Although membership in trade unions has dropped across the United States since the 1970s, organized labor remains a vital force here in the Commonwealth. We have 900,000 unionized employees in Pennsylvania, with 51 individual unions and 1,422 locals. As Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation, we represent injured union members in all of the following occupations:
- Bricklayers, carpenters, roofers, masons, bridge workers, and other construction workers
- Electricians, plumbers, heating and A/C installers, pipefitters, and welders
- Cannery employees, meat packing and food processing workers, slaughterhouse and poultry plant employees
- Government employees, including mail carriers
- Heavy industry factory workers, boiler makers, iron- and steelworkers, auto workers, manufacturing line workers and machine operators
- Hotel workers, restaurant and bar employees
- Law enforcement personnel, including police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and prison guards
- Maintenance workers
- Nurses and other health care workers
- Police officers
- Truckers, warehouse employees, delivery workers and messengers
- Utility workers
Labor Unions And Safe Workplaces
You have the right to a safe place to work. Organized labor was instrumental in getting the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act enacted into law in 1970. Since then, labor unions have been holding business owners to their obligations to remove hazards from the workplace. And that pressure is working: studies suggest that businesses with a unionized labor force have fewer accidents. Nevertheless, injuries can still happen on any job. In Pennsylvania, workers’ compensation benefits are available to an injured worker without regard to who may have been at fault in causing the injury. Those benefits cover medical and surgical expenses, vocational rehabilitation, lost wages, and other losses. However, state law says that-in exchange for guaranteed compensation for workplace injuries-all workers lose their rights to sue their employers or coworkers for any negligent acts that may have harmed them. Special rules may apply when employees protected by a labor union need workers’ compensation benefits in Pennsylvania. Your Harrisburg workers’ comp lawyer will want to examine your union contract carefully, to see if there are special provisions for reporting your on-the-job injury, or if you are guaranteed access to specific physicians. Similarly, your contract may grant you an allowance to hire an attorney to represent your interests in workers’ comp matters. Your independent attorney can investigate your case to see if you have grounds for a personal injury claim, if negligence from a third party not working for your employer caused your injuries.
Job Injuries Common To Unionized Occupations In Pennsylvania
Any type of accident can happen in any workplace – although there are some industries that are more dangerous than others. Because labor unions cover such a broad spectrum of occupations, the range of potential on-the-job injuries and occupational illnesses is astounding. The following injuries have been among the most common complaints of our clients who are union members:
- Electrical injuries and burns. For workers in heavy industry, factories, and construction trades, there is always a danger that electrical power sources and hot metal can lead to burns and electrical injuries. Some of those injuries may be immediately fatal. Chemical, heat, and electrical burns can do various degrees of damage to the skin and underlying tissues, or even sear bone. Worker’s compensation does have provisions to provide “specific injury” payments for scars and permanent disfigurement from burns and electrical injuries.
- Falls. Falls are the most common injury at work. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that over 200,000 workers were seriously injured-and 605 people died-by falls in 2009. The annual price tag for fall accidents has been estimated at about $70 billion in workers’ compensation and medical costs. For unionized employees, some of the greatest dangers include slipping on icy or muddy patches, skidding on greasy or oil surfaces, tripping on debris left by other workers, falling from ladders and scaffolds, tripping down stairs, and stumbling over wires, power cords, or cables.
- Fatal injuries. Nearly 13 American workers die each day due to fatal workplace accidents. The construction industry, which has a large concentration of union members, has the largest number of fatalities among all industrial sectors. Falls from heights, crushing injuries from heavy objects dropped from above, catching a body part or clothing in a machine, and exposure to flame, acids, electricity, or toxic chemicals are common causes of deadly injuries at work. In Pennsylvania, worker’s compensation death benefits are available for dependents-widows or widowers who remain unmarried, and children under age 18-after a fatal job injury.
- Head trauma. Recent news reports on the dangers of football-related brain injuries have made Americans more sensitive to the dangers from head injuries, but you don’t have to be involved in sports to suffer a serious head trauma at work. Slips and falls, trips on carpeting or stairways, a head bumped against an open cupboard door or cabinet drawer, a head injury from a falling object—any of these can cause severe damage to the brain, neck, or spinal column. Because of the subtle nature of brain damage, the symptoms of a serious traumatic brain injury may not appear until hours or days after the incident.
- Heavy equipment injuries. Many union workers perform their jobs with power tools, cranes, and other forms of heavy equipment. Others are factory line workers and machine operators, working in conjunction with robotic controls on assembly line production. Typical injuries here include being caught on or trapped in mechanical devices that can mangle limbs or crush bones (Link to Bone, Muscle, and Joint Injuries), and being struck by or trapped between heavy pieces of equipment that can compress the body or sever digits.
- Lifting injuries. Moving, lifting, and carrying heavy items is an almost universal part of the job for unionized workers in the United States. Unless these tasks are performed perfectly, with the right manual lifting techniques and support, it’s easy for a lifting injury to occur to the back, knees, legs, or shoulders. Back injuries-the most common result of lifting accidents-account for 31 percent of workplace compensation costs.
- Occupational disease. Asbestosis or mesothelioma in construction workers exposed to asbestos or black lung disease in mine workers are examples of occupational diseases: illnesses that are cause by contact with a dangerous substance in the workplace. Pennsylvania’s labor unions have long demanded more rigorous safety standards for workers, but hundreds of workers get sickened on the job every month anyway. Workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania covers occupation diseases just as it provides benefits for acute injuries.
- Repetitive trauma. Repetitive trauma injuries are the fastest growing class of injuries in the workplace. Heavy lifting, frequency twisting or bending can, over time, inflame tendons and damage joints. Exposure to repeated pressure and vibration-from as light a pressure as typing at a computer keyboard or as severe as operating a jackhammer-can trigger-carpal tunnel syndrome or elbow problems that swell into debilitating pain. Repeated stress can strike at the knees, ankles, shoulders, hips, or elsewhere, and can cause pain ranging from annoying to disabling.
- Strains and sprains. The various types of bone, joint, and muscle injuries that can result from workplace accidents are too numerous to list. Broken bones, wrenched ankles, strained tendons, and joint damage can follow a fall, crushing accident, or collision with a fixed object. Every workplace accident should be reported immediate to the employer and evaluated by health care professionals as soon as possible; do not hesitate to demand an ambulance be called to take you to the emergency room after a possible joint or bone injury.
The Bulldog Lawyers Are Ready To Help You
For over two decades, the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law firm of Larry Levin and Jay Shor has been fighting for the rights of all employees to get fair recoveries when they are injured at work. With our offices located throughout the state-in Philadelphia, Reading, and Harrisburg-we can provide legal advice to any worker whose benefits are delayed, denied, or terminated too early. Call us today at 866-462-8553 to learn how we can help your case.