By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
Union leaders in Pennsylvania are echoing concerns expressed by the national AFL-CIO about the implementation of the federal health care law.
At this (past) week's national conference of the AFL-CIO, an umbrella group for dozens of labor unions, union leaders approved a resolution formally calling for changes to the Affordable Care Act. The AFL-CIO said it's concerned about the affordability and accessibility of health insurance under Obamacare, and also worries that workers' hours may be cut back as an unintended consequence of the law.
It's a notable change from 2010, when unions were among the loudest supporters of the Affordable Care Act.
"There are still things that need to get fixed," Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, said on Friday after returning from the conference.
On the whole, unions' biggest complaint with the ACA is that the federal government would recognize so-called "multi-employer plans" as employer-based health plans. Those types of plans were legalized by the Taft-Hartley Act and are widely used by labor unions to pool insurance costs between unions and management.
Since the Treasury Department says it will view multi-employer plans the same way as other employer-based health coverage, individuals enrolled in those plans will not be eligible for government subsidies. Without the subsidies, insurance would be more expensive.
"Our members have negotiated hard for 50 years to get the good health care provided by our plans, and they shouldn't lose that," Bloomingdale said.
He said the unions in Pennsylvania are waiting to see what compromise can be reached with the White House and Congress to address their concerns before starting any grassroots efforts and telling members to contact their congressmen.
But unions are not likely to join congressional Republicans and conservative tea party groups in calling for a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Leaders in Pennsylvania say they still support the overall goal of Obamacare and want to see changes made that would address their concerns.
Wendell Young IV, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, noted that the Obama administration made special concessions for the Catholic Church and delayed implementation of the employer mandate after opposition by business groups.
Unions want the same kind of flexibility from the administration, he said.
"Labor is not against Obamacare. That is absolutely not true," Young said. "We think that in the sausage-grinder that is Washington, some mistakes were made and those should be corrected."
Business groups have warned for some time that reduced hours would be one of the unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act.
The labor unions say they want the federal government to institute a penalty for employers who cut hours just to avoid offering health insurance.
"It's pretty crappy that a business would cut their employees' hours in order to avoid giving them health care," Bloomingdale said.
But there could be an upside, he said. Employees upset with their management for reducing hours might look to unionize.