New York state's Workers' Compensation Board has started a sweeping effort to examine the system, and look at how it could more effectively meet the needs of injured workers and employers. It's in the midst of holding sessions where injured workers can express their opinions.
The second of three sessions was held yesterday in Syracuse, and allowed injured workers to chime in on the discussion in central New York. Fidel, Alejandro Velacqueis Perez was among those telling stories.
His ankle was shattered on the job at a stone cutting company in Delaware County. While waiting four months for a Workers' Compensation hearing, he's basically homeless.
"I need help," Perez said. "I don't have any resources. I don't have money to buy food. I don't have money to get a phone and reach my family."
Interpreting for Perez is Rebecca Fuentes of the Workers Center of Central New York. She says immigrant voices especially need to be heard, but part of the problem is that many don't even know Workers' Compensation exists. An answer to that would be more outreach from the agency.
"People in this building need to get out," Fuentes said. "We want to see them out at events, tabling. We need to see them everywhere. Because workers are getting injured, and they're not having equal access to this right."
Fuentes says among other things, some immigrants lose their jobs after an injury because they apply for Workers' Compensation. She says it is a serious issue that the Workers' Compensation Board needs to address, using stiff penalties for employers who do this.
She also believes more outreach from the agency would go a long way in helping those situations.
“We want injured workers to know that this is happening, and we want their voices to be heard," Fuentes said. "Especially, as a worker center, we work with a lot of immigrant workers and refugees. They, to begin with, don’t even know about Workers' Compensation's existence and we’re very concerned that especially their voices are not being heard.”
There is one more workers hearing in Syracuse, scheduled for the first Monday in January.