Ridge & Downes - Law Firm

  • Continuing Attacks on Public Employee Pensions

    The leaders of the House and Senate have called the members of the Illinois General Assembly back to Springfield on December 3, 2013 to vote on legislation that may profoundly affect the pension rights of current and retired employees of the State of Illinois.

    While the actual bill has yet to be drafted, initial reports indicate that it will not be friendly to the futures of State employees. It will limit cost of living increases that allow seniors’ pensions to keep up with rising inflation, raise the retirement age, cap salaries and must importantly exclude pension issues from collective bargaining.

    While Scott Walker, watching from Wisconsin, might approve, the citizens of Illinois should not. The workers affected by these changes are our friends, neighbors and members of our families. They live their lives and have planned for their futures based on the promises made to them by the State. They have paid their share of to the Pension funds, never missing a contribution.

    The Illinois Retirement Security Initiative states that 2009 census data indicates the Illinois average pension benefit was $27,400. They also note that nearly 80% of the retirees receiving benefits from an Illinois pension fund do not receive Social Security benefits.

    The vast majority of retirees that receive a State pension are people who work hard every day on behalf of the citizens of Illinois. They are law enforcement officers, teachers, nurses’ aides, prison guards, among other workers. They teach the developmentally disabled, patrol the highways, guard violent offenders and assist the elderly. They do difficult, sometimes dangerous and often thankless jobs on our behalf and deserve to have promises made to them, about their futures, honored.

    Interestingly, “According to the Illinois State Comptroller, pension benefits paid to regular state employees in Illinois are low relative to benefits provided by other states. Illinois ranks in the bottom one fifth of all states for retirement benefits paid to an average state worker. The total of all participants in the state’s pension plans represent only 5.3% of Illinois’ total population. In fact, Illinois ranks dead last in the nation, in number of employees per capita.” Illinois Retirement Security Initiative citing the Illinois State Comptroller.

    On a day where the strongest voices advocating a change to the Pension system are multi-millionaires who do not need to be concerned about food and shelter as they enter the later years of their lives, the working people of this State need to support the people who have spent their lives working on our behalf.

    Please call your Senator and Representative and tell them that you will not support a change to the Illinois Pension system that threatens the State’s employees and retirees. If you are not certain about who represents you in the General Assembly please click here and you will be directed to your Senator and Representative.

    Remember that is this an important issue whether or not you work for the State of Illinois. Do you really think that politicians willing to take collective bargaining rights and pension benefits away from public employees, for whom they are legally and morally responsible, they will even hesitate when a private employer wants to alter your ability to bargain collectively or even pay your earned pension?

  • Death on the Job

    Our June 2012 Ridge Update reviews the AFL-CIO's annual report, "Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect," and provides a summary of the death benefits provided under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act.

    In Illinois, the threat of being killed in a job-related accident is real and growing. According to the AFL-CIO’s annual report, “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” an average of 13 workers per day were killed on the job in 2010.  The number of workers dying in workplace accidents has continued to rise since 2004.    The new 2010 data just released shows that more than 3.8 million workers across all industries experienced work-related injuries and illnesses in 2010.

    The most recent debate regarding the Illinois workers’ compensation system has centered around how to lower the cost of benefits provided to employees, when it should focus on how to make our workplaces safer.  According to the AFL-CIO’s report, Illinois suffered 206 worker fatalities in 2010, ranking it 26th on the list of safest states.   Of these 206 fatalities, 73 were transportation incidents, 40 were the result of assaults and violent acts, 39 were from contact with objects and equipment, 31 were from falls, 15 were from exposure to harmful substances or environments, and 7 were from fires and explosions. 

    In Illinois, the surviving spouse and/or minor children of the deceased worker are entitled to weekly benefits. If the worker does not leave a surviving spouse or minor children, benefits may be paid to certain other family members that were at least 50% dependent on the deceased worker’s income for support. The weekly benefit is two-thirds of the deceased employee’s gross average weekly wage during the 52 weeks before the injury, subject to certain minimums and maximums. The minimum weekly benefit for injuries occurring after July 15, 2011 is $473.03. The weekly benefit is paid for 25 years, or up to $500,000.00, whichever is more. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act also provides for a benefit of $8,000.00 to the survivor or the person paying for the burial expenses.

    These benefits provide little comfort to the families who have lost loved ones in workplace accidents.  Employers in Illinois need to do a better job of looking after the safety and welfare of employees in the workplace. The Illinois legislature should enact fair and effective rules to strengthen employee safety. This would decrease accidents and reduce workers’ compensation costs. If you think your job is unsafe, request an OSHA inspection by clicking here.  You can also file a complaint with the Safety Division of the Illinois Department of Labor by clicking here.

    At Ridge & Associates, we take workplace safety seriously.  If you have concerns about your workplace or questions about the death benefits provided in Illinois, please contact us.

  • What is the Injured Workers Benefit Fund?

    A brief overview of the Injured Workers Benefit Fund, who it applies to, and a skeleton outline of how it functions.

    Pursuant to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act nearly every employer in Illinois is required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Some employers in Illinois break the law and do not have workers’ compensation insurance or are not up-to-date on their insurance premiums. While the Act allows for criminal penalties to be assessed against an employer who failed to provide worker’s compensation insurance those penalties do nothing to help the injured employee. 

    In 2005, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission established the Injured Workers’ Benefit Fund (“IWBF”) to provide workers’ compensation benefits to employees injured during the course of their employment whose employers did not have workers’ compensation insurance. 

    The Injured Workers’ Benefit Fund is the only way to provide benefits for injured employees when their employer does not have insurance.  Unfortunately, the benefits afforded to workers under the IWBF are not entirely comparable to the benefits a worker would receive if his/her employer had adequate workers’ compensation insurance coverage.

    One detriment to proceeding against the IWBF is that an employee only has “one shot” to pursue worker’s compensation benefits.   Often employers dispute claims and do not pay injured workers appropriate temporary total disability benefits (off work benefits) or medical benefits.  If an employer has adequate insurance, our office can file a motion for an emergency hearing and have the case heard before an Arbitrator to get these benefits instituted during the pendency of the injured workers’ case.  In a case where the employer is uninsured and the worker must collect against the IWBF, proceeding on an emergency hearing is not a favorable option, as the employee only has one chance to proceed against the fund. An emergency hearing will prevent the employee from collecting a permanency award (settlement award) from the fund.  Unfortunately, injured workers whose employers do not have workers’ compensation insurance coverage, must, from time to time, go without off work benefits or medical benefits.

    The IWBF only pays out awards once a year, at the end of each fiscal year (currently June 30).  This means that an injured worker can proceed against the IWBF in September, receive an award from an Arbitrator, and not receive payment of the award from the IWBF until the following June.  This creates a long time delay for a worker, who has already suffered greatly due to the employer’s failure to carry adequate workers’ compensation insurance coverage.

    The IWBF does not always pay 100% of the award. Payment of the award is subject to the availability of money in the IWBF each fiscal year.  If there is insufficient money in the IWBF to pay all awards submitted, distribution is on a pro rata basis as determined by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.

    It is important to make sure that your attorney understands how to proceed against the IWBF, as procedurally, there are many additional steps that must be taken before a trial.  Our office has experience handling these types of claims and it is imperative that an injured worker hires an attorney with experience before the IWBF.

    Although there are many downfalls to the IWBF, at this time it is the only remedy for workers’ injured during the course of their employment whose employers do not have adequate workers’ compensation insurance coverage.  The remedy provided by the IWBF is better than the alternative, which is no recovery at all.  Please contact our office with any further questions regarding the IWBF.

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