‘Universal’ Health Care Universally Loathed

Once upon a time labor unions and all their Labor Bosses loved Obamacare.

But not anymore.

Unions are slowly opening their eyes and accepting the possibility that Obamacare might just not be all that great. Ironically, the leaders who once endorsed Obama and all his reforms are now expressing their concerns about the law’s increased costs and how it “will hurt millions of Americans” – opinions that many others had expressed  all along.

In early July, the Labor Bosses of three of the largest American unions wrote a strongly worded letter to Democratic leaders in Congress, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. In the letter, International Brotherhood of Teamsters union president James Hoffa, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) president Joe Hansen, and UNITE-HERE president Donald “D.” Taylor criticized the health care act and threatened Congress that “we have a problem; you need to fix it.” They wrote:

Right now, unless you and the Obama Administration enact an equitable fix, the ACA will shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class…The impact is two-fold: fewer hours means less pay while also losing our current health benefits.

If only they had listened sooner. Unions once prided themselves on being able to negotiate better pay for their members, but back in 2009, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities warned about these same “unintended consequences” that have now “come back to haunt” them. The Center explained that under Obamacare, a company employing more than 50 workers must either provide all the workers with full health insurance or pay a penalty; consequently, this eliminates any incentive to hire new employees and increases the incentive to fire employees as to not hit the 50-worker threshold. Similarly, another way of avoiding the additional costs imposed by Obamacare is to provide employees with part-time rather than full-time work.

Unions also once prided themselves in providing their members with benefits that non-unionized workers didn’t receive (according to a 2009 study conducted at the UC Berkley Labor Center, “even when unionized employees are required to pay part of their family insurance premium, they pay a much lower share of the premium than non-unionized workers do”), but thanks to Obamacare, this is no longer true.

Unions are deeply concerned about the negative impact that Obamacare will have on their health care benefits and the increased expenses union members will face. Unions currently provide their members with non-profit health insurance plans, the Taft-Hartley plans, which are jointly administered by the unions and smaller companies; however under Obamacare, these union plans are “not eligible for subsidies afforded [to] other citizens.” Instead, union workers will be taxed to fund the very subsidies they are not entitled to receive.

Meanwhile, more and more of the Obama Administration’s closest allies are turning against it. Members of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which represents employees of the Internal Revenue Service, are voicing their opposition to the health care reform. The NTEU (which donated over $500,000 to pro-Obamacare candidates during the last election cycle) strongly urged their members to oppose the H.R. 1780 bill, which would ensure that:

The only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, and Federal employees are those created under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or offered through a health insurance exchange.

In other words, the NTEU wants nothing to do with Obamacare. Instead, the NTEU has asked their members to “take action” by signing letters that call upon their representatives to ensure that their current health care plans stay intact.

This seems like a reasonable request; after all, in July 2009 President Obama said:

If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.

But in reality, Obamacare could do just the opposite. In an op-ed this May for The Hill, UFCW president Joe Hansen wrote:

Unfortunately, what also has become increasingly clear with each passing day is that the president’s statement to labor in 2009 is simply not true for millions of workers.

And the UFCW president wasn’t the first to express his dissatisfaction with these inconsistencies. Earlier this year, president of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers Kinsey Robinson exclaimed that he was “calling for repeal or complete reform of the Affordable Care Act.”

So why the sudden backlash? Did unions not see the need for certain “common sense” changes before passing Obamacare? Rather than untangling the laws that spilled over thousands of pages, representatives thought it would be easier to do as Nancy Pelosi advised and “pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

But according to Joe Hansen, “when [the Obama administration] started writing the rules and regulations, we just assumed that Taft-Hartley plans…would be eligible for the subsidies and stay in their plans and they’re not.”