Accomplishments, Initiatives Lead to Promising '96

In the context of DIR's commitment to ensure safe workplaces and maintain needed labor standards, DIR has worked throughout the Wilson administration to meet the Governor's core objectives: improving California's economic competitiveness to spur job creation and making state government more effective and efficient.

The year 1995 was a very productive one for DIR. The department's most significant achievement of the '90s-workers' compensation reform and the implementation of it- continues to reap rewards for California businesses and workers. Premium costs for California businesses declined billions of dollars over the last two years, while workers' benefits increased in 1994 and 1995 and will increase again in 1996.

In a recent Los Angeles Times article, "The California Bear Awakens," columnist Tom Plate wrote: "To some, California was once infamous for being about as inviting to business as communist Bulgaria. We still have to work on this, but at least we have put a stake in the heart of the most obnoxious impediment-the notorious workers' compensation system that was piling unnecessary costs on all businesses and crushing small ones. Now such costs have been reduced 40 percent."

The year 1995 saw other significant achievements throughout DIR. The Cal/OSHA Targeted Inspection and Consultation Program mandated by the 1993 Workers' Compensation Reform Act continues to be implemented. Cal/OSHA compliance officers and consultants focused on the most costly of workers' compensation injuries-falls from heights and lower back injuries-for special attention, and are developing protocols to measure the effectiveness of these efforts. The Consultation Service issued a model VDT ergonomics plan to help employers and employees avoid ergonomic injuries in the setting where the vast majority of these injuries occur.

The Cal/OSHA Standards Board issued a new proposed ergonomics standard to meet another legislative mandate in the 1993 Workers' Compensation Reform Act. The standard would be the nation's first while seeking to strike an effective balance between competing concerns of employees and employers.

The Targeted Industries Partnership Program (TIPP) completed its first year as a permanent enforcement program. Prior to 1995, it had been a two-year pilot project.

TIPP's most impressive achievement came in August 1995 when, in an early morning raid, it freed dozens of Thai garment workers working in slave-like conditions in a sweatshop in El Monte. The 45 state and local agents and three federal Department of Labor agents raided the facility after the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service pulled out of the enforcement effort the previous night.

With the appointment of a new chief of DIR's Division of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS), that division began developing a program to spread the apprenticeship concept beyond its traditional forms and participants. Capitalizing on the School to Career/School to Work movement, DAS is attempting to inject the apprenticeship concept into the high school years when students may not be aware of all their career training choices.

As we move into 1996, DIR will pursue new initiatives and complete those begun in 1995.

The department sponsored legislation to reform California's daily overtime requirements and conform them to federal law and most other states, creating more flexibility for both employers and employees. While these changes have not yet been enacted by the legislature, the Industrial Welfare Commission has begun an investigatory hearing process to consider changes to the daily overtime rules.

Similarly, DIR sponsored prevailing wage reforms in early 1995 in the legislature, in essence conforming California prevailing wage law to federal law and the laws in most other states in the nation. Again, these changes were not enacted by the legislature last year, and the regulatory process was begun to make the changes that do not need legislative approval.

The legislative initiatives will again be pursued in 1996. We will also be participating in the Governor's regulatory review and privatization initiatives. These initiatives will be covered in future DIR Bulletin issues. The year 1995 was a year of continuing achievement for DIR. We look forward to a similar year in 1996.