I wanted to follow up on last week’s blog post about the proposed N.C. House Bill 369, which would end workers’ compensation benefits and medical treatment for undocumented workers who are hurt on the job.
This is a bad bill all around for hardworking immigrants, North Carolina taxpayers, hospitals, companies and all North Carolina workers who deserve to be kept safe and protected while on the job. And when a person is hurt at work, they deserve the medical treatment necessary to heal and get back on their feet. And they shouldn’t have to suffer financially because they got hurt.
Already, immigrants are disproportionately employed in dangerous jobs and they are at a higher risk of getting hurt or killed on the job than people of other ethnicities. If passed, House Bill 369 would increase that risk.
Currently, North Carolina companies with three or more employees have a moral and legal responsibility to provide medical treatment and workers’ comp benefits to any worker who is injured on the job. Remove that responsibility, as HB 369 seeks to do, and there are will be no legal or financial penalties for companies that operate unsafe workplaces and knowingly hire undocumented workers.
If this bill becomes state law, I suspect many North Carolina companies with questionable ethics and morals will find it good business to hire undocumented workers because they’ll save money in workers’ comp payouts and safety measures.
Who will suffer if House Bill 369 passes? Surely not the insurance companies, who will continue to collect workers’ compensation premiums for undocumented workers since fees are based on a company’s total workforce. But they won’t be paying out any claims for any undocumented workers who are injured, so they’ll be pocketing the premiums as pure profit.
True, it is illegal to hire undocumented workers in North Carolina — but many companies here knowingly do so. Yet, the N.C. legislature doesn’t seem concerned with punishing businesses that knowingly violate state law by hiring undocumented workers, probably because these same businesses contribute to their campaigns.
Instead our legislature is unjustly bent on punishing undocumented workers because they have no voice or influence in government. But those of us who do have influence in state government can do something about it. We can contact our state senators and representatives and tell them that the voters of North Carolina don’t support this legislation. And if they don’t listen to us now, we can vote them out of office in November.
The real victims of HB 369 will be good, hardworking immigrants, working hard and dangerous jobs that contribute to the American economy, and North Carolina taxpayers.
Rest assured, HB 369 will cost taxpayers millions. When undocumented workers are injured, their claims for medical treatment and workers’ comp benefits will be denied. Insurance companies will be off the hook.
But that won’t make the injured workers’ medical problems go away.
Under federal law, hospitals will still be required to accept these injured workers and to treat their workplace injuries. The public will bear much of this burden through higher insurance rates.
As Carol Brooke, director of the Workers’ Rights Project at the N.C. Justice Center, notes in a News & Observer article about HB 369, current workers’ comp law protects businesses and their employees.
“It’s just good public policy,” Brooke said. “Workers’ comp is a bargain that’s intended to benefit employers and employees. When you mess with that bargain, you’re asking for trouble.”
The cost to N.C. hospitals (and taxpayers) of HB 369 could amount to millions ever year:
Hospitals are not seeing a large number of unpaid workers’ compensation claims, but if some workers lose their coverage that would have a big impact, said Cody Hand, a lobbyist for the N.C. Hospital Association.
There are an estimated 325,000 immigrants living in North Carolina illegally, and this group represents 5.4 percent of the labor force, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Hand said injured workers showing up in emergency rooms without coverage would add to the $1 million a year the state’s hospitals already provide in charity care.
Do the right thing by calling and emailing your state legislators TODAY and asking them to do the right thing by voting against HB 369. The bill is scheduled for a vote on Wednesday, July 9, so don’t delay in contacting your representatives and senators. Find out who represents you in the N.C. General Assembly here.