Sunday, February 7, 2016


JEB is an interesting character. On the one hand he professes to be interested in the plight of the ordinary citizen and on the other, as Governor, he sought to please the varied business interests that have contributed to his past and current campaigns. Business interests became superior to the health and welfare of Florida workers during his governorship.
The story begins on March 25, 1911.  146 garment workers perished in a fire at the Triangle Factory in New York City, most of them young Jewish and Italian immigrant girls. The factory was clearly unsafe, with locked exit doors and blocked passage ways and a few buckets of water to fight a fire. The public outrage over this fire sparked the development of both workplace safety laws and workers’ compensation laws. Both safety and workers’ compensation have traveled hand in hand until JEB took over as Governor of Florida.
In 1935 Florida enacted its workers’ compensation and workplace safety law. They were one and the same. Chapter 440, Florida Statutes. The act set up a fund called the Administration Trust Fund, to gather the money necessary to administer the law, ie: pay the costs of administration and pay the costs of safety enforcement. The money in the fund was a percentage of the premiums paid by employers to their workers’ compensation insurers, a premium tax. In other words, employers funded the workers’ compensation adjudicatory system and the safety portion of the law.
Fast forward to JEB’s governorship, 1999 to 2007.  He allowed the Florida Workplace Safety & Health Act to be repealed in 2000. Florida became the only state with a repealed Workplace Safety Act. In validating the New York workers’ compensation law in 1917, the United States Supreme Court said it expected that there would be other laws providing for accident prevention. There were such laws in Florida from 1935 up to 2000.
In 2003 JEB presided over a legislature that eviscerated the benefits paid to injured workers and made the process and the proof necessary to obtain benefits much more difficult, if not impossible, for injured workers. For example, a new definition of ‘accident’ was placed in the law. One has to have an accident to get benefits. The new definition says: “An injury or disease caused by exposure to a toxic substance, including but not limited to, Fungus or Mold, is not an injury by accident arising out of the employment unless there is clear and convincing evidence establishing that the exposure to the specific substance involved, at the levels to which the employee was exposed, can cause the injury or disease sustained by the employee”, s.440.02 (1) (2003).  If a firefighter is exposed to smoke and thereafter sustains a serious skin condition, that individual could not possibly prove an injury by accident!
 “What about OSHA?”  Good question. OSHA does not cover employments where less than 10 employees are working. That is the majority of Florida businesses. OSHA does not cover employees of the state and local governments, like Firefighters, Bus Drivers and School Board employees. Those workers have NO safety protection at work. Not from mold, asbestos, fungus, chemicals, or the lack of safety devices, etc. Those employees covered by OSHA should not exhibit a sigh of relief. In 2011 the U.S. Department of Labor reported that it would take current OSHA employees 230 years to inspect each covered Florida workplace, one time!
Since 2000 employers no longer have to pay the cost of a safety program. If the business has less than 10 employees, there is no fear whatsoever of an OSHA inspection. If over 10 employees, the odds of an inspection are virtually nil. Government can ignore unsafe operations because there is little incentive to make the job safe since benefit levels for injured workers are so low. The 2003 amendments eliminated the most important and costly benefit of a workers’ compensation scheme, permanent partial disability- payment for partial loss of wage earning capacity.
In December a single mother of two young children was crushed to death by the Miami-Dade County bus she was assigned to operate. The cause was an inoperable safety device. An expose by the press revealed that over 90% of Miami-Dade County busses had inoperable or missing safety devices. Blame Jeb.