Local 888 officers and trustees attend the Teamsters Joint Council 62 Officers Training sessions held in Baltimore in December, 2014. (L-R) Trustee Gregory Green, Trustee Harry Morrison, President Larry Geho, Vice President Darryl Welsh, and Recording Secretary Robert Jarrell. Not pictured: Trustee Genice Parker
ObamaCare and Contract Negotiations
January 10, 2015| HEALTHCARE | The Affordable Care Act (ACA) – commonly referred to as ObamaCare – and our union members' healthcare plans have recently become a major issue for union negotiators bargaining successor contracts.
Officers and trustees of the six local unions comprising Teamsters Joint Council 62 recently spent the better part of a weekend reviewing and discussing specific sections and requirements of the extremely complex healthcare law, as it pertains to employer plans and Taft-Hartley Benefit Plans. Some of the troublesome ACA provisions become effective this year. Information about how the provisions apply is complicated and, in some cases, may conflict with provisions of current plans.
Until passage of the ACA in 2010, there was no federal requirement for healthcare coverage. However, unions have negotiated employer-provided coverage for members and their families since 1940. Yet every American labor union today is facing challenges from employers over certain requirements in the law specific to collectively-bargained healthcare plans.
"The problem is that the information we're looking for keeps changing," explained Joint Council President Denis Taylor (LU355), left. "We may not have the answers, but the experts don't either."
Nor do the employers – or their lawyers who may use this issue to line their own pockets, union leaders have discovered.
“Employers are using the ACA as an excuse to change our plans and increase costs to our members. What we’ve learned is that it is the employers – not the law itself – who want changes that could saddle our members with either additional out-of-pocket costs or a plan with lesser value to the member,” noted Taylor during opening remarks. Taylor also pointed out that the ACA "effects every one of us, no matter who we’re dealing with.”
Council Secretary-Treasurer Sean Cedenio (LU570) agreed, saying that that long-term employers are using the ACA to pressure the union. “Most of our employers pay 100% of healthcare costs. Our members, zero. And now our companies want that to stop.”
Attorney Brian Esders was on hand to field union leaders' questions and assist with legal interpretations of specific ACA sub-sections. Esders is an associate with labor law firm Abato, Rubenstein and Abato, P.A. His area of concentration is multi-employer benefit welfare and pension plans and he brought his comprehensive understanding of the complicated healthcare law to the discussion.
Council Recording Secretary Dave White (LU355), right, reported that Local 355 is experiencing an uptick in organizing calls from workers worried about health care coverage and costs. Inundated by inaccurate 15- and 30-second soundbites about ObamaCare, produced by news media and/or commercial sponsors and full of conflicting and misleading "facts," everyone is getting hammered with wrong information from all directions.
"It may be that unions can’t pay for informational advertisements and billboards like insurers and healthcare groups can," Dave told Council members, "but we can get the right info out to our members. Some of the questions we need answers to have come right up from the shop floor. We need to protect our people. Even plans people are happy with, all of them are being challenged."
"The Affordable Care Act hasn't accomplished what we thought it would, but we weren't the target," said Taylor. "Healthcare reform began as a plan for a single-payer system [government-run universal and comprehensive coverage, also known as “Medicare for all”]. The ACA is a political compromise that has effected our [healthcare] funds. We supported the idea of single-payer. But we didn't ask for this."
Council leaders reaffirmed their commitment to work to ensure negotiated healthcare plans remain compliant with the ACA without additional cost to participating members.
* Teamster Joint Council 62 is comprised of Local Union 311 (Baltimore), Local Union 355 (Baltimore), Local Union 453 (Cumberland), Local Union 570 (Baltimore), Local Union 888 (Baltimore Sun), and Local Union 992 (Hagerstown).