The Norman Transcript

February 17, 2013

Sysco welcomes Norman Chamber members; forum presented on Workers Compensation

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Sysco hosted members of the Norman Chamber of Commerce, local legislators and other interested parties on Friday with lunch and tours of the newly expanded Norman facility. In addition to the open house, the meeting served as a Workers Compensation forum to discuss current legislation to reform the Oklahoma’s workers comp system in Oklahoma which is considered one of the most costly in the nation.

“We are honored and proud to have Sysco in our community,” said Chamber President and CEO John Woods.

Sysco is the largest food service distributing company in the world with more than 400,000 customers, Sysco Oklahoma President Chris K. Davis said.

Sysco is also a sponsor of “Restaurant Impossible” on the Food Network.

“We don’t make anything, we just deliver stuff,” Davis said.

But the Sysco label on many of the products means the company controls how those products are manufactured.

Sysco serves 17 percent of the total market.

“We can get you fish from Hawaii in two days,” Davis said.

The recent expansion of the Norman facility includes the dry warehouse where non-perishables are stored. That warehouse was expanded from 70,000 square feet to 110,000 square feet.

The physical expansion will allow for the expansion of business as the Norman facility transitions to handling $110 million more annually with expansion into Kansas.

In addition to more space, upgrades like the new robotic system make the dry warehouse more efficient adding flexibility for customers as well as space.

Inbound traffic at the warehouse runs Monday through Friday, said Warehouse Manager Don Zvacek.

Outbound starts at 5:30 and runs until 3 a.m.

Sysco serves restaurants, schools, federal facilities, casinos, jails and more. Safety of employees is a key factor. The day shift has three years and night shift two years without an injury.

Zvacek said those records exist in large part because the employees take pride in their work, but that’s not the whole story.

“Our incentive program has helped,” he said.

While Sysco has a good program with workers, like all Oklahoma businesses, it is still affected by the high premium rates, costs of attorneys and settlement of suits.

“My involvement with workers comp over the years was writing checks,” Davis said.

A simple “slip and fall” turned into $350,00 in one case, Davis said. An employee had surgeries for carpel tunnel syndrome, shoulder surgeries and was off work for a year and was still mediating two years later, he said. Like many employers, Davis said workers comp in Oklahoma is not doing what it was designed to do — pay for medical treatment to get people healthy and back to work as quickly as possible.

“At no point in time does it seem like the point is to get the employees healthy and back to work,” he said. “In Oklahoma, it seems like it is a good deal for the employees to draw this out.”

The payoff is “very enticing” for some but that price is carried by all of us, not just employers, Davis said.

“We’re all employers,” he said. “Norman Public Schools is an employer. The city of Norman is an employer.”

Oklahoma has one of the highest premium rates in the nation.

“Isn’t that unbelievable?” Davis said.

The state also rates high for “Lost-Time Claim Frequency,” and the same injury costs two-and-a-half times more in Oklahoma than it does in Texas.

Facts like these are part of why Davis agreed to become part of the Oklahoma Injury Benefit Coalition. The group is working on an omnibus workers comp proposal for 2013 that could include a workers comp act, an injury benefit act and a workers comp arbitration act.

Davis said there are hopes pinned on Senate Bill 1062 which would solve many issues for the state’s employers.

“The idea is to move to an administrative system,” he said.

Trial lawyers are likely to oppose the bill, but Davis thinks it has the support to pass.

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