I was driving up Interstate 5 to Sacramento one bright, crisp winter morning when I saw three men in suits along the road, their car broken down. I pulled in behind them and asked if I could be of assistance
The apparent leader of the group announced he was a state senator and that he had an important Committee hearing to attend. The other was an important labor leader who was attending the same meeting. The third was an important applicants' attorney who claimed to be an advocate for injured workers and he too had pressing business in the halls of government. Given the importance of these people and the urgency of their needs, I offered to taken them to the River City
Along the way, the three engaged in a spirited discussion of workers' compensation issues. The one doing the most talking was the attorney, describing how insurance companies were making obscene profits on the backs of injured workers and that the new workers' compensation system was ruining the lives of decent Californians. Lives were being sacrificed on the altar of profits, so said he
Appalled, the labor leader lamented that their efforts to negotiate reforms of the system were misinterpreted by the new administration. They never intended workers to get fewer benefits. They never intended that employers could require an injured worker to change doctors after treatment had commenced. It was a conspiracy by big business and big insurance companies. Follow the money, said the labor leader, and ask yourself what kind of secret meetings are going on, even as we speak, that will strip workers of more benefits, of their dignity, and of the hard-fought gains made with Gray Davis, so said he
The senator grimly shook his head during this discussion. He lamented that he could not understand why business would not support controlling the price of insurance. Indeed, why not do what they do in Washington and simply have the state pay for benefits? If we force insurers out of the workers' compensation system, then we can control the price, increase benefits, and still provide relief to employers, he said. The labor leader and the attorney nodded their heads in agreement. The senator said the administration will have to explain itself, and do so in public. "We need to know everything about what they have in store for the working people of California. We need to know who controls the strings. It's probably the Chamber of Commerce," he said. "The source of all evil," echoed the labor leader
"An insidious institution - never to be believed or trusted," said the lawyer. "Remember, they wanted the treating physician presumption." "And they want to destroy PERS, too," said the labor leader. Both the senator and the attorney solemnly nodded their heads. "And they don't want people injured in accidents to be able to sue for their injuries," said the attorney. The senator and the labor leader quickly agreed. "And they hate Democrats," said the senator. At which they all laughed wickedly and said in unison, "Can you spell r-e-a-p-p-o-r-t-i-o-n-m-e-n-t?" "And don't forget Jobs PAC," said the labor leader. "Isn't that Laugh Track?" asked the attorney, which elicited more laughter. "But what about the insurance companies?" queried the senator. "They own the Chamber," said the labor leader. "They have insurance companies on their board," said the attorney. "On their board?" asked the senator incredulously. "And this is supposed to be a business organization?" "They're sheep," said the labor leader. "Being led to slaughter," said the attorney. "Back a few years ago, the price of insurance was fair. Oh, it may have been a little low, but the real reason companies went out of business was their own incompetence and interest rates going down. If we had set prices then, there would be no 'crisis' now and the benefit increases you had the courage to enact could easily be afforded." "California can afford to treat injured workers fairly," said the labor leader. "You would think," said the senator. I pulled my car up to the imposing Capitol building. They graciously thanked me and said they hoped their discussion didn't bore me. I replied that it was my pleasure to be of assistance and I that I thought the discussion was fascinating. As I watched them go, and thought of the message of this holiday season, I wished I could have given them each something: The senator - courage The labor leader - a brain The attorney - a heart. As I left Sacramento, I sighed and said to myself: "But then this isn't Oz, is it?