The bad news â€” that unions have abandoned President Barack Obama in his fight to implement the Affordable Care Act â€” was probably carried, at some point, by a union member. Thatâ€™s because itâ€™s the nationâ€™s largest and most powerful workersâ€™ organizations, including the Teamsters, that have done the leaving.
The letter was addressed to Democratic honchos House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
â€śWhen you and the President sought our support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), you pledged that if we liked the health plans we have now, we could keep them,â€ť the letter reads. â€śSadly, that promise is under threat. Right now, unless you and the Obama Administration enact an equitable fix, the ACA will shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.â€ť
It gets worse.
â€śTime is running out: Congress wrote this law; we voted for you,â€ť the letter declares. â€śWe have a problem; you need to fix it. The unintended consequences of the ACA are severe. Perverse incentives are already creating nightmare scenarios.â€ť
These â€śnightmare scenariosâ€ť are not surprising to Republicans, who warned against them when the bill was being considered in 2010.
â€śThe law creates an incentive for employers to keep employeesâ€™ work hours below 30 hours a week,â€ť the letter says. â€śNumerous employers have begun to cut workersâ€™ hours to avoid this obligation, and many of them are doing so openly. The impact is two-fold: fewer hours means less pay while also losing our current health benefits.â€ť
The law also does a bad job of protecting the health care benefits that unions have negotiated for decades to secure.
And the government will start taxing health plans â€” including the non-profit plans most union members have â€” to pay for the massive program.
â€śTaken together, these restrictions will make non-profit plans like ours unsustainable, and will undermine the health-care market of viable alternatives to the big health insurance companies,â€ť the letter says.
This could signal real trouble for Obamacare. The Teamsters, the United Federation of Communications Workers, and UNITE-HERE (a service industries union) have been solid supporters of the law, up until now.
The Manhattan Instituteâ€™s Avik Roy, writing in Forbes, says thereâ€™s a political side here that the Obama administration didnâ€™t figure on: Obamacare diminishes the power of unions.
â€śWhat a lot of people may not realize is that for much of our history, labor unions opposed universal coverage,â€ť Roy says. â€śIf unionsâ€™ role in negotiating health coverage is taken over by the government, unions lose a big chunk of their utility.â€ť
Whatever the unionsâ€™ reasons for jumping ship, Obama is finding his signature legislative achievement adrift.
That explains why he and Democratic leaders are now pleading with Republicans to â€śhelp fixâ€ť the law.
But they can no longer complain that Republicans are obstructing the bill.
Their longtime allies, the unions, stand in the way now, too.