Delegates to the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angles overwhelmingly adopted Resolution 54, which begins by reaffirming the labor federation’s commitment to a single-payer health care system, a commitment that it made at its last convention in 2009.
The Resolution also demands changes to Obamacare that ensure that more part-time workers will be guaranteed employer health care coverage, that union members enrolled in non-profit, multiemployer health plans receive the same subsidies as those enrolled in for-profit plans, that taxes on health plans won by workers through difficult struggle and collective bargaining be eliminated, and that other changes be made to ensure that all workers have access to quality, affordable health care.
During the floor debate on the resolution, Michael Goodwin, president of the Office and Professional Employees International Union made the case for expanding Medicare to include everyone in a single payer health care system.
Speaking of the current system, Goodwin said that whether a person has decent health care often depends on luck and that out of pocket expenses and holes in these plans are increasing.
There’s a two-word solution to these problems, said Goodwin. “Single payer.” The audience responded with applause.
But most of the speeches were about Obamacare’s unintended consequences and their “collateral damage” on workers.
For instance, the law requires employers to provide health care coverage to workers if they average 30 or more hours of work a week. To get around this requirement, some employers are reducing worker hours. Resolution 54 demands a fix to the law that sets the lower limit at an average of 20 hours a week.
Speakers also talked about the Obama Administration’s interpretation of the law that will deny federal tax credits to union members enrolled in non-profit, multiemployer health plans–health plans common for union members who work in construction, retail, transport, and hospitality industries.
A letter written last July by three union leaders to Senate Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi lays out the unions’ concerns. “Our (multiemployer, non-profit) health plans have been built over decades by working men and women,” reads the letter. “Under the (Affordable Care Act) as interpreted by the Administration, our employees will (be) treated differently and not be eligible for subsidies afforded other citizens. As such, many employees will be relegated to second-class status and shut out of the help the law offers to for-profit insurance plans.”
Even though union members won’t receive subsidies, their non-proft plans will be taxed to help pay for the cost of Obamacare.
Other union health care plans won through collective struggle and hard bargaining also will be subject to the same tax.
Supporters of the tax call these union benefits, “Cadillac” or “gold-plated” health care plans, but Goodwin called them “morally responsible” plans. That is, they provide quality health care at an affordable costs to millions of hard working people in the US.
Unions fear that the lack of subsidies and the imposition of new taxes could drive up the cost and drive down the quality of union health plans, making them no longer viable.
D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, seemed to sum up the general feeling among delegates about Obamacare.
“I think it’s great that millions upon millions of Americans are going to get health care for the first time,” said Taylor. “I like the fact that Obamacare does what our union plans have done for a long time–no pre-existing conditions, etc.”
But then he paused for emphasis and added, “But action needs to happen in order to fix Obamacare.”
He also said that, union members should not accept the excuse that the Administration doesn’t have the power to change the law.
Taylor said that the Administration extended the deadline for businesses to provide health care coverage, changed the rules on mandating contraception coverage, and agreed to a special deal for Capitol Hill staff all on its own.
If the Administration can change the law for other groups, it can do the same for labor, the most ardent proponent of real health care reform, said Taylor
Taylor urged the AFL-CIO and member unions to build a campaign that puts pressure on the White House and Congress to fix Obamacare.
Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers International Union of North America said that he supported fixing Obamacare, but if the fixes weren’t made, then the AFL-CIO should support repeal of the law.
Kathryn Donahue of National Nurses United spoke in opposition Resolution 54.
“Resolution 54 is problematic because it allows our health care system to be held hostage to greedy, highly profitable health insurance industry,” said Donahue, “A market based approach has no place in health care” and she advocated a single-payer, Medicare for all approach instead.