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Athlete workers' comp limits are headed to the goal line

Players unions oppose the owner-backed bill, even after restrictions for players from out-of-state teams are scaled back.

July 21, 2013|By Marc Lifsher
  • The workers' compensation bill sponsored by Assemblyman Henry Perea (D-Fresno) is opposed by players, backed by owners.
The workers' compensation bill sponsored by Assemblyman Henry Perea… (Rich Pedroncelli, ASSOCIATED…)

SACRAMENTO — Professional athletes from out-of-state teams soon could be out of luck if they seek money through the workers' compensation system for injuries suffered at California sporting venues.

A bill to scale back the lucrative benefits that California has awarded the athletes in recent years is moving swiftly through the Legislature and is likely to be on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk next month. Supporters said they expect Brown to sign it into law.

Backed by football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer team owners, the legislation would close what they call a loophole that allows athletes, who sometimes played only a few games in California, to win six-figure payouts for so-called cumulative trauma injuries. Such ailments, including spinal and nerve damage, often don't show up until after retirement.

The bill is being fast-tracked, despite opposition from the NFL Players Assn. and other unions. Amendments by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and other lawmakers smoothed some of its more controversial features.

Among other things, about 6,000 pending claims by athletes can go forward in the California workers' compensation insurance system. And athletes who spend at least two or more seasons with local teams before leaving the state will remain eligible for California benefits.

NFL executives can live with the changes, spokesman Jason Kinney said. "No one gets everything he wants," he said, "but in terms of ending this unique and egregious abuse, California's system gets what it needs."

Opponents still hate AB 1309 by Assemblyman Henry Perea (D-Fresno), says Angie Wei of the California Labor Federation. It benefits "out-of-state, billionaire team owners at the expense of working athletes."

Be nice — but not too nice

The California Chamber of Commerce has a new Top 10 list to help its 13,000 members avoid employee lawsuits.

No. 2 is particularly tongue-in-cheek: "Be nice to employees — let them work through lunch so they can take off early."

Being too nice could backfire by violating wage and hour laws — even when "you let an employee do as he wishes," cautions Susan Kemp, a chamber labor law expert.

"At some point an employee could be very unhappy with you, even though you've been nice to them in the past," she warns. "They can turn around and sue you for any reason."

Poised to be No. 8, again

Strong growth in California this year, combined with sputtering economies in Europe, means that the Golden State is about to grab back its singular spot as the world's eighth biggest economy, predicts Steve Levy, executive director and chief economist at the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto.

This year the state is expected to grow 3.5%, enough to break ahead of Italy and Russia and return to the No. 8 position, he said. Last year, the three economies had been tied with gross domestic products of about $2 trillion.

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

Twitter:@marclifsher

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