Writers Compensation Programs: The Value of Going Global

The October 14, 2015 story part of NPR’s series Insult to Injury: America’s Vanishing Working Protections illustrates exactly why writing centers champion to focus feedback and revision on global issues before local issues.

Oklahoma is allowing employers to opt out of state-run workers compensation programs by offering private benefits instead. However, the problem is that, in some cases, employers’ private workers compensation plans are in violation of state law. As a result, some injured or killed employees and their families are left with limited or no benefits, placing many families in physical and financial hardship.

One of the reasons these private plans are not consistent with state laws comes back to the rallying cries found in most writing centers. “HOCs before LOCs!” “Global over Local!”

The employees at the Oklahoma Insurance Department–the department reviewing the private workers compensation plans–could have benefited from some writing center training.

Influenced by scholars such as Nancy Sommers, John Bean, and Muriel Harris, peer writing tutors know that when it comes to revising writing, we should focus on higher order concerns (HOCs), such as adherence to the prompt or organization, before lower order concerns (LOCs), such as grammar and punctuation. If we don’t, then we run the risk of sending conflicting messages to writers (“Fix the run on in this paragraph that you should probably cut because it isn’t relevant to your argument.”) or giving writers a false sense of confidence (“My paper must be fulfilling the assignment requirements since the tutor only recommended I work on the formatting of my citations”).

According to the NPR story, the feedback from the Oklahoma Insurance Department focused almost exclusively on local concerns. NPR and ProPublica reviewed over 2,000 pages of email communications between the Oklahoma Insurance Department, PartnerSource (a company that helps draft opt out laws and alternative injury plan), and employers. Their finding: “In almost every instance, the [Oklahoma Insurance Department] only cited errors in punctuation, spelling, grammar and even formatting.”

In one specific example ripe for inclusion in a writing center training on why it’s important to go global first, an Oklahoma Insurance Department lawyer “notes a missing period in a paragraph that causes a run-on sentence. The same paragraph says the employer promises ‘no interference’ with the doctor-patient relationship — while also warning workers that seeing their own doctor, instead of a doctor selected by the company, ‘may result in a complete denial’ of benefits.”

At the UCWbL, one of our core practices is that tutors and writers collaboratively set agendas to guide their work.

Agenda

Yet, sometimes tutors, including myself, can find it challenging to advocate for incorporating an agenda item the writer didn’t request because they want to respect the writer’s agency. But, maybe if we took a lesson from Oklahoma and saw writing centers as writers compensation programs, we would find that extra motivation to make sure writers are receiving the comprehensive coverage they deserve.