In 1894, Congress established Labor Day as a national celebration of those citizens who keep it running. Workers are some of the most-frequently harmed members of our society, as work-related accidents are unfortunately all too common. Fortunately, recent decades have seen the passage of certain standards and rules that give workers increased protection. Still, many are injured or harmed while performing their labor; according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 2.8 million workplace-related injuries occurred in 2012 alone.
Workers’ Compensation insurance helps protect workers from abruptly losing their income during recovery. Most states have workers’ compensation-like regulations in place, although the degree of protections varies. In fact, some states interpret their workers’ compensation regulations so generously that even injuries sustained during company kickball games are covered.
Workers are further protected by specific state and citywide laws around the U.S. New York City, for example, has “Labor Law” which provides some strict liability standards that can remove a worker’s burden of proof. This law places “ultimate responsibility for safety practices at building construction sites upon the owners and general contractors, or their agents, instead of the workers who are not in a position to protect themselves.”
For workers without such protections, there are other ways to seek justice for all types of injuries — physical or otherwise — sustained on the job. Many unions help their members by providing free or discounted access to legal services. For example, the AFL-CIO — the country’s largest network of unions — works with over 2,000 law firms nationwide to secure legal aid for its members. Members may seek aid for a variety of reasons, including physical injuries, as well as administrative ones: say, unpaid wages and unfair terminations. This can be a game changer for plaintiffs who are financially unable to mount a case on their own — typically because they are suing the very people who write their paychecks.
Despite these protections, American workers still face significant obstacles in the pursuit of justice. With respect to workers’ compensation, for example, an unknown number of cases go underreported for alarming reasons: for instance, employees may bear the cost of treatment rather than pass it on to their employers, fearing retaliation. Not only that, but fewer and fewer laborers are members of unions, and thus are not afforded those protections. Unfortunately, most private-sector companies do not offer legal support to harmed workers.
Mighty believes in the power of plaintiff financing to bring justice to the harmed, laborers or otherwise. But we also recognize and applaud the many other means towards this end. From workers’ compensation to business- and union-subsidized legal services, American workers have more options than most. But it seldom is enough. The free market, and our elected officials, must do more to bring people swift justice. As they say, justice delayed is justice denied.
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