While state officials, like Governor Rick Perry, tout the success and the "miracle" of the Texas economy, they smoothly pass over some inconsistencies, such as the fact that the state has led the country in workplace deaths for numerous years. Texas is the only state that does not require private employers to provide workers' compensation insurance for its employees. Even the companies that do offer workers' compensation offer stingy plans that often provide weak protection. As a result, many employees are left without compensation, having their claims denied on poor grounds. Sadly, the 500,000+ workers filling up the positions in this booming state's economy are left without any occupational benefits if they were to get injured on the job.
Workers Are Paying for the Unregulated Economy
Less than 30% of workers suffering from serious injuries receive benefits or workers' compensation in the state of Texas, causing many to wonder about the effectiveness of the system. Where did Texas go wrong? Are they trading off too much for their "booming economy"? Who is suffering the consequences of this growing revenue? The facts all point to the workers. While companies may thrive in an unregulated environment, the workers are treated like disposable tools, thrown out as soon as they are damaged without a second thought.
Over the past years, major court decisions have undermined the already week protections that injured workers had, making it even more difficult for workers to stay afloat after an injury. Even for those who have workers' compensation benefits, the battle is still ever-present. When an injury does occur, it is very difficult to secure the coverage and benefits they were promised. That means many workers and their families never see the promise of wage replacement or medical or death benefits. It appears that the system is too focused on the employer or business, protecting their rights and interests before giving any thought to the workers.
Waging an Unwinnable Political War
So how can the state make a change? Unfortunately, the political powers against regulating workplace benefits is so strong that many individuals who have stepped forward have seen their efforts fall flat. Several years ago, Rep. Paul Workman attempted to pass legislation that enforced mandatory workers' compensation in the construction industry. The bill was unsuccessful, to say the least. Another bill was put forward to push companies that opt-out of workers' compensation in favor of unregulated benefit packages to provide more transparent reports. WalMart, Home Depot, Tractor Supply, Costco, and more are all some of the larger companies that are in this category. With some of the biggest employers in the state allowed to provide unregulated occupational benefit packages of their own choice, the bill quickly died.
Since 2009, the number of disputes won by injured workers has dropped by more than 17%. Despite the fact that the Texas Division of Workers' Compensation has the power to fine companies that do not report workplace injuries or what type of benefits they are providing, they only issued 7 enforcement actions in the span of 16 years. Among the thousands of companies that reside in Texas, that is an extremely disconcerting number. At some point, workers will either leave the state of Texas, despite its miracle growth, accept their claim denial and live with their pain, or stand up to the employer and take their battle to court. At the end of the day, it's all a matter of what a worker is willing to fight for.