FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Will Obamacare Affect Unionized Workers?

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

More articles by:

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

April 26, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
As Trump Berates Iran, His Options are Limited
Daniel Warner
From May 1968 to May 2018: Politics and Student Strikes
Simone Chun – Kevin Martin
Diplomacy in Korea and the Hope It Inspires
George Wuerthner
The Attack on Wilderness From Environmentalists
CJ Hopkins
The League of Assad-Loving Conspiracy Theorists
Richard Schuberth
“MeToo” and the Liberation of Sex
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Sacred Assemblies in Baghdad
Dean Baker
Exonerating Bad Economic Policy for Trump’s Win
Vern Loomis
The 17 Gun Salute
Gary Leupp
What It Means When the U.S. President Conspicuously and Publicly Removes a Speck of Dandruff from the French President’s Lapel
Robby Sherwin
The Hat
April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail