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Labor Leaders, Obamacare, and the Fate of the Unions


A funny thing happened a couple of months ago: labor leaders finally awoke from their coma and realized that Obamacare was not only bad for unions, but for working families in general.

Once the biggest salespeople of the bill’s passage, union leaders are suddenly full of rage and “shock” at the realities of Obamacare.

The first sign of brain activity happened in July, when a trio of national labor leaders sent a letter to President Obama, saying that “[Obamacare] will shatter not only our [unions] hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.”

Perhaps they should have read the bill first? Instead of trying to convince their members and the rest of the country how great it was.

But labor leaders aren’t accepting blame for their role in selling snake oil to the American public. Instead they are blaming the “implementation” of Obamacare, not its essence. For example, the recent AFL-CIO conventionended with a resolution that critiqued Obamacare’s implementation, saying that the bill “doesn’t live up to its promises.”

But the AFL-CIO knows better. Many writers — including this one — sounded the alarm bells about Obamacare four years ago, but as the bill’s passage seemed precarious — since many working people hated it — organized labor doubled down for Obamacare, since they had “their” President to re-elect in 2012. Obamacare eventually passed — thanks to organized labor — and unions vigorously celebrated their own undoing.

Unions pressed ahead with Obamacare even after the Congressional Budget Office predicted that as many as 20 million people could be victimized by having their employer-based health care dropped, since these people would now be “mandated” to buy health care as individuals.

Of course, if companies were incentivized by Obamacare to save money on labor costs, they were going to do it.

“But now!”, shriek labor leaders, “Obamacare is incentivizing employers to switch to part time employment! This is an unintended consequence!”

Not true. In 2009 mainstream media outlets were talking about this openly too.

Labor leaders are faking outrage now because their members are being directly affected, as are millions of others, all of whom have every right to blame labor leaders for this “nightmare scenario.”

Obamacare is perhaps the most blatant example of the complete incompetency of many U.S. labor leaders, who’ve tied the fate of organized labor to the Democratic Party, with disastrous results.

As the jobs crisis grinds on and wages and benefits are being attacked across the board, this “strategy” of labor leaders has proven be an utter failure. Union leaders have remained silent as the Democrats have attacked teachers, public employees, and implemented austerity measures on a state and federal level that shift the cost of the recession on working people.

The corporate and government assault on working people is quickly shifting the landscape under the feet of working people in the U.S., and instead of devising a strategy to fight back labor leaders are focused on “helping” Democrats in the incredibly naive hope that the Democrats will eventually do “something” for organized labor.

Any organization with leaders that have no vision and zero strategy should consider selecting a new leadership. Organized labor is in the fight of its life, and the Obamacare disaster will be repeated unless union members elect new leaders willing to wage a serious, massive, nationwide independent fightback.   

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker and an elected officer of SEIU 503. He can be reached at

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action ( He can be reached at

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