“The special session on job creation is being used as a cloak for corporate interests to achieve a long-desired goal – to deny meaningful access to the courts for workers who are injured or killed on the job, as well as consumers and other victims who have been harmed,” warned Phil Neuenfeldt, President of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.
On January 11th, labor and community groups gathered at the State Capitol to express opposition to Special Session Senate Bill 1/ Assembly Bill 1 (SB 1/AB 1). After the press conference, the legislature heard almost 10 hours of testimony, much of it critical of the intent and consequences of the proposal.
One of the most moving stories came from Dawn Kellner, whose 15 year-old son Jared was crushed when chunk of concrete fell from a poorly maintained parking garage O'Donnell Park last summer. Under the proposed law, it will be almost impossible for Kellner to hold negligent contractors responsible for her son’s death. “I want to know why Governor Walker wants to protect the worst of the worst.”
Click here to watch a short news clip of Kellner’s testimony, and Governor Walker’s inadequate response.
The destructive consequences of this legislation include:
- Changes punitive damages criteria for those injured on the job. Victims of at work accidents will now have the burden of proving that the injury was “intended” by the employer in order to be awarded punitive damages. This new heightened standard effectively closes the courthouse door to most victims of egregious conduct resulting in serious injury or death. Had this proposed new standard been in place at the time that three ironworkers; Jeffrey Wischer, William DeGrave and Jerome Starr; fell to their deaths from a crane basket during the construction of Miller Park stadium in Milwaukee, their families would have been denied a punitive damage award.
- Changes to product liability law that encourage the export of jobs. The bill requires that victims harmed by faulty products seek compensation from the manufacturer first. Since it is near impossible to track down manufacturers and pursue legal remedies in countries such as China, this bill creates a perverse incentive to shift more manufacturing jobs out of Wisconsin.
- Eliminates retailer responsibility for harmful products sold in sealed packages. This means that if a child is injured by a faulty toy the family has limited rights and options.
- Limits the rights of nursing home residents’ families to protect their loved ones from negligent care. The bill changes legal standards for nursing homes making it significantly harder to hold institutions accountable. It would deny families access to reports that show a pattern of abuse or mistreatment.
Testimony on the proposal stretched late into Tuesday night, and Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Legislative Research Director Joanne Ricca was one of the last people to offer comment. "Stripping away individual legal rights and protections for workers, consumer and seniors to the extent this legislation does is not a small step. It cannot be justified by a few anecdotes and vague references to a 'friendlier business climate.'"
Ricca ended by reminding the legislature that the bill is offered as part of an emergency special session to create jobs and should be measured by that stated purpose. “Again, after over 9 ½ hours of testimony, where are the jobs?”
Indeed, this bill will not create a single job in Wisconsin, and yet, it would do immeasurable harm to citizens seeking justice.
Both houses of the Legislature are expected to vote on SB 1/ AB 1 early next week. Your action is urgently needed.
There is no time to lose. Please call or email your elected officials and urge them to vote NO on Senate Bill 1 and Assembly Bill 1.
Click here to find out who your State Senator and Assembly Representative are.
It only takes a moment to tell your elected officials to stop protecting criminal corporate activity and start working on meaningful job creation legislation. Please speak up before it’s too late.
(Top Photo: Working families gather at the Capitol to oppose SB 1/AB 1. Bottom Photo: Brenda Giles, an unemployed Milwaukee teacher, says that The Legislature needs to focus on jobs for Wisconsin residents. Credit for Both Photos: Karen Hickey. For more pictures from Tuesday's press conference, visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wisaflcio/sets/72157625803492140/.)