NFLPA criticizes Saints-backed workers’ comp bill

While they were eagerly waiting to learn what their favorite team would do with their first pick in the 2014 draft, NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith on Thursday urged Saints fans to call two Louisiana lawmakers who authored a bill aiming to overhaul workers compensation as it pertains to professional athletes and ask them “why they want to sponsor legislation to hurt their players.”

Smith also vowed that the union would push its members to question why Saints owner Tom Benson, whose team has supported the bill, “wants to hurt the benefits that are lawfully entitled to ... players.”

The Saints have declined to comment on the matter. But one of the bill’s sponsors — Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond — disputed that the measure is doing any of what Smith says and added it has a basis prior legal decisions.

“I respect these athletes,” Broadwater said.

Passed in the Louisiana House of Representatives on Wednesday and headed to the Senate for consideration, the measure in question seeks to calculate workers’ compensation benefits for hurt professional athletes on earnings up to the point of an injury and not future ones that would’ve been made if not for an injury.

In the NFL, multi-year contracts involve steep annual raises, and they’re mostly paid during regular seasons that typically run from early September to late December. Players during the offseason and preseason are usually paid daily allowances that are much smaller than earnings during the regular season.

Therefore, if the bill eventually becomes law, the possibility exists that players who are hurt during the preseason would see the workers’ compensation they’re due from their teams be calculated from the daily allowances paid and not from their larger salary under the contract.

Broadwater said the language in his bill is based on several decisions from a state circuit court of appeal in Jefferson Parish.

The NFLPA points out all of those decisions are in one jurisdiction, where the Saints’ administrative headquarters and training facilities are. In a ruling from a state circuit court of appeal in Orleans Parish, where the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is, it was found an injured football player’s workers’ compensation should take his yearly salary into account as it would others who are considered employed by an annual contract.

“They want to codify ... adverse rulings that don’t follow state law,” NFLPA associate general counsel Ned Ehrlich said.

Broadwater — who used to direct the Louisiana Workforce Commission, which monitors worker’s compensation — said professional athletes are the only class of employee whose future earnings are taken into account for benefits when injured in the. He said his bill would bring them into line with all other workers in the state.

He said the lobbyist Kevin Hayes solicited support for the bill (co-sponsored by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie) on behalf of the Saints. Alton Ashy lobbied against it for the NFLPA, Broadwater said.

Smith assured his efforts would not stop there.

“Our union exists to protect the rights that are constantly under attack by owners who don’t need the money, but they simply want the money,” Smith said.