UNDER-COMPENSATING

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Several workers’ rights groups in New York City are launching a campaign against what they deem to be unfair and untimely treatment by the Workers’ Compensation Board.

The Chinese Staff & Workers’ Association (CSWA), along with the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops and Workers Awaaz, alleges that the board deprives injured and disabled workers of “critical medical treatment and benefits,” that it drags out cases for years at a time, and that it “fails to penalize law-breaking employers and hold faulty insurance companies accountable.”

The WCB, a board appointed by the governor, is supposed to enforce worker’s compensation rules, which ensure that an employee injured on the job gets his or her medical bills paid and gets help with living expenses.

In 1997, the CSWA began receiving complaints from garment workers who were injured on the job or developed work-related problems like strained shoulders or carpal tunnel syndrome. Many of these workers weren’t getting the benefits they were entitled to, and the Workers’ Comp board wasn’t much help.

Claims were held up in hearings for as long as five or ten years, workers said. Many injured workers could no longer hold a job because of injury-related pain, but they were often rewarded with paltry cost-of-living benefits, often only $40 or $50 a week-well below the poverty level.

For workers like Arek Tomaszewski, the board has provided little more than red tape. Tomaszewski was forced to quit his job as an asbestos remover after inhaling glue fumes in a poorly ventilated room–he developed asthma and a severe latex allergy as a result.

He filed for workers’ compensation almost immediately after the accident in 1992, but has yet to see any money for treatments or his living expenses. Broke, Tomaszewski worked sporadically, but kept having to take time off when his severe latex allergy would make the skin on his face start bleeding. He has been to 23 hearings at the WCB in an attempt to claim his benefits, but says that each time he is pushed aside.

“They look at you like, ‘Oh, you’re still alive. Let’s have another hearing,'” Tomaszewski said. “They can’t find the insurance that they should pay me for. It’s going nowhere. I see no improvements. It’s insane.”

The organizations plan to continue to pressure the WCB with petitions, protests and a potential lawsuit against the board if claims are not resolved, said Betty Yu, project manager for the joint campaign.

A spokesperson for the WCB did not return repeated phone calls from City Limits.