A questionable decision by the head of Maine’s workers compensation board, Paul Sighinolfi, has left legislators in the state confused and on the hunt for more information. Sen. John Patrick has asked Sighinolfi to appear before the Legislator’s labor committee to answer questions about why he reassigned a hearing officer when a paper mill complained about how its worker’s compensation cases were being handled.
“I’d like to see the truth come out, and I’m pretty sure Director Sighinolfi should step down,” Patrick said. “I think he overstepped his bounds.”
The individual case is troubling because of what it could mean for employees who were potentially shorted or not compensated properly if they were injured at the NewPage mill. The company has been under fire in the past for not paying employees in an attempt to save money, and union officials said they threatened to shut down the company if that practice did not stop.
However, the bigger concern, perhaps, is what reassigning an officer like that could mean. If a company is not happy with the decision made by a judge, they have the right to appeal. But simply having a new officer raises questions about the process and sets a bad precedent.
“(Sighinolfi) unilaterally screwed up the whole workers comp system because of his decision to take action against what he calls a liberal impartial judge,” Patrick said.
“That sends a message to all the other judges that if a company, any company, in the state of Maine now has a problem with their perceived judgments against them, all they have to do is call director Sighinolfi or meet in some back room and he can get it taken care of. That’s not how we do it. It’s not fairness.”
Whether Sighinolfi will actually feel the pressure to resign or not remains to be seen, and he has defended his own actions.
“Somebody is trying to make a tie between what happened in the Department of Labor and what’s happening here. But this is apples and that is oranges. There’s no connection whatsoever,” Sighinolfi said.
Spokesman for NewPage Anthony Lyons added that the changes were beneficial. “The decisions have been fairer and more balanced since we started having cases heard by a variety of officers.”
“If there’s a political problem, it’s that [Sighinolfi] made this decision, behind closed doors,” he said. “He didn’t think he’d ever get caught, but here we are.”
Patrick, and others, are hopeful that Sighinolfi will appear and set the record straight.