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The Birth of Michigan Workers’ Compensation

Although it is hard to believe today– when the Republican Party today constantly fights against working people and workers’ rights–there once was a time when some  Michigan Republicans recognized that business and government had a social responsibility to assist those injured in the course of employment.

Republican Governor Chase Osborn signed into law Michigan’s original workers’ compensation statute in 1912. He recognized that “industrial soldiers give up their lives even more bravely upon the battlefields [of work] “than those who rend each other at the cannon’s mouth.” He recognized that workers are entitled to “continuous employment,” “to a minimum wage,” “to old age insurance and pensions” and “to adequate compensation for injury and death resulting from the risks of work.”

He recognized the importance and value of workers’ compensation as he acknowledged that “I am my brother’s keeper. And this must comprehend social kindnesses as well as economic guardianship.”  “With the advent of artificial masters, corporations born by the law, marblesque and lacking human responsibility, the hiatus between master and servant widened almost unbridgeably. The cure is coming…in the rehumanizing of industry.”

 The original Industrial Accident Board appointed by Governor Osborn recognized the injustice and hardship of requiring disabled workers to go begging “among strangers looking for work” following an injury. Today, just the opposite is true. Republican leaders in Lansing, and their corporate lobbyists, in the 2011 amendments to the Act, fought to require injured workers to go begging for new work following an injury or face the reduction or elimination of potential benefits. Instead of assisting workers and their families following a work injury, Michigan workers are being terminated, denied benefits and told to just find a new job somewhere else.  Governor Osborn would be appalled at how today’s Michigan Republican Party has sabotaged Michigan’s Workers’ Compensation Act.

Sources: Governor Chase Osborn, The Ironhunter, 1919, Wayne State University Press; Michigan Industrial Accident Board, 1916.