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Open Letter to California Governor to Not Sign SB 863

Bills becoming laws takes time, usually a long time. However, a California bill — SB 863 — depriving workers of rights passed the Assembly and Senate on the last day of the legislative session within HOURS, not days, of each other. WBI appeals to Gov. Jerry Brown to not sign the bill into law. Read the full 60­pg text of SB 863.

Hon. Jerry Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Sir,

Your signature is affixed to my University of California doctorate, from your first gubernatorial period. It was a different time. The state Chamber of Commerce competed on a more equal basis with the California Labor Federation. Now, the former dominates the latter. Unions, still representing 17% of California workers, have been co-opted with SB 863 — a workers compensation reform bill.

SB 863 has been hailed as a bipartisan achievement in "reforming" workers Compensation. However, we at the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), originally launched in Benicia, oppose the proposed law because of the losses it imposes on injured workers. It’s not a compromise when workers’ changing needs are ignored and employers’ long­standing wish lists are fulfilled.

Since the global recession of 2008, employers have resisted hiring while racheting up demands — physical and psychological — of current workers. Needless, preventable stress results. Several of the stress­related diseases known to rise when task demands increase on workers are cardiovascular problems and sleep disorders (which cause insomnia and fatigue that lead to higher accident rates).

The newest neuroscience studies explore deleterious effects of unremitting stress (and the flooding of the brain by glucocorticoids that damage tissue) on neurological injuries that underlie psychological behavioral changes. That is, when the brain loses gray matter, the individual suffers severe anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress. SB 863 demonstrates an ignorance of the science behind "mental health problems." Stressors at work are not born in the imagination of injured workers. Stress­related neural structure changes are as real, objective (MRI confirmable) and physical as broken limbs or damaged lungs from chemical exposure.

SB 863 prevents claims for insomnia and mental health problems. Workers injured by abusive, toxic workplace, either through malicious employer planning or inadvertent harm from the lack of managerial skill, deserve relief through workers compensation.

Stress claims are frequent because employers are pushing workers beyond limits of human production. SB 863 allows employers to harm at will and to now do so with impunity.

California has no specific state law prohibiting abusive work environments. It was the first in the country to introduce one in 2003, but it died quietly. When civil courts provide no redress, workers need the Workers Compensation.

In a bill 160 pages long, there are multiple offenses against good, hard working Californians. Besides the preclusion of stress­related injuries with physical manifestations, is the despicable replacement of a workers compensation lawsuit with mandatory binding arbitration.

Employers want arbitration to keep their abuse of employees secret. First, they don’t want the public knowing how they actually mistreat a subset of their workers to preserve their carefully honed reputations. Second, court filings send messages to current employees that what is happening to them is part of a pattern, not isolated and rare injurious work conditions. Arbitration also allows bad employers to claim being employers of choice," when in fact, their promises of a safe healthy workplace will be reneged after hiring. Abusing employers hide behind arbitration.

For these reasons alone, Governor Brown, please do not sign SB 863 into law. You will be committing a grave injustice against millions of California workers. Harken back to the 1970’s when your concern for human rights was on public display. Do the right thing.

Thank you for hearing our concerns.

Gary Namie, PhD
Director, Workplace Bullying Institute

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