California Assembly Bill 1309, which aims to limit professional athlete's access to state worker's compensation.
Far from being a measure that would only affect multimillionaire current and football players, this law has the potential to hack away at all workers' rights in California, as well as ultimately increase the number of applicants seeking Social Security Disability Insurance in Los Angeles and throughout the state.
To understand why AB 1309 matters, we have to first explore what it is. California has one of the few workers' compensation systems in the country that doesn't restrict filing of a claim to within a certain time frame of an injury. This is critical to all workers, and especially to professional athletes because many times, cumulative trauma resulting from injuries that build up over time won't show up until a decade or more later. Athletes spend their careers under intense physical strain.
The problem is that NFL players don't receive lifetime benefits from the league. So when it comes to caring for players who develop long-term negative health effects - as it's been proven so many players have - the league and owners get off scot-free. The NFL's health insurance lasts only five years after retirement, and even that is only for players who lasted at least three seasons.
One out of four NFL retirees need joint replacements. Their rates of arthritis are five times that of the general population and they are four times as likely to suffer from neurodegenerative diseases, including ALS and Alzheimer's.
At the last collective bargaining agreement, workers agreed to take less pay in order to cover up front the costs that would be needed later for workers' compensation claims. And now, the league and team owners are flexing their political muscle in curbing the availability of these benefits to players.
Even though this bill would technically only apply to professional athletes, don't think that business owners in other sectors won't try to exploit this rule. They are always looking for ways to reduce their own liability and responsibility to workers. This bill, if passed, will serve as a model for how to do this.
It's worth noting that the sponsor of AB 1309 received some $8,000 in political contributions from Wal-Mart over the last year. Another eight percent of the sponsor's contributions came from insurance companies. The fact that he has introduced legislation that reduces workers' ability to receive compensation should be seen as no coincidence to this. A willingness to reduce the rights of workers who are known and beloved by many is especially disturbing when you consider the power these politicians have to do the same thing to hundreds of thousands of people working in factories, in schools, in stores and on the road.
The bill's sponsor says that he is trying to save California taxpayers money. But remember, the athletes were paying into this system to begin with. But there will be a societal impact when these individuals turn toward other modes of support - i.e., Social Security Disability Insurance.
What makes SSDI an attractive alternative is that there is no time line on when a person can file. Whether the injury happened three days ago or 30 years ago, so long as you meet the disability criteria now, you can obtain benefits.
Rising disability rolls in recent years has been met with outrage by certain politicians, pundits and media outlets. However, their cries of fraud and a system that is too lax bears little weight in light of measures such as these. When we refuse to hold companies accountable for taking care of those injured on the job, we are inevitably going to see a rise in SSDI claims by people desperate to survive and support their families. Pointing a critical finger at those who are suffering is nothing more than blaming the victim.
Los Angeles Disability Benefits Attorney VINCENT HOWARD at HOWARD LAW can help. Call toll-free at 1-800-872-5925 or send us a message online.
The California Bill That Leaves Injured Workers to Fend for Themselves, June 12, 2013, By Sarita Gupta, The Huffington Post
L.A. Disability Attorneys Examine Social Security Trustees' Report, June 9, 2013