FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Will Obamacare Affect Unionized Workers?

by DAVID MACARAY

With most major provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), commonly and often pejoratively referred to as “Obamacare,” set to go into effect in January 2014, union members across the country have been wondering how the PPACA will affect the health care benefits already laid out in their union contracts.

Although it’s a bit unnerving how few people in positions of authority (plant managers, HR reps, health care administrators, etc.) seem to know exactly how the PPACA will work, the answer to the question, “How will Obamacare affect my union health care benefits?” is fairly clear. The answer is that it will likely have no effect whatsoever.

As a general rule, contract language supersedes everything. Unless the language in question is in clear violation of state or federal law, it is going to trump all else. Indeed, that’s not only the whole point of a binding agreement, it’s the virtue of a union contract, the beauty of an employee having access to the collective bargaining process, and the advantage of not being treated like a doormat.

A recent article in the Washington Post raised what might otherwise have been a red flag. The Post reported that UPS announced that, as of January 1, it was no longer going to allow its employees to provide health care coverage for working spouses. If you had a wife or husband who was working elsewhere, you could no longer cover them. The change is expected to affect approximately 15,000 workers.

Because the PPACA requires employers (with 50 or more employees) to provide affordable health insurance, UPS management saw an opening and decided to exploit it. It was an opportunity to get out from under what they considered a fairly significant financial burden. But the article was careful to note that this applied only to its non-union workforce, and had nothing to do with its unionized employees (mainly Teamsters).

In theory, labor unions have the ability to control their own destiny via the collective bargaining process by customizing and adapting a contract to fit their specific needs. This is not something that came easily; it took organized labor more than 100 years to carve out that niche. So what’s the lesson for those non-union UPS workers and their spouses who just received the bad news? Not to be glib, but the lesson is that they need to organize.

Because much of this PPACA package is provisional, and because, presumably, everyone is going to be looking for loopholes and exceptions, there’s no way of knowing for certain what kind of health insurance these employers are going to provide. Yes, the coverage is mandated by federal law, but how good will it be? Only when you negotiate a medical plan at the bargaining table are you assured of knowing what you’re getting (and even then it’s often unclear).

But there’s some irony here. Prior to the PPACA, management could announce that it was no longer going to provide union employees with medical coverage. Although a company risks a strike by pulling a stunt like this, it’s been done in the past, and with replacement workers looming as the wild card, some companies have gotten away with it without going to war. A weak union, or a union dealing with a struggling company, wouldn’t have much of a choice.

However, with the PPACA in place, companies won’t have the option of unilaterally eliminating medical coverage. Removing this expensive item from the contract will no longer automatically result in cost savings because federal law will require that they provide it in any event.

And based on how most businesses regard government mandates, it’s safe to say they’d rather take their chances with a union bargaining team. Of course, as always, the bottom-line is going to dictate what happens in the health care arena, and if the PPACA card can be used as leverage, management will definitely play it.

Oddly, there’s a flip-side to this. It may turn out that fewer workers want to join a union once they realize companies are required to provide affordable health insurance. In truth, the main reason some people join a union is to have access to health insurance, so this scenario isn’t that farfetched. In any event, one thing is clear: Union-wise, Obamacare could very well be—as so many have predicted—a mixed bag.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 27, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Media Ban! Making Sense of the War Between Trump and the Press
Dave Lindorff
Resume Inflation at the NSC: Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Conn Hallinan
Is Trump Moderating US Foreign Policy? Hardly
Norman Pollack
Political Castration of State: Militarization of Government
Kenneth Surin
Inside Dharavi, a Mumbai Slum
Lawrence Davidson
Truth vs. Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom
Robert Fisk
Why a Victory Over ISIS in Mosul Might Spell Defeat in Deir Ezzor
David Swanson
Open Guantanamo!
Ted Rall
The Republicans May Impeach Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Why Should Trump―or Anyone―Be Able to Launch a Nuclear War?
Andrew Stewart
Down with Obamacare, Up with Single Payer!
Colin Todhunter
Message to John Beddington and the Oxford Martin Commission
David Macaray
UFOs: The Myth That Won’t Die?
Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail