Oregon's workers' compensation success story
In 1990, a group of workers and employers came together to fix a crumbling workers’ compensation system. Known as the “Mahonia Hall reforms,” the changes developed by the group were adopted by the Legislature in a special session on May 7, 1990. Since then, Oregon’s workers’ compensation system has become one of the most successful in the nation, with low costs for employers, improved workplace safety, and innovative programs to help injured workers get back on the job.
In 1990, employers and workers developed long-lasting reforms to Oregon’s workers’ compensation system.
Significant reforms produced the Management-Labor Advisory Committee, the Ombuds Office for Oregon Workers (formerly Ombudsman for Injured Workers), the Small Business Ombudsman, and the Preferred Worker Program.
A system in crisis
In the 1980s, Oregon’s workers’ compensation system was in dire straits. Oregon ranked sixth highest in the nation in average workers’ compensation costs in 1986 and had one of the nation’s highest rates of occupational injuries and illnesses among workers. Workers injured on the job often had to hire an attorney to get the benefits they were entitled to — and those benefits were among the lowest in the nation. Although an initial attempt at workers’ compensation reform in 1987 brought some positive changes, it was not comprehensive and it remained evident that more was needed.
The results of the 1990 reforms are astonishing. Since 1991, Oregon’s workers’ compensation costs have declined more than 60 percent, and Oregon employers have saved $17.4 billion as a result. Worker benefits are at or above the median nationwide, and workplace injury and illness rates in the state have declined more than 50 percent since the late 1980s. Litigation has decreased dramatically, and injured workers today are much more likely to return to work than their predecessors. Perhaps most significant, the system continues to be driven by the parties it affects the most: workers and employers. The Management-Labor Advisory Committee, which originated in 1990, remains the forum in Oregon to discuss and resolve workers’ compensation issues.
Bringing workers back on the job
The Mahonia Hall reforms created the current version of the Preferred Worker Program, which provides incentives to employers to hire injured workers, such as wage and premium subsidies and assistance with buying new equipment and modifying worksites. The Preferred Worker Program and Oregon’s other two return-to-work programs help re-employ more than 8,000 injured workers per year.
Preferred Worker Program
program helps qualified Oregon workers who have permanent restrictions from on-the-job injuries and who are not able to return to their regular employment because of those injuries.