10-18-11; What a Hoot!!! The City of Chicago admits their annual budget for WC claims will exceed $100M!

We read a recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times indicating Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Edward M. Burke, chairman of the Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee, are dealing with the City’s $100-a-year million tab for workers compensation claims. As the City has about 30,000 workers, we are fairly confident they may have the highest WC cost to employee ratio on the planet. If you compare the City of Chicago to companies like Ford Motor Company, AT&T and General Electric that have about 300,000 employees or ten times as many workers, such organizations would owe $1 billion per year if they had the same WC cost per employee!

We note the City of Chicago has a vastly overwhelmed claims and legal staff to handle their claims. In our view, this may be penny-wise and pound-foolish. To our understanding, the City of Chicago has one claims handler dealing with 3,000 pending IL WC claims and a single attorney with the Corporation Counsel’s office to “defend” them. We urge Mayor Emanuel and Chairman Burke to reach out to the IL WC claims community and seek a better overall strategy by using real municipal WC consultants like the top-notch folks at IRMA.

The Sun-Times report does indicate the City fathers are going to perform a “safety analysis” of working conditions that will be conducted in every city department to produce and then implement specific safety protocols. The Sun-Times further notes the City’s Department of Streets and Sanitation has one-third of its garbage collectors sidelined every single working day of the year. This is what we characterize as a “ghost workforce”—the City apparently needs 133 workers with full salaries, pensions and other benefits to have only 100 working on any given day. No private company could survive with that level of absenteeism.

In contrast, we note there are numerous private companies that could provide these same routine environmental collection services to our citizenry at a dramatically cheaper cost. Again, the City’s failure to reduce accidents, surveil folks who may be off too long and rapidly return such workers to light and then full duty jobs causes the “ghost workforce” at very high cost to taxpayers who are all deeply concerned about spiraling City budget deficits.

Alderman Burke, who has had sole authority to process and settle workers compensation claims openly commits to more aggressively investigate and manage individual cases—this may be the third or fourth time he has publicly committed to do so. The City Council’s Finance Committee asserts it will now work with other City officials to bring injured City employees back to work and establish a new protocol for regularly updating the ongoing disability status of employees.

In another announcement that may bring smiles to veteran WC observers, for the first time anyone can remember the City Council’s Finance Committee has announced for employees who cannot be rehired into a City job, the Committee will “engage in vocational rehabilitation.” As the Illinois WC claims industry has been doing that for about as long as the four-plus decades Chairman Burke has been in office, we are happy to see he is catching up. We hope it doesn’t take him forty-plus years to have the City Council get a WC PPP into place, consistent with the 2011 Amendments to the IL WC Act.