mourningkim- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

We could talk about the numbers - hundreds of thousands of workers injured each year in Canada - but I thought my readers might understand the reality better if you got to know just one a little better. After Kim Prince's powerful speech at the National Day of Mourning, I asked her if I could tell her husband's story. Here is what she told me.

Wes MacAuley was 26 years old, working as a highrise window cleaner in Hamilton in 1995. He'd been working since he was 15 because his learning disabilities made school a pretty frustrating place. Working alone, high above the city, was his bliss.

Then the safety clips on the old ladder broke, and he fell three floors, taking the full fall on his right foot. The heel was dust – the ankle and leg fractured in multiple places right up to his knee. The surgeon who rebuilt it said it was his "best work" and a year later, Wes was back at work.

In 2009, he had another fall, landing on a rock hidden in a soft-looking garden. All the surgeon's repairs of the previous injury were mangled. More surgery, but this time the foot did not heal.

After 18 months, the Workers' Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) deemed that Wes could go back to work. At something. If it is a minimum wage job, WSIB pays some of the difference between that and your regular wage, not including overtime or the danger pay for working at higher risk floors.
But these are "phantom jobs" anyway, says Kim. If you can't walk to the bathroom, you are not actually working at a Pizza Pizza call centre.

The Board also pays your union dues – for a year. After that, if you cannot afford to pay them yourself,
your union benefits end. The union to which Wes belonged never returned their calls.

The first, second and third surgeries did not heal. Wes was in a cast for over two years. There was talk of amputation.

Six weeks after each surgery, the phone calls started. A "worker transition specialist", with no information about Wes' injury, education or history, would call to see when he was going to return to work. Their plans for his "transition" were often completely inappropriate and, in Kim's estimation, a huge waste of Wess time and taxpayer money.

With unhealed fused bones in his ankle Wes was sent from Brantford, by taxi, to a private "pain and functionality" clinic in Cambridge. In spite of the list of contrary restrictions from his surgeon, he was put on an exercise bike for one excruciating revolution of the pedals. Check. "Using exercise bike."
While he was there, Wes watched an older injured worker, unsupervised, following instructions to climb a ladder that was not tethered to the wall. Kim reported that one to the Labour Board.

One "job readiness" strategy was to send Wes, with known literacy and learning disability issues, to a privately run university-level course. In addition to the embarrassment and humiliation, part of the program was to walk around handing out resumés. Walk around. There was not even accommodation within the "readiness" program for Wes's individual needs.

Another WSIB idea was to have custom-made workboots built for Wes so he could sit on a stool in a factory with his cane beside him, but it was rejected because of the $25,000 + annual cost.

And if an injured worker refuses to attend or comply with any of the recommendations of the WSIB staff or contractors? Compensation is denied.

After the fourth surgery, the surgeon prescribed medical cannabis. The three cups of cannabis tea a day are not covered by WSIB or OHIP, but they allowed Wes to heal. The nerve pain was being managed with morphine and Tylenol, but under the new provincial opioid protocol, the dosage was cut in half. Now pain reduces this strong man to tears. Damp weather causes him to vomit from the pain.

Kim knows all these things because she has been there. She had to be off work for long stretches because Wes could not even get to the bathroom alone. For a while they lived on welfare – now called Ontario Works and then Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Although he was considered ineligible for WSIB compensation from employer-paid assessment rates because he was "deemed" fit to work, he is eligible for a taxpayer-paid disability pension. The ironies are not lost on them.
Injured workers often lose their homes and their families because of the the financial losses and the constant stress and anxiety. 

Wes is now receiving WSIB Loss of Earnings, locked in until age 65.

Kim says the Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups (ONIWG) has been a tremendous support. She and Wes discovered they were not alone in experiencing panic attacks every time the phone rang. The "non-adversarial" system that was supposed to help injured workers was terrorizing them, but they were not alone.

The Injured Workers' Speakers School was the making of Kim as an advocate for Wes. She says that when people are able to speak for themselves, it saves a great deal of the cost of lawyers, both private and through the legal clinic system. But more importantly, it empowers workers and their families in their communities, with agencies, and politically. "The NDP are the only party that even mention injured workers in their platform – page 72," Kim laughs. She knows her stuff.
Wes and Kim have been living it for a decade.


Kim has a Facebook page if this is your story too – Families of Injured Workers – We Get Hurt Too.




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