BWC Directors Hear from Employers, Labor Leaders

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Ohio contractors whose employees are injured on the job in Pennsylvania are often frustrated when they file a Workers Compensation claim in the Keystone State on behalf of their employees.

That was the leading concern Thursday morning in the Youngstown office of the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation where five on the BWC Board of Directors met with Valley employers, safety directors, labor leaders and insurance agents to learn what’s on their minds.

Kevin Reilly, executive vice president of the Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, told the board, “Ohio contractors are penalized in Pennsylvania but Pennsylvania contractors are not penalized in Ohio” when they file a claim with their respective BWCs.

The board liaison, Don Berno, agreed that Pennsylvania “is not playing nice,” but told the 30 in the audience that steps are underway to remedy the lack of reciprocity. The two states have different insurers but Ohio is working with Pennsylvania’s so Ohio workers injured on the job there are treated fairly.

The directors made it a point to stress how different the agency is since ”Coingate” came to light in 2005 when a Republican operative, Tom Noe, invested heavily in rare coins in behalf of the BWC. An audit of its books could account for only $13 million of the $50 million so invested with somewhere between $10 million and $12 million missing because Noe kept two sets of books.

In 2006, the General Assembly limited BWC investments to municipal bonds and Treasury bills, easily converted to cash. Since then, BWC investment advisers have been given latitude to invest in stocks as well. In the last couple of years, the BWC has invested in real estate, reported Mark J. Palmer, chairman of the investments committee.

“We rebuilt the portfolio and started anew,” he said.

Since its reform, the BWC investment portfolio has grown to $24 billion, Palmer reported. “We have good investment managers,” he said, “which helps keep rates low.” The returns earned on that portfolio were 12.4% in fiscal 2011, 9.8% in fiscal 2012, 3.8% in fiscal 2013 and 13.4% in fiscal 2014.

The BWC fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.

Other concerns were the “red tape,” as Butch Taylor put it, in returning a small number of his members back to work. “They have small injuries,” he told the panel, “but it takes too long to get resolved.”

Taylor is a business agent for Local 396 of the Plumbers and Pipefitters union in Boardman and president of the Western Reserve Building and Construction Trades.

Interviewed afterward, the union leader explained, “Situations arise when an injury occurs and there’s litigation.”

“Give us a point person,” he asked the directors, who can quickly achieve a solution satisfactory to employer, the union and the worker. “Now we have a contact person,” Taylor said in the interview. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, there’s no problem. Things today are a lot different [for the better] than they were 35 years ago.”

Jerry Anderson, manager of the BWC Youngstown office, introduced the panel.

Another concern is the overuse of opium-based painkillers physicians prescribe injured workers. Claudia Kovach, vice president of City Machine Technologies Inc. and its safety director, began with, “My problem is narcotics. You get a 30-day supply of Percocet when you only need a day or two. Tylenol and Advil work very well.”

(Percocet is a combination of acetaminophen and oxycodine, the latter an opiod.)

Responded Berno, “It’s difficult for us to get involved in a doctor’s decision.” However, as director David Johnson, president of Summitville Tile in Minerva, pointed out, the BWC drug formulary program has significantly reduced the use of painkillers by more than a third since it was instituted.

Johnson is also the chairman of the Columbiana County Republican Party and the region’s local director.

Pictured: Answering questions at Thursday meeting are David Johnson, BWC director, Jerry Anderson, manager of the Youngstown Service Office, and Don Berno, BWC liaison.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.