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

January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
Dave Lindorff
Right a Terrible Wrong: Why Obama Should Reverse Himself and Pardon Leonard Peltier
Laura Carlsen
Bringing Mexico to Its Knees Will Not “Make America Great Again”
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey: the Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
Stephen Cooper
Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck
Binoy Kampmark
Scoundrels of Patriotism: The Freeing of Chelsea Manning
Ramzy Baroud
The Balancing Act is Over: What Elor Azaria Taught Us about Israel
Josh Hoxie
Why Health Care Repeal is a Stealth Tax Break for Millionaires
Kim C. Domenico
It’s High Time for a Politics of Desire
Shamus Cooke
Inauguration Day and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
More and More Lousy
David Swanson
Samantha Power Can See Russia from Her Padded Cell
Kevin Carson
Right to Work and the Apartheid State
Malaika H. Kambon
Resisting the Lynching of Haitian Liberty!
January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail