Labor Groups Contest Kansas Workers Compensation Judge Selection ProcessJuly 31, 2015
Labor advocacy groups have spoken out against the workers compensation judge selection process in Kansas, saying that it lacks transparency and favors management over workers. The meetings are typically open for interested parties, but the meeting of the state’s Workers Compensation and Employment Security Boards Nominating Committee in selecting a replacement for Judge Brad Avery was closed. The closed meeting for selecting a new workers compensation judge to replace Judge Avery prompted the protests.
Details of the Workers Compensation Judge Selection Process
The nominating committee was established in 2013 as part of a workers compensation reform movement in the Republican-controlled state government. The nominating committee appoints ten administrative law judges to serve as workers compensation judges. These judges hear disputes between employees and employers regarding the disposition of an employee’s workers compensation status. Judge Avery was the first workers compensation judge to be removed from this position, as he was voted out in April by a 6-1 margin.
Private Workers Compensation Judge Selection Process Causes Concern
The closed nature of the nominating committee meetings has drawn concerns among labor advocates. Topeka attorney Frank Taff brought a video camera to a committee meeting to record the process. He asked the committee why the interviews for a new workers compensation judge were held privately. He cited the Kansas Open Meetings Act, which requires that government meetings be open to those with an interest in the proceedings. Committee Chairman Eric Stafford responded that the committee can hold interviews for workers compensation judges in private, as long as their votes go into the public record.
Is the Workers Compensation Judge Selection Process Unfair?
Labor groups and attorneys claim that the process for selecting new workers compensation judges is unfair to workers. The most recent committee meeting was held in the offices of the state’s Chamber of Commerce in Topeka. Mr. Taff noted that many of the committee members belong to the Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, two groups that may seek to place limits on workers compensation claims. Mr. Taff argued that having members of a committee in charge of selecting workers compensation judges while also promoting the interests of the state’s businesses unfairly slants the agenda against workers.
Was Workers Compensation Judge Removed Due To Politics?
Some observers have speculated that Judge Avery was removed from his post as a workers compensation judge due to his rulings in favor of injured employees. Bruce Tunnell, executive director of the Kansas AFL-CIO, cast the lone dissenting vote against dismissing Judge Avery. His office claims that the workers compensation judge was removed “because of a perception that his rulings too often favored injured workers.” Mr. Tunnell described the selection process as “stacked up for business,” claiming that the committee members will only choose “someone who’s going to represent their best interests”
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