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Injured at Work

Contact Oregon Governor
John Kitzhaber

Physician-turned-politician John Kitzhaber was elected governor of Oregon in November 2010 and will return to a job he held from 1994 to 2002. While governor for those eight years, Kitzhaber signed into law many legislative bills that were blatantly anti-worker, The worst of these was 1995's Senate Bill 369.

SB 369 made many changes to Oregon Workers’ Compensation law. Among the changes was that workers’ compensation became the "exclusive remedy" for work-related injuries, even if a claim was found not compensable. The bill was introduced after the Supreme Court of Oregon ruled early in 1995 that injured workers with denied (non-compensable) claims could sue their employers, despite the exclusive remedy provisions of the Workers’ Compensation law at that time.

During the time the bill was in the legislature and awaiting Governor Kitzhaber's signature, many legal experts argued that the bill was unconstitutional. Sure enough, in May 2001, the Oregon Supreme Court issued an opinion in Smothers v. Gresham Transfer, Inc. that confirmed this. Because it took over six years for the court opinion, thousands of Oregon workers were denied their constitutional right and the statute of limitations prevented them from ever getting justice.

SB 369 also set more restrictive limitations on the compensability of preexisting conditions, stress claims, and injuries involving drug or alcohol abuse. It also established a one-year claim-filing deadline, established a new medical fee schedule, and required courts to interpret the law impartially rather than giving benefit of doubt to workers. Basically, Senate Bill 369 threw workers injured on the job under the bus.

While governor the first time, John Kitzhaber's opinion of our workers' comp. system swung wildly back and worth. In his charge to the Management-Labor Advisory Committee on June 11, 1996 he stated, "Over the years I've been in the Legislature and since, the workers' compensation system has increasingly become an adversarial system marked by power politics and "zero sum" thinking in terms of premiums and benefits and protracted litigation. It has eroded the spirit if not the letter of the win/win contract as it was originally conceived. At one point last session I felt compelled to characterize the workers' compensation system as the "Bosnia" of Oregon politics. This climate has created a landscape littered with employee corpses along the way. The people who have suffered from the process have been the employees, the people who are supposed to benefit from the system."

Yet In the Winter 1998 issue of the state publication "Workers' Compensation Focus" it says, "Other states recognize Oregon as a leader in developing a successful, responsible workers' compensation system," Governor Kitzhaber said. "Regulatory reform and a strong occupational safety and health program have helped cut our insurance costs while reducing the number of workers hurt or even killed on the job. At the same time we've been able to increase maximum benefits for workers who are injured. Governor Kitzhaber added, "This kind of success doesn't come from playing politics or trying to evade responsibility. It comes from putting differences aside and working together for the common good. Oregon employers, workers, insurers, and state government have done this to create a workers' compensation system we can all rely on."

Please contact Governor Kitzhaber's office and ask for fairness in our state's system this time. Of all the contact means, a written letter that is descriptive yet under two pages is most ideal. When statements made can be collaborated, include the documentation. You may want to ask for an in-person meeting with a staff member. You could also ask to meet personally with Governor Kitzhaber (it won't hurt to try!).

Postal Mail:
Office of the Governor
State Capitol, Room 160
900 Court Street NE
Salem, OR 97301-4047

Message Line: 503-378-4582


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