September 3 2013

Unions: On Second Thought, We're Not Crazy about ObamaCare

Patrice J. Lee

Labor unions likely expected President Obama to take special care of them under ObamaCare, but now that the burdens of the  president's health reforms are falling upon them, union workers are venting distress because they won’t get a sweetheart exemption as part of ObamaCare.

Apparently, labor unions are concerned that provisions of the sweeping law will tax their plans “unfairly” and could lead to a cut in employee hours and force workers off of their union health plans into more expensive exchanges. What they want is special treatment and tax subsidies that would insulate their workers against these unintended consequences.

Earlier this year, many unions broke with the President by balking at ObamaCare. They clamored that the impact of the president’s healthcare reform plan would be “catastrophic” and called for changes to the treatment of their healthcare plans under the legislation. The United Union of Roofers went as far as to call for its repeal.

Now, one month away from the big enrollment day on October 1 and with just four months before the individual mandate kicks in at the beginning of 2014, unions are voicing their anger with President Obama and congressional Democrats.

“We are disappointed that the non-profit health plans offered by unions have not been given the same consideration as the Catholic Church, big business and Capitol Hill staffers,” Unite Here President D. Taylor told The Hill.

“The administration has found resolutions for a whole variety of issues and the fact that their biggest supporters will be put at the mercy of the for-profit insurance industry will leave a very bad, bad taste. You can't blame the Republicans on this one. This is a Democratic bill through and through.”

Where was this angst during the passage of ObamaCare? Unions were lobbying hard to get the bill passed. Like their representatives in Congress, perhaps they should have taken a moment to read the bill and ponder the consequences on their membership.

Now, the burdens of ObamaCare are enough to prompt 40,000 longshoremen to leave the AFL-CIO, one of the nation’s largest private sector unions, citing the AFL-CIO’s support of ObamaCare. The reportedly surprise move is a black-eye to the national union association which pushed hard for the President’s election but whose members ended up left out of the subsidy party. Welcome to life as a regular American!

Last week, in a letter to the AFL-CIO president, the longshoreman union head explained:

The [International Longshore and Warehouse Union] ILWU has also become increasingly frustrated with the Federation’s moderate, overly compromising policy position on such important matters as immigration, labor law reform, health care reform, and international labor issues. We feel the Federation has done a great disserve to the labor movement and all working people by going along to get along. The Federation has not stood its ground on issues that are most important to our members. President Obama ran on a platform that he would not tax medical plans and at the 2009 AFL-CIO Convention, you stated that labor would not stand for a tax on our benefits. Yet the Federation later lobbied affiliates to support a bill that taxed our health care plans.

ObamaCare wasn’t the only reason that the longshoremen cast off support for the AFL-CIO, but it was a major consideration.

This is a very interesting twist as unions struggle to find their place in American life. The percentage of Americans belonging to a union has fallen to an all-time low of 11.3 percent and it’s been in a steady decline since 1970. Public sector unions remain strong but in the private sector Americans increasingly don’t see organization as necessary although recent Gallup polling indicates that just over half approve of unions.

I don’t feel sad for the unions, because they won’t get special treatment like the Capitol Hill staffers. Most Americans will face the individual mandate come January 1, and now union workers will too. Like nonunionized workers with no political power they too will face higher health care costs and a potential cut in hours or unemployment.

Perhaps when enough Americans feel the pain that ObamaCare causes, they will begin to act and speak out. Let’s hope it won’t be too late.

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