Unions abandon Obamacare fight

Published on Friday, 19 July 2013 21:23 - Written by

The bad news — that unions have abandoned President Barack Obama in his fight to implement the Affordable Care Act — was probably carried, at some point, by a union member. That’s because it’s the nation’s largest and most powerful workers’ 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.

“When 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,” the letter reads. “Sadly, 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.”

It gets worse.

“Time is running out: Congress wrote this law; we voted for you,” the letter declares. “We have a problem; you need to fix it. The unintended consequences of the ACA are severe. Perverse incentives are already creating nightmare scenarios.”

These “nightmare scenarios” are not surprising to Republicans, who warned against them when the bill was being considered in 2010.

“The law creates an incentive for employers to keep employees’ work hours below 30 hours a week,” the letter says. “Numerous employers have begun to cut workers’ 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.”

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 — including the non-profit plans most union members have — to pay for the massive program.

“Taken 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,” 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 Institute’s Avik Roy, writing in Forbes, says there’s a political side here that the Obama administration didn’t figure on: Obamacare diminishes the power of unions.

“What a lot of people may not realize is that for much of our history, labor unions opposed universal coverage,” Roy says. “If unions’ role in negotiating health coverage is taken over by the government, unions lose a big chunk of their utility.”

Whatever the unions’ 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 “help fix” 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.