ROBERT E. PETERSEN, president of the Greater Washington Central Labor Council, now says no changes in the District's workman's compensation laws are acceptable to his organization. Some city council members had thought the labor council was in agreement with a bill, sponsored by council member Wilhelmina Rolark, that would have cut the workman's compensation insurance rates by 25 percent; a lawyer working for the labor council had helped write the Rolark bill. But Mr. Petersen now says he cannot support a bill that would cut any benefits for injured workers.
Mr. Petersen is making a mistake. If the workers' compensation law goes unchanged, his own rank-and-file in this city will suffer. Corporation able to move any part of their facilities to the suburbs will likely do so. The result will be that blue-collar workers, who already have a skimpy job market in the city, will have an even smaller number of jobs available to them. Mr. Petersen says he is aware that insurance payments by employers for workers' compensation have taken a 500 percent leap in the last eight years; he pays those higher fees for workers in his own organization. But he argues that the District's current law is not at fault. The problem, he says, is that the insurance companies are charging unreasonably high rates. And he blames employers who do a bad job of administering the program. Mr. Peterson is asking that hearings be held on the problems of the workman's compensation law.
Mr. Petersen is right that hearings should be held. It is possible that insurance companies are overcharging and that some employers are improperly administering the program. But the hearings should be part of an effort to improve the law by changing it. There can be no testimony that explains why businesses here should pay workers' compensation rates so high that the prices for their products are not competitive with those of firms in Virginia or Maryland. That is not good for city workers or city businesses.