I’ve said it previously in other posts. I was raised in a small town in the mountains of Southwest Colorado, where I learned that a man’s handshake was his word, and his word was his bond. For many during the 70’s when I was growing up, it was an unshakeable code of the west. Things seem to have changed over the years. For one, that code seems to fade as you move farther west, until you reach Oregon where people seem high and make truly goofy decisions. Still, I’d like to think that people are basically good, and almost all, given the opportunity, would do the right thing.
And I might be a simple boy from Durango, but I am smart enough to know that when they don't do the right thing, it impacts us all.
I know that some of you not within the state of Oregon may be growing weary of my prattling on about the termination of SAIF CEO John Plotkin. I know a few people within Oregon certainly are tired of it. However, it is an important issue, as the entire situation gives a black eye to our industry, and other state funds in particular.
State Funds are extremely important organizations. They are critical providers, often insuring the otherwise uninsurable, and literally keeping the economic engines humming in their respective states. The economy literally could not run without them. I have had the very good fortune of meeting and working with a variety of people at several of these organizations over the years. They are friendly, honest, dedicated people working hard to serve the employers and injured workers of their state. I am quite proud to have them as customers, acquaintances and friends.
These people have their work cut out for them. A state fund has special challenges and obstacles not present in a private carrier. In addition to serving customers and their workers, they must answer to those same people in the role of taxpayers and residents of the states they serve. Even though most are considered semi-autonomous or “quasi-governmental”, they still operate under the umbrella of political oversight, and that always presents its own unique blend of challenges. I do not envy them in that area.
I must also add that the entire workers’ compensation industry collectively operates under a microscope, continually drawing criticisms and complaints, often from people who have no idea how the system works or what it truly is. Misperceptions about workers’ compensation, both for what it is and the benefits it was intended to provide, are a continual challenge for our industry. Workers’ comp is unfortunately based in the negative, where people often don’t think of us until premiums are due or someone has been hurt. No one calls us when everything is just ducky.
Therefore it is imperative that we all, private and public entities alike, operate with relative transparency and absolute integrity. When one of us doesn’t, it reflects on us all. And when that transgressor is a state fund, it will draw extra scrutiny due to the public responsibility of that organization.
Therefore, the rapid and vacuous termination of John Plotkin by the SAIF Board of Directors is indeed a national issue. It speaks to integrity and decency within the industry, and casts us all in a dim and unflattering light. And for state funds, that poor light is amplified – and is wholly undeserved by most.
People outside workers’ comp will not view this as a SAIF issue. They will simply see it as a comp issue. For many it will be a further confirmation of an already less than positive viewpoint on the behavior of our industry. That is why I consider this a national story, just as I considered the treatment of Sandy Blunt in North Dakota to be of national concern. We are all in this boat together, and the actions of the SAIF board are rocking it unnecessarily. We should all be demanding answers, as we are collectively tainted with this scandal.
I had the opportunity this weekend to read through the entire recorded minutes of the May 9th board meeting culminating in the termination of John Plotkin. It really is a transcript, and to me demonstrated that the fix was in before it even started. The dialogue surrounding the now famous “Speak English, not actuary” comment was so ludicrous and infantile I was actually embarrassed for Plotkin, as I would be for any logical man facing completely inane arguments (the entire 14 page transcript is available in the attachments box to the right of this article).
I think it fitting, however, to quote from those minutes one very brave SAIF employee, who stood before the juggernaut of fear and intimidation to deliver an eloquent speech defending her company and it’s (just terminated) CEO. In her brief speech she chose to quote from Abraham Lincoln, saying, “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and I stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” She was not parting with John Plotkin, I can assure you.
At the moment SAIF doesn’t appear it it is going to change its ways, or work in any positive way to clear the air. I understand they have hired a Public Relations firm to handle the fallout from their boards short sighted actions. Good luck with that. Here is a clue people; I don’t care how much lipstick you put on this pig, it’s not going to take the stench away.
And it is not going to lessen our industry’s collective bruises.
From what I am hearing from SAIF employees, there is real fear of retaliation and intimidation in the ranks. HR and upper management are not trusted in any way. The company, of course, says no such thing exists, and that protections are in place for those employees to speak their mind.
Those would be the same guarantees and processes that protected John Plotkin. This would explain why a “neutral third party” has been hired to hear employee feedback; because HR departments who are in complete control often have to hire consultants to talk to their employees. It is also why a PR firm is polishing up their most expensive bovine makeover kit, and why, with Governor Kitzhaber completely AWOL on the issue and the Oregon DOJ wholly complicit in the affair, the company is probably preparing for an expensive lawsuit and settlement.
And the taxpayers and employers of Oregon get to pay for the entire show. And we wonder why people think negatively of our industry. Can anyone say “Richardson for Governor”?
So I issue a warning for regular readers of this blog. It is going to be a “SAIF heavy” few weeks here. You’ve got my word on that – consider it a virtual handshake. It is important for our industry that we cover all the details, and get the truth exposed.
As it turns out, I’m not just a simple boy from Durango; I’m also a tenaciously stubborn one.
For a list of Bob’s other SAIF/Plotkin articles (as well as a couple old AASCIF articles that get picked up in the search), Click here.