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SAIF foes submit ballot measure signatures

07/02/2004
on 7/2/04.

From Bend.com news sources
Posted: Friday, July 2, 2004 7:47 PM
Reference Code: PR-16547

July 2 - SALEM - Organizers and supporters of the initiative that would protect Oregon businesses and injured workers by abolishing SAIF filed over 130,000 petition signatures with the Secretary of State’s office Friday, far in excess of the 75,630 needed to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

Explaining the broad support behind the initiative effort, OFA spokesperson Lisa Gilliam said, “As we have found over the past several months, the more Oregonians have learned about SAIF the more they share a need for a positive alternative. They’ve all heard about the scandals, and now they’re saying it’s time to do something about it. Today injured workers, business owners and voters from across the state are joining Oregonians for Accountability in saying its time for a change!”

Willamette Valley Vineyard owner Jim Bernau, injured Oregon worker Lorinda Gauthier and Oregon Citizens for a Sound Economy Director Russ Walker joined Gilliam at an event held at the state Capitol prior to the filing.

Bernau is backing the measure because he has seen the destructive effects SAIF’s practices have had on Oregon businesses. His business, Willamette Valley Vineyards, is one of the 11,000 Oregon businesses pushed by SAIF into the far more expensive assigned risk pool. The agency never specified a reason for this decision.

“They merely decided we would not be one of the chosen businesses receiving SAIF’s preferred status and financial favor,” Bernau said.

He continued, “When monopoly enterprises are allowed to do strange and unhealthy things like subsidize powerful big business over independent small business it is a threat to our way of life.”

Still at the core of any workers’ compensation insurance discussion are the very people those policies are intended to protect – injured workers. However, Lorinda Gauthier feels as though SAIF turned its back on her when it mattered most.

Gauthier was an employee of the Oregon Department of Transportation when she experienced a head injury on the job. She has sub-occipital nerve damage and suffers from debilitating migraines as a result. To limit the attacks she needs to work in a controlled environment, but when she approached her former employer with this request she was told there was no job for her and was laid off. Meanwhile, SAIF closed her claim and she was left without a job and two years of wages.

“I am not an expert on workers’ comp insurance, but I am an expert on being an injured worker and the additional suffering that can come at the hands of SAIF,” Gauthier explained.

“While I languished in medical bills, lost wages and the effects of my injury, SAIF was out building its financial reserves and sending kick backs to the groups who help keep it in power. Is this how our state workers’ comp insurer is supposed to act?” Gauthier asked.

CSE’s Russ Walker noted that businesses and injured workers are not SAIF’s only victims. Oregon taxpayers are also paying the price for the agency’s actions.

“SAIF has continued to rake in the profits of its preferential policies while Oregonians have been told time and time again that the state just can’t survive without taking more of our hard earned tax dollars. We must get the state out of the insurance business, take back the excess profits SAIF has refused to share and make a stand for smaller government and private enterprise in Oregon,” Walker declared.

Gilliam credits the support of voters from the across the state for the success of the signature collection effort.

“I have been so impressed by the countless Oregonians who have reached out to us and said we must get this measure on the ballot,” Gilliam said.

“We will continue to build on this momentum as we move toward a victory in the November election,” she concluded.

Under the proposed measure, businesses and injured workers would be served by private workers’ comp insurance and rates would be kept low similar to successful programs in Michigan and Nevada. For more information visit www.oregoniansforaccountability.com.