|Posted by Sandra Sutton on March 6, 2011 at 3:48 AM|
Senator Collins Introduces Bill
To Terminate OWCP Payments
Injured Workers Would Face Reduced Benefits
APWU Web News Article 017-2011, Feb. 10, 2011
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has sponsored legislation that would lead to reduced benefits for postal and federal employees who receive payments from the Office of Workers Compensation Program (OWCP) due to job-related injuries or illnesses.
The Federal Workers Compensation Reform Act of 2011 (S. 261), introduced on Feb. 2, would end Workers’ Compensation payments to employees when they reach retirement age and become eligible for annuities through the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).
This bill would be financially devastating to thousands of postal and federal employees. Generally, after workers have been on the OWCP rolls for one continuous year, if they are separated, their high-three earnings average — which is used to calculate their retirement earnings — is frozen. During the time these employees are on the rolls of OWCP, they do not receive contractual raises negotiated by the union.
As a result, if Sen. Collins’ bill becomes law, the pensions of most of the affected employees would be a small fraction of the amount they would have received if they had completed their career without sustaining a debilitating illness or injury.
Sen. Collins, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said her bill is intended to stop injured workers from “gaming this crucial benefit at taxpayers’ expense,” noting that more than 2,000 postal employees who are over the age of 70 are currently receiving federal workers' compensation benefits, which exceed the annuities provided by CSRS and FERS.
Unfortunately, the bill does nothing to curb alleged abuses of the system noted APWU Legislative and Political Director Myke Reid. “Instead, it targets all ill and injured employees who reach retirement age, regardless of whether they expect to return to work in the future,” he said. “The legislation would inflict monetary penalties in addition to the physical and emotional suffering these workers have already endured.”
The meaning of the term “retirement age” varies, depending on the injured employee’s age, but generally ranges from age 65 to 67.
“The legislation would have a disastrous effect on employees in the designated age group who suffer relatively minor, temporary inuries, because it would force them to retire,” said Sue Carney, APWU Director of Human Relations.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees, Reid said, “yet thousands of safety violations are reported each year in the USPS. Nothing in S.261 addresses the working conditions for employees in an unsafe environment.”