, just one unreasonable or stubborn player can obstruct the process. Fortunately, groups such as the labor-management coalition recognize the significance of this issue to the people of Maine, and the importance of the moment: The comp reform process this week has reached a precarious point.

Lawyers claim the report removes incentives for businesses to put injured workers back on the job and makes it awkward for the disabled to gain prompt access to rehabilitation services.

Sen. Judy Kany has been concerned about the confidentiality of comp files, which she thinks have the potential to prejudice some companies against hiring a previously injured worker.

Sen. Beverly Bustin wants to protect the job rights of approximately 100 civil service workers who could be caught in the abrupt transition from Workers’ Compensation commission to the new board.

Although more than 20 modfications to the blue ribbon recommendations have been proposed, they have been made through the panelists. There is a tacit understanding in Augusta that this is an acceptable way for the document to be changed. So far, this process is working and there have been no amendments proposed outside this framework. That’s important.

As Thursday’s special session approaches, critics of the Blue Ribbon Commission report, including the labor-management group and legislative committee members, should examine their arguments.

What they will find is that although their critiques are valid, point by point, nothing that has been said, even if all of it is considered cumulatively, challenges the essential value of this document.

The report has weaknesses that eventually will be corrected, but first, it deserves to be endorsed.

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