The Cleveland Plain Dealer: Matching citizenship with workers’ compensation a misguided idea

The Cleveland Plain Dealer

In a party-line vote — Republicans for, Democrats against — the Ohio House is seeking to require those claiming compensation for injuries they suffered on the job in Ohio to answer a question about their citizenship.

Approved 58-36, the amendment to Ohio’s pending workers’ compensation budget, House Bill 80, would ask a claimant if he or she is a U.S. citizen, or an “illegal alien or unauthorized alien” or someone who has an alien registration number, “or other signifier that the claimant is authorized to work.” The amendment’s sponsor is state Rep. Bill Seitz, a suburban Cincinnati Republican.

The amendment wouldn’t deny compensation to injured workers if they are undocumented, Seitz said (which would be against current Ohio law). Instead, Seitz argues the amendment is aimed at gathering data so the General Assembly can determine what, if anything, needs to be done about such claimants.

With due respect, that’s baloney. There is no evidence that undocumented workers are gaming the system.

This unneeded House amendment is a solution in search of a problem. Yet it will have a major impact if enacted.

The amendment will likely cause many non-U.S.-citizen workers — including but not limited to undocumented aliens — from filing claims for help they’re entitled to under Ohio law. That includes rehabilitation and health care when they lose fingers, or break limbs, or are otherwise hurt on the job.

It will impact, disproportionately, immigrants who do dangerous jobs because they are without good English language skills, or, yes, because they lack proper papers.

As Seitz well knows, undocumented workers in Ohio are entitled to collect worker’s compensation when they are injured on the job. This amendment would use a back door to clamp down on immigrants’ ability to collect just compensation by making those claims less likely to be filed.

Ohio law defines “employees” — people covered by workers’ compensation — to include “aliens.” And last decade, the 7th Ohio District Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the claim of an injured alien slated for deportation, warning of the negative consequences in on-the-job hazards for all workers if undocumented aliens were excluded: “If (they) were injured, the employer would not lose any money because the aliens could not collect workers’ compensation. Therefore, the employer may become lax in workplace safety, knowing it would suffer no consequences if its employees were injured at work.”

Seitz says the state Bureau of Workers’ Compensation makes it very difficult to ascertain the number of workers’ compensation claims filed against specific employers. But he said a fellow legislator determined that “well in excess of 200 claims” had been filed against Ohio employers raided last summer in federal immigration raids that targeted meatpacking and landscaping firms in Columbiana and Sandusky counties.

But meatpacking is dangerous work, so claims likely would be high, by citizens and noncitizens alike. The Guardian, the British newspaper, reported last year that “U.S. meat workers are already three times more to likely suffer serious injury than the average American worker.”

Whatever the intentions of those who back the Seitz amendment, it’s fundamentally a political swipe at men and women with dangerous jobs. The Senate, or a Senate-House conference, must delete the amendment.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Post navigation