This is one part of a larger story in Willamette Week September 9, 1998


Taking Stock of Kitzhaber


Working Man's Blues

By signing a Republican-authored workers' compensation reform bill, Gov. Kitzhaber raised doubts about his commitment to working people. Midway through his first legislative session as governor, Kitzhaber signed the bill at a time when Oregon's workers' comp rates had been steadily dropping, suggesting that the state was not awarding unnecessary claims to injured workers. Yet the bill, SB 369, gutted the rights of injured workers. Among other things, the bill prevented them from getting permanent disability if they were able to get a minimum-wage job. It also prevented workers from testifying on their own behalf in permanent-disability claims. More important, SB 369 increased the burden of proof for injured workers.

Personal-injury lawyers, admittedly not the most objective observers, were incensed. "Kitzhaber stabbed workers in the back," says lawyer Doug Swanson.

By 1997, the bill had spawned the Injured Workers Organizing Project, a coalition of 90 workers who had lost claims in front of the Workers' Compensation Board.

Meanwhile, a case challenging the bill has reached the Oregon Supreme Court.