Majority leader in Washington state goes to bat for truckers

| 11/21/2008

Already cash-strapped trucking companies in Washington state were dealt a blow in late September when they received a letter from the state’s Department of Labor and Industries announcing that workers’ compensation rates would likely go up in 2009.

However, several state lawmakers – including Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-24th Dist., have vowed to fight against the workers’ compensation rate increases, which she said could put some struggling businesses under if they are approved.

“With this economic crisis we are in and when you have an industry, for instance, the timber communities in this state– it’s very tenuous at best,” she told Land Line Magazine on Friday, Nov. 21. “If we keep raising their taxes, how in the world are they going to stay afloat when they are barely hanging on now?”

Kessler, who is majority leader in the House, said she spoke with Gov. Chris Gregoire about the rate hikes on Thursday, Nov. 20, and said she told her “this is a really bad time to be raising rates.”

“The governor said she would look into this because she agrees she’s not looking to make things harder than they already are for businesses right now,” she said.

Elaine Fischer, a Labor Department spokeswoman, told Land Line in early November the agency is sitting on a $1.6 billion budget surplus. Kessler said the actual amount may be as high as $3 billion.

While the state agency is proposing an across-the-board 3 percent increase for all businesses, the rates would be higher depending on a specific industry’s risk factors. Considered high-risk industries, both trucking and loggers’ workers’ compensation rates would go up well above 3 percent.

“They (L&I) are touting this as a 3 percent increase, but I think it’s disingenuous to say that because it’s really not,” Kessler said. “Trucking and logging operations are areas that will be hit harder than others.”

Kessler said one of her arguments against the workers’ comp increases was that they could “compound the already accelerated job loss we are feeling here in Washington state and across the nation.”

“I told the governor that maybe with such a healthy reserve and with the large unemployment rates we are facing and the fact that we might not have as many claims as in previous years, do we really need to raise them at this particular time,” she said.

Kessler said she will follow up with the governor next week. She regularly meets with Gregoire as part of “three-corner meetings,” along with the Senate majority leader and the speaker of the House.

OOIDA member Sherrie Bond of Chehalis, WA, met with Kessler earlier this week about the workers’ comp rate increase proposal. Bond also met with the Washington Forest Protection Association, a trade association representing private forest landowners in Washington state, which also opposes the increases.

Sherrie and her husband, Bob, have owned a log-hauling company for more than 40 years in Washington and have taken an active role in fighting for the rights of truckers.

Bond said she is committed to fighting the proposed workers’ compensation rate increases even though it may be too late to help her struggling business. She plans to meet with as many lawmakers as will listen to her in the next few weeks because the rates are scheduled to be approved in late November.

“When it comes to this industry, I always say there are those who hunt to feed everyone, those who gather to share the bounty, and the hyenas who come in afterwards, clean the bones and praise themselves for being such great hunters,” she told Land Line recently.

Washington state businesses are urged to call Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office at 360-902-4111 to express opposition to the workers’ compensation rate increases. Click here to send a letter to her office.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer