Politics & Policy

Unite Here Turns Against Obamacare

Mega-Union blames Affordable Care Act for plan losses, declining hours.

President Obama has made an unlikely enemy: a labor union furious over the president’s legacy-making Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Faced with cuts to members’ health plans, reduced hours, and higher health-insurance costs, members of Unite Here, a union representing 265,000 casino, warehouse, hotel and food service workers, are becoming fed up with Obamacare.

In Las Vegas, Nevada’s Culinary Union Local 226, a subsidiary of Unite Here, is threatening a strike, citing Obamacare as its primary grievance, Jacob Fischler of Buzzfeed reports. The union voted on February 20 to reject a contract extension, wishing to maintain benefits, including “health-care coverage at no cost to workers, pensions, and a guaranteed 40-hour workweek,” a press release said.

Unite Here President Donald Taylor said that “the biggest hurdle in reaching a settlement in Vegas is the new costs imposed on our health plan by Obamacare.”

The union’s Taft-Hartley health-insurance plans — funded by employers and negotiated and managed by both labor and management — do not receive tax subsidies like plans under major insurers like Aetna, United, or Humana. For Culinary Union Local 226 members, the Taft-Hartley plans were included in union membership and offered at no extra cost.

But new Obamacare regulations have demolished that sweet deal. Without tax subsidies, employers are less willing to pay for employees’ health care. They are asking workers to foot some of the bill or move to government health-insurance exchanges.

“Even though the president and Congress promised we could keep our health plan, the reality is, unless the law is fixed, that won’t be true,” Taylor said. Workers, unhappy about the threat to their benefits and the possibility of a reduction in working hours, will vote March 20 on whether to authorize a strike.

Unite Here recently published a report on how the health-care law will harm its workers and “make inequality worse.”

Though Obamacare was passed with the hope of extending health-care coverage, “the unintended consequences will hit the average, hard-working American where it hurts: in the wallet,” the report says. “Without smart fixes, the ACA threatens the middle class with higher premiums, loss of hours, and a shift to part-time work and less comprehensive coverage.”

The report argues that many employers have already reduced hours for workers to below 30 hours a week in order to reduce the number of full-time employees they must cover. Furthermore, it says Taft-Hartley plans “face extinction because the Obama administration’s regulators have saddled them with all of the regulatory burdens but none of the benefits of health reform.”

“We take seriously the promise that ‘if you like your health plan, you can keep it. Period,’ the report ends. “United Here members like their health plans.”

Unfortunately for Unite Here members, Obama has not shown a serious interest in keeping that infamously broken promise.

— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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