BANGOR – A bill that proposes 19 changes to the state worker’s compensation system has union leaders rallying members in preparation for a battle at the State House in January.

Maine AFL-CIO Executive Director Matt Schlobohm and union attorney Jim Case briefed nearly 150 union members Thursday on “state legislative fights” that the union expects when lawmakers return to Augusta.

The briefing was one of many events held Thursday at the Bangor Ramada during the union’s 28th biennial convention.

“On January 4, the first day of the new legislative session, we should be there en force,” said Emery Deabay, vice president of the Eastern Maine Labor Council. “Let (lawmakers) come into the session and see we haven’t gone anywhere over the summer.”

While the union is also talking about the return of a bill to eliminate the “fair share” provision for state workers and a new proposal to ban the practice of collecting union dues by automatic withdrawal, it is most fired up about L.D. 1571.

The bill, sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, seeks to revise the state worker’s compensation law that was enacted after a fierce partisan battle in the early 1990s. The bill, which will be heard by the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, proposes 19 changes, including:

• Reducing labor’s ability to choose members of the worker’s compensation board. Organized labor now gets to pick three of the seven members. The bill would reduce that to one member and give the governor the power to name the other two labor appointees.

• Eliminating the requirement that a physician have an active practice to do a medical exam for a worker’s compensation claim.

• Instituting a scale of benefits based on the severity of an injury, and reducing the number of weeks that benefits are paid.

Case, an attorney with McTeague Higbee in Topsham, said Cushing’s bill “guts the current law. It’s an insult to the working people of this state. It’s a bill that attacks the right to receive benefits.”

Cushing said he proposed the bill because it’s a difficult economic climate for businesses and he wants to make sure the system is working properly. In particular, he’s concerned about system abuses and said it’s a “mischaracterization” to say his bill attempts to gut the system.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]