Michigan law and undocumented workers – contending proposals

Workcomcentral (subscription required) reports of Michigan bills to restore benefits to undocumented workers. “Two Detroit lawmakers have introduced legislation that would allow all workers in Michigan who pay into the workers’ compensation fund to receive benefits if they are injured on the job, regardless of their U.S. residency status, nullifying a state Supreme Court ruling.”
But an official with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that the proposal would result in a “mixed message” being sent to the state’s employers, since lawmakers also are considering legislation that would prohibit employers from hiring undocumented workers and impose penalties on businesses that violated that prohibition.
Majority Floor Leader Steve Tobocman (D) and Sen. Hansen Clarke (D) filed their proposals as House Bill 5572 and Senate Bill 997, respectively.


The bills have identical language. Neither has been set for hearing.
Tobocman noted that the Michigan Workers’ Disability Compensation Act currently does not expressly exclude undocumented workers.
But in 2004, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that injured undocumented workers, whose wages had been taxed to pay into the fund, could not receive benefits for lost wages, he reported.
The Supreme Court denied a petition for writ of review of a lower court ruling in David Sanchez and Alejandro Vasquez v. Eagle Alloy that denied workers’ compensation benefits to the injured workers of illegal immigrant status and who used false documents.
According to the lower court opinion, Sanchez went to work at Eagle Alloy Inc. in 1997, using a false Social Security card he bought in California for $30.
In September 1998 Sanchez’s hand was crushed in a press machine. He was fired in 1999, after the company learned he was an undocumented worker, and he thereafter sought benefits.
Vasquez, who was injured in 1999 on the job, was fired later that year for failing to adhere to the company’s attendance policy, and like Sanchez, sought benefits after termination.
Tobocman said the legislation would ensure that “every worker who is taxed and pays into the workers’ compensation fund” is able to obtain benefits when he is injured on the job.
Undocumented workers who are not able to obtain workers’ compensation benefits only end up being provided social services at the expense of taxpayers generally, he contends.
“Injured workers and Michigan taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for workplace injuries,” Tobocman commented.
He also contends that denying workers’ compensation benefits to injured undocumented workers encourages employers to hire undocumented workers.
Clarke agrees that all workers in the state need to be “properly protected from the physical and financial risks of workplace injury, especially when they are all paying into the fund regardless of their immigration status.”
The senator said the legislation would “make sure that any one injured on the job in this state is eligible for compensation.”
In a statement on the bills, the lawmakers reported the legislation would promote “safer and healthier work environments.”
They cited a report by California research indicating that the Midwest region had “the highest rate of worker abuse” and that laborers were most likely to face physical risk.
The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported 52 employment-related deaths in 2006 and at least 31 deaths in 2007, the statement noted.
It also cited U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures showing that all Michigan employers, including state and local government, reported 175,100 injuries in 2006.
Rich Studley, executive vice president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, told WorkCompCentral that “we’re very concerned about the bill.”
Studley said the bill would change provisions allowing benefits to be denied in cases of “crimes” to state that benefits could not be denied because of illegal immigration status or use of false documents relating to the worker’s status.
“We’re saying to the House that they need to make up their minds on this issue,” Studley said.
“At the same time they’re looking at this … they’re looking at other bills that would prohibit employers from hiring illegal aliens and impose stiff penalties if they do,” he reported. “This is sending a very mixed message to employers.”
Studley added that the problem is a federal issue, “but the president and Congress have not acted to secure our borders” and deal with legal and illegal immigration.
The proposal has received support from some labor and community groups, including Unite Here of Michigan State Council (Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union), Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength, Southeast Michigan Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice and El Centro Obrero de Detroit.

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