The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 28, 2014

Health care law's lack of relief still aggravates labor

By The Building Tradesman

WASHINGTON – While polls show the American public is slowly warming to the Affordable Care Act, union leaders continue to have little stomach for it.

A Jan. 27 letter signed by two general presidents, Terry O’Sullivan of the Laborers International Union and Donald Taylor of Unite Here, continued to slam the Obama Administration for not fixing the new national health care law’s adverse affects on multiemployer health care plans. The letter was sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and represents a change in direction: the labor leaders are taking their appeal to Congress, rather than focusing just on a White House fix.

“We were bitterly disappointed upon reading the proposed regulations put forward by the Administration,” the O’Sullivan and Taylor wrote. “If the Administration honestly thinks that these proposed rules are responsive to our concerns, they were not listening or they simply did not care.”

Among building trades union leaders, O’Sullivan and the general presidents of the IBEW and Roofers have also been sharply critical of the Affordable Health Act’s affect on building trades’ health care plans.

Their problems include:

*Since the Affordable Care Act exempts employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees from providing health care coverage – and most nonunion firms have under 50 employees – the law gives nonunion employers a built-in cost advantage over union shops. Unions have unsuccessfully sought from the White House a special subsidy for their plans to offset the costs of providing the health insurance, which is the crux of the matter.

“While responsible employers struggle to provide unsubsidized benefits, other employers will send workers and their families to the Health Exchanges for government-subsidized coverage or government-paid Medicare coverage, avoiding financial responsibility,” O’Sullivan and Taylor wrote.

*Union health care funds will be forced to “unfairly subsidize giant commercial insurers already slated to receive a trillion dollars in government subsidies over the next 10 years. “The potential for employers to drop coverage that we were promised we could keep will be overwhelming,” the union leaders said in their letter.

Republican in Congress have said they suspect that the Obama Administration has been plotting to institute a “union bailout” for health care with a letter distributed in December by Labor Secretary Thomas Perez acknowledging union concerns. But last month a clarification by Laborers Legislative Director David Mallino to theConstruction Labor Report said the union wanted to make sure Congress “wasn’t misled into thinking that these rules are helpful for Taft-Hartley plans.”

When asked about the law’s affect on union plans last month, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney essentially said nothing. He said the ACA “does not make changes to the law for multiemployer plans. These plans, like other employer plans, are continuing to offer coverage.”

While the letter by O’Sullivan and Taylor expands the field for vetting union grievances over the Affordable Health Act, the Republican-led House is certain to ignore union pleas for equity under the law.