Change of Stance as Davis Agrees to Hike For Workers' Comp

POLITICS
By HOWARD FINE
Staff Reporter

Gov. Gray Davis, state Sen. President John Burton, D-San Francisco, and state labor leaders have agreed to a $2.5 billion hike in workers' compensation benefits paid out by employers to injured workers. The agreement is expected to be presented to the state Legislature this week and signed into law by Feb. 15.

If the measure is approved, starting next January employers would have to pay injured workers about $100 more per week and possibly higher benefit payments in succeeding years. The increase would cost employers an estimated $1 billion in higher premiums; the rest of the increase is supposed to come from cost-saving reforms included in the measure.

In each of the last three years, Davis had vetoed similar or larger increases in workers' comp benefits, causing strains with Burton and the labor base that helped propel him to office four years ago.

But now, in an election year, labor has made its support for Davis conditional on his signing a workers' comp benefit hike. Burton and labor leaders were working to get an initiative on the ballot to raise workers' comp benefits should the Legislature and governor fail to enact one on their own.

In each of the three previous years, Davis has gone to great pains to consult with employers on the impacts of a workers' comp benefit hike. But not this time. "We were told we didn't have anything to offer this year for the negotiations," said Kim Mattoch, spokeswoman for the California Chamber of Commerce.

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