Union bosses silence ObamaCare critiques to pander to Democrat allies

Paul Kersey

Labor law expert, occasional smart-aleck, defender of the free society.

Paul Kersey
/ Labor
October 9, 2013

Union bosses silence ObamaCare critiques to pander to Democrat allies

Just a couple of weeks ago the AFL-CIO passed a sharp criticism of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as ObamaCare, in a written document at its national convention in Los Angeles. This document was the last of a string of union complaints about the national health insurance law and the way that the...

Just a couple of weeks ago the AFL-CIO passed a sharp criticism of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as ObamaCare, in a written document at its national convention in Los Angeles. This document was the last of a string of union complaints about the national health insurance law and the way that the Obama administration has implemented it.

But now that Congressional Republicans have started to address union concerns, unions have suddenly shut up. The silence from union lobbyists and activists is not particularly surprising, but it does reveal something about the real priorities of union officials: they’d rather stick to party politics than join forces with the other side to defend their workers.

For several months, unions have perceived ObamaCare as a major threat to working men and women. Teamsters President James Hoffa signed a letter warning that the health insurance law had the potential to “destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.” The AFL-CIO’s stance was more measured, but still raised the alarm that “contrary to the law’s intent, some workers might not be able to keep their coverage and their doctors.” Laborers’ International Union of North America General President Terry Sullivan went so far as to suggest that the law might need to be repealed. But after all that, now there is silence.

From the perspective of union bosses, there are three main problems with the law, at least as it has been applied so far: first, the law places a tax on the more generous and more expensive health insurance plans found in many union contracts. Second, union health insurance plans are not eligible for federal subsidies. And finally, the employer mandate is set up in such a way that employers are penalized for hiring too many full-time workers – and companies are responding by hiring only part-time staff.

The sad truth is, union bosses believe it’s too toxic to join forces with Republicans, who are trying to address the same concerns about ObamaCare that Hoffa and other union leaders raised.

Federal subsidies would be a tough sell for Republican lawmakers for their conservative base. But Republicans would be more than happy to help rewrite the employer mandate, and might be ready to grant relief from the tax on high-dollar health insurance.

So there’s an opportunity to correct some of ObamaCare’s glaring faults, if union lobbyists and activists are creative. But so far there is no indication that union officials are interested in taking advantage of it. There’s a fairly simple explanation for that, of course. The union establishment is heavily invested in the Democratic Party. Illinois union-funded Political Action Committees contributed more than $25 million to candidates between 2002 and 2012, and out of that more than 80 percent went to Democrats, which is fairly typical for union PACs.

Democrats see an opportunity to embarrass the GOP in the current shutdown fiasco, and while brokering a deal with Republicans might allow unions to solve some of the problems they themselves have identified in the health insurance law, doing so would mean passing up a chance to harm their political enemies, and it might even cause some embarrassment to their political allies.

Union bosses have made it clear where their priorities lie: health insurance might be a vital interest for workers, and ObamaCare might be full of unintended consequences and perverse incentives. But fixing the health insurance law takes a back seat to scoring partisan points.

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