Keizerite speaks out about SAIF

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By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

Brandon Smith has plenty of pots going.

The former Keizer City Councilor, currently chair of the Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, is running for the council seat being vacated by Jim Taylor.

Smith is also a grandpa who is helping to take care of his daughter, who was struck by a car in December.

Workplace drama can be added to the list as well.

Both Smith and wife Krystal work in Salem at SAIF (State Accident Insurance Fund) Corporation. Smith worked at SAIF from 1989 to 1997 and returned in 2003. He is currently a claims adjuster while Krystal, a SAIF employee since 1992, is a claims director.

SAIF is Oregon’s non-profit workers’ compensation insurance company, providing coverage to more than 600,000 workers in the state. Company executives respond to a board of directors appointed by the governor.

SAIF has been in a bit of turmoil since early last month, when new CEO John Plotkin was abruptly fired. That happened during a May 9 meeting, where more than 100 of SAIF’s 800-plus employees showed up in support of their CEO.

According to a report in The Oregonian and a series of stories at www.workerscompensation.com, the latter of which has attracted a large number of comments from former and current SAIF employees, with many supporting Plotkin. Plotkin sent out a statement May 9, following his termination.

“The alleged statements were inaccurate and/or taken out of context,” Plotkin wrote. “I never had an opportunity to respond to or, if appropriate, take corrective action for the alleged statements. Had these claimed statements been significant then they should have been brought to my attention when they occurred by appropriate members of my management team. SAIF has procedures for every employee to deal with improper statements and conduct. Not one of these procedures was followed in this case.”

On June 20, the Smiths wrote a message about the situation.

“We’ve been silent publicly to this point,” the message began. “However, silence accomplishes nothing. We are not whistleblowers. We have no inside information…We are shocked and embarrassed by the action of a small group of people at SAIF, whose actions have damaged our good name and made it more difficult to carry out our honorable mission.”

The Smiths make their support of Plotkin clear.

“A good man, John Plotkin, has been wronged,” they wrote. “His good name has been tarnished, and that must be corrected. No one believes Mr. Plotkin was terminated for ‘salty language.’ He was dismissed for daring to change the culture at SAIF, which, judging by the outcry, was obviously embraced by the employees.”

The message also explained why the Smiths decided to go public.

“Anyone who believes the blog comments are coming from a small cadre of malcontents is gravely mistaken,” the message continued. “(The) hardworking employees of this company are suffering under the stress of this situation. We sign our names to this letter, because our conscience compels us to. If our coworkers join us, great. If they choose to remain anonymous, we respect that as well. We both love our jobs and the company we work for. We get to help people in their times of need. It is our fervent hope that our employer will respect our decision to speak out publicly. Time will tell.”

Smith posted the message on his Facebook page last Friday.

“There was a lot of nervousness coming back in,” Smith said Monday evening. “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from co-workers. A lot of people are very thankful we kind of broke the ice. We haven’t had any conversations with anyone in management. I would still tell my folks it’s not smart to have many discussions at work. There have been several opportunities for us from the vice presidents to tell us what we’re feeling, but we don’t have any interest in that.”

The Smiths also signed an online petition to give Plotkin his job back.

“We put our names to it,” Smith said. “After that, there have been a lot of people signing the petition with their names. Before, there were a lot of anonymous names.”

Since the whole family income comes from SAIF, Smith said going public shows how much the issue has been on their conscience.

“It’s an important thing,” he said. “We both love our jobs. We don’t want to leave. It’s been a month and a half. It’s been wearing on us. It’s been extremely stressful dealing with the fallout of what happened. When you spend a month agonizing about it, just to write the words down, it was kind of a release to get it out there.”

Smith reiterated if co-workers don’t want to go public, he won’t hold it against them.

“If (going public) happens more, that’s great,” he said. “But if someone else doesn’t feel comfortable, I’m not going to judge them.”

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