We’re not going to take it!

By Sean P. Redmond 9/13/13

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) held its convention this week, and as usual the body passed a number of resolutions on various topics. But one in particular that passed yesterday highlighted how deep opposition to the so-called Affordable Care Act (ACA) is becoming in the house of Labor.

It is well known that the AFL-CIO helped lead the charge for the passage of the ACA, a/k/a Obamacare.  In fact, according to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, it was “time to say yes” to Obamacare back in 2010 as the law was on the brink of passing, which it did after the AFL-CIO “decided…to put [its] strong, active support behind the president’s health care bill.” 

After all of that cheerleading, when a number of labor leaders began to express more publicly their frustration with the Obamacare earlier this year, people noticed

The big issue, in addition to employers’ potentially shifting to part-time workers, is that there are several new fees that are making coverage more costly, even for multi-employer health plans that unions negotiate with employers to provide health coverage.  This usually-generous coverage is one of the key benefits that unions can point to as an important reason for even having a union.

However, despite promises to the contrary, the law as it currently stands will drive up costs considerably – which many of those that opposed the bill in the first place foresaw. To offset these added costs imposed by the law, unions are clamoring for an exception that would allow individuals enrolled in their multi-employer health plans to access premium tax credits that the law awards to low-income individuals without access to affordable employer-sponsored coverage when they purchase coverage in the individual market’s exchange.

Without these tax credits, unions fear that Obamacare will actually bankrupt the employers that finance the multi-employer plans or encourage employers to stop participating in these plans and instead pay the penalty for not offering coverage. The law will make these plans far more expensive than dropping coverage altogether and letting employees access these premium tax credits on the insurance exchange to procure coverage instead. 

At the AFL-CIO convention, a fierce debate over how to deal with the unintended consequences of Obamacare erupted, as leaders tried to reconcile their support of government interference in health care with the inevitable (and predictable) results of its doing so.

On the convention floor, Joseph Nigro, president of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union predicted that the ACA would decimate the labor movement, saying “You allow an ACA bill to go through like this, I guarantee you by your next convention four years from now, you won’t meet a quarter of this room. We won’t be here.” 

Other labor leaders evoked the dreaded “R” word that few in labor have employed so far. Terence O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) put it succinctly, saying “If the Affordable Care Act is not fixed and it destroys the health and welfare funds that we have fought for and stand for, then I believe it needs to be repealed.”

Back when Obamacare was being debated, there was considerable public opposition to the law, opposition that has never waned (in fact it has only grown and now stands at 53% oppose vs. 38.2% support this week). 

Yet, the AFL-CIO and other labor unions accepted the representations of administration officials who peddled promises to fix the law eventually, perhaps because they were desperate to get any kind of health care bill passed so the administration could focus on the Employee Free Choice Act (a/k/a Card Check).

Now that the effects of Obamacare are being felt throughout the country, unions are saying “We are not going to take it anymore!”  Many might say we never wanted it in the first place.