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Littler Mendelson Tapped for Workers Comp Lobbying

April 24, 2017, 10:01 PM

By Ben Penn, Bloomberg BNA

A business coalition has hired Littler Mendelson to lobby on workers’ compensation programs, in what appears to be the controversial state-level advocacy group’s first foray into national politics.

The Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation promotes state legislation that permits employers to opt-out of benefit programs for injured workers. The ARAWC now seeks a voice in Washington, according to a lobbying registration form filed by the management law firm Littler Mendelson.

Littler Mendelson and the ARAWC declined to comment on the nature of the advocacy when reached by Bloomberg BNA April 24. The Reston, Va.-based ARAWC doesn’t currently list association members on its website, but it was reported in 2015 that the group was funded by such retail and grocery titans as Wal-Mart, Macy’s and Whole Foods. Representatives for all three of those companies didn’t immediately reply to emails or voicemails seeking comment.

The lobbying activity follows interest in 2015-2016 from Democratic lawmakers and the Labor Department in bolstering federal oversight of state-run workers’ comp programs. Texas is currently the only state that allows businesses to exit the state-run system and create their own benefits program for injured employees. The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a similar law in that state as unconstitutional in 2016.

Texas AFL-CIO Official Concerned

If the ARAWC and Littler Mendelson are lobbying the administration to cease investigating state plans, “it raises our level of concern about how responsible the Department of Labor is going to be about the concerns of working people,” Rick Levy, secretary-treasurer of the Texas AFL-CIO, told Bloomberg BNA.

“If it’s true, the idea that now these corporations are potentially intervening in the Department of Labor on issues of injured workers is certainly of grave concern to us,” he said. The union official was not aware of how much progress the DOL has made in investigating state gaps in workers’ comp coverage.

A DOL spokesperson wasn’t immediately able to provide detail on the status of the agency’s probe into state workers’ comp plans, and whether it has continued after President Donald Trump took office. The agency’s pre-Trump policy initiatives await direction from a new labor secretary, as the nominee to lead the agency, Alexander Acosta, has yet to receive a vote from the full Senate.

The ARAWC argues on its website that giving employers the option to exit the state government system improves medical outcomes for injured employees, facilitates better communication between workers and businesses, and provides for a more efficient court process.

Senate Labor Committee Veteran Listed

The registration form filed by Littler Mendelson describes interest in lobbying on labor and health issues, without providing further detail.

Littler Mendelson shareholder Ilyse Schuman is the only registered lobbyist. Schuman, who also co-chair’s the firm’s Workplace Policy Institute, held senior roles in the Senate labor committee’s GOP office from 2001 to 2008.

A Bloomberg BNA review of lobbying records revealed no previous federal advocacy on behalf of the ARAWC.

The coalition says on its website that membership also includes some state compensation providers. The ARAWC urges state legislatures to adopt laws similar to the one in Texas.

Subscribe to the Daily Labor Report , Bloomberg BNA’s news source for top labor and employment professionals.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com