Administrators of West Virginia's recently privatized workers' compensation system stirred up a hornet's nest with a policy that takes away benefits for widows or widowers of workers killed on the job when the deceased worker would have reached retirement age.
In the wake of recent and horrific mine fatalities, this measure is facing major and righteous opposition from affected families, the WV AFL-CIO, many legislators, and state Attorney General Darrell McGraw.
According to a report by Charleston Gazette staff writer Paul Nyden, "Workers' Compensation Commission officials issued the new internal policy on March 10, 2004. It meant the agency no longer had to pay survivors' benefits after a deceased worker would have reached 70, or after that worker would have reached 65, if benefits were awarded before 2003."
This policy appears to conflict with state law, which says benefits are due to "a dependent widow or widower until death or remarriage of the widow or widower, and any child or children dependent upon the decedent until the child reaches 18 years of age."
A number of widows have already lost benefits under the policy and are facing financial hardships, including the prospect of losing their homes.
The West Virginia AFL-CIO is not amused. On Friday, it joined with several widows and state legislators in a media conference denouncing the policy. Kenny Perdue, president of the state labor federation, said "Shame on them for making this policy behind closed doors. And shame on them for breaking the law."
State Attorney General Darrell McGraw filed a petition asking the state Supreme Court to intervene. The petition states that "While the legislature has made significant changes in compensation law over the past decade, it has never touched the language affording protection to widows and widowers."
APPLIED ETIQUETTE SECTION. While it's better not to kick anyone at all, it's really rude to kick people who can't kick back. As the Dude said in the cult film The Big Lebowski, "This aggression will not stand, man."
SUNDAY SCHOOL SECTION. For the Biblically inclined, kicking around widows and orphans is a major faux pas, to put it mildly. To use just one of many instances, in the opening chapter of Isaiah, the prophet warns rulers to "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow."
GOAT ROPE CULTURAL AND LITERARY SOCIETY
(Note: this section is intended to clear the palate and provide a little artistic respite from the daily grind.)
If you're looking for a good book a little off the beaten path, let me recommend the novels of Haruki Murakami, a contemporary Japanese writer whose style could be described as postmodern supernatural realism. In a typical Murakami story, protagonists lead fairly bland daily lives punctuated by dreamlike adventures that may involve talking cats or monkeys, vague sinister forces, extended visits to the bottom of a well and/or the occasional preternaturally powerful sheep. For starters, I'd recommend The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Wild Sheep Chase. His newer book Kafka on the Shore is also good. Weird but good.
FUN GOAT FACT: Did you know that the word "tragedy" comes from the ancient Greek words "goat song?" Goats were sacred to the Greek god Dionysus, who is credited with giving us wine. Greek tragedies such as those of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were an integral part of the Dionysian festival. So the next time you enjoy a good serious movie or play, give a nod or better yet raise a glass to our cabrine friends.
GOAT ROPE LEVEL ADVISORY: ELEVATED