‘The Enemy Within’
From the December 20, 2010, issue of NR


Both government and private-sector unions were gambling on Democrats’ staying in control in Washington. After the election, Scanlon told the Wall Street Journal that unions will be “more in a holding pattern than advancing anything. . . . We’re very disappointed with the results, certainly in the House.” With a Republican-controlled House, the party may end for government-employee unions. Left-leaning lawmakers passed the 2009 stimulus and other legislation, which sent $160 billion in federal tax money to the states. Much of the spending helped prevent government-sector layoffs. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) has already signaled he will introduce a resolution in January to oppose any federal bailout of state and local government-employee pension funds. At the end of November, President Obama, in what can only be described as an acknowledgment of the political winds and public sentiment, even proposed a freeze on federal employee pay. The move falls short of Republican proposals of reducing the size of the federal work force or pay cuts but is a step, although a very small one, toward reducing the pay gap between private and government workers.

Unions, both government and private, demand — and often get — exemptions from the laws and regulations government imposes on the rest of us. Examples abound. For instance, in a show of hypocrisy brazen even by teachers’-union standards, the New York City chapter of the AFT, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), received an exemption from the mandatory minimum of coverage imposed by Obamacare — a bill that, incidentally, the AFT supported.

The health-care law orders that companies that provide insurance must offer a minimum of $750,000 in coverage to each employee in 2011, $1.25 million in 2012, $2 million in 2013, and an unlimited amount by 2014. The law would adversely affect businesses that offer small health-insurance plans known as mini-meds, mostly to hourly-wage temporary workers. In some cases, premiums for these businesses could double. McDonald’s, which employs thousands of hourly workers, has already announced that it will have to cut health-care benefits to workers because of the law. Other employers could well follow suit.

In response — and probably because, for political reasons, it did not want a million minimum-wage workers kicked off their health-care plans weeks before an election — the Obama administration granted 30 waivers in the beginning of October; by mid-November that number grew to over 111. The waivers are good for one year and cover about 1 million people. The largest waiver went not to a corporate giant like McDonald’s, but to the UFT. It requested a waiver for 351,000 members in its welfare fund. These teachers are not necessarily on the breadline and wanting for medical help: The UFT welfare fund covers up to $100,000 for their prescriptions, while New York City covers hospital and primary-care-physician treatments for them and their families. Without the waiver, though, the union would need either to pay drastically increased premiums or cut the prescription-drug benefit.

The UFT lobbied heavily for the very health-care bill that its president, Michael Mulgrew, now claims may cost too much. Mere months ago he was singing a different tune. The New York State UFT website even featured a “myth vs. fact” advocacy piece promoting the health-care bill. Here’s a sample:

Myth: Health care reform will force you out of your current insurance plan or force you to change doctors.

Fact: You can keep your existing insurance; reform will expand your medical options, not eliminate them.

It seems Mulgrew’s staff got the myth and fact mixed up; without the waiver, the teachers could not have kept their existing insurance.