Tyson's Secret Recipe for Carving Up Workers’ Compensation
This article written by Michael Grabell for ProPublica exposes the incredible power big corporations have influencing pro business changes in the workers' compensation system nationwide. It illustrates why now, more than ever, injured workers need strong advocates who will look out for their best interests:
Over the past 25 years, the giant meatpacking company has taken a lead in pushing for changes in workers’ comp in state after state — often to the detriment of workers. About five years ago, one of the nation’s largest corporations, Tyson Foods, drew a bullseye on the official who oversaw Iowa’s system for compensating injured workers.
As workers’ compensation commissioner, Chris Godfrey acted as chief judge of the courts that decided workplace injury disputes. He had annoyed Tyson with a string of rulings that, in the company’s view, expanded what employers had to cover, putting a dent in its bottom line.
So when Republican Terry Branstad ran for governor in 2010, vowing to make Iowa more business-friendly, Tyson hosted an event for him at its headquarters and arranged another meeting for him to hear from large companies who were frustrated with the workers’ comp commission.
Within weeks of his victory, Branstad demanded Godfrey’s resignation. When Godfrey refused, the new governor did the harshest thing in his power: He cut Godfrey’s salary by more than 30 percent.
Amid the fallout, Tyson drafted and hand-delivered 14 pages of talking points criticizing Godfrey to help Branstad defend his decision.
Godfrey quickly grasped just how much sway Tyson and other big companies can have over workers’ comp. “It’s just chilling that someone would go to that level to try to influence the system,” said Godfrey, who is now the chief judge of the federal employees’ workers’ comp appeals board.
Tyson’s tactics, pieced together from depositions and documents in a lawsuit Godfrey filed — many of which have never been released — are far from unique to the Hawkeye State. Over the past 25 years, as the Arkansas company grew to be one of the world’s largest meatpackers, Tyson has taken a lead in reshaping workers’ comp, often to the detriment of workers, a ProPublica investigation has found.