The Corner

Obamacare’s Discontents Make Peculiar Bedfellows

BuzzFeed reports:

Contract negotiations are stalled for thousands of workers at casinos on the Strip and in downtown Las Vegas to the point where they may go on strike — and the sticking point is Obamacare.

On Feb. 20, thousands of housekeepers, porters, cooks, cocktail servers, and others represented by Nevada’s largest union, the Culinary Union Local 226, voted to end a contract extension the workers agreed to last summer. The union wants to maintain its current benefits — including health care coverage at no cost to workers, pensions, and guaranteed 40-hour workweeks.

Rising health care costs due to provisions in the Affordable Care Act could put those benefits in jeopardy, the union says.

“The biggest hurdle to reaching settlements in Vegas is the new costs imposed on our health plan by Obamacare,” Donald “D” Taylor, president of Unite Here, the parent union of CU Local 226, told BuzzFeed in a statement. “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.”

It may be politically advantageous for supporters of this law to pretend that companies and unions are just being “selfish.” Indeed, History teaches us that, for a little while at least, railing about “wreckers” who refuse to get on board with the common good can be extremely effective. Either way, this is a stark reminder that, in the real world, politics does not operate as it does in Aaron Sorkin dramas, nor outside of self-satisfied television shows do human beings rise up on cue to enthusiastically become New Soviet Man. Now, are the unions reliable allies of conservatives on the question of Obamacare? No. Absolutely not. Are they self-interested? Of course. Would they immediately line up with the Democratic party on this question if it cut them a special deal? No question. Ultimately, though, “are you better off than you were four years ago?” is still the material the question of our age and, for now at least, these workers appear not to be. That matters.

Fox recorded earlier in the year that Big Labor remains unhappy in general:

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the presidents of two high-profile labor unions said they are “bitterly disappointed” with the administrations’s proposed rules, The Hill reported.

Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, and D. Taylor, president of Unite Here said the administration has failed to address their concerns about union plans and that ObamaCare threatens to lower the standard of living for the working class. 

“If the administration honestly thinks that these proposed rules are responsive to our concerns, they were not listening or they simply did not care,” the letter said. “It would be a sad irony if the signature legislative accomplishment of an administration committed to reducing income inequality cut living standards for middle income and low wage workers.”  

The two labor leaders also suggested that Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, in a recent letter to lawmakers, might have misled them to believe that the proposed changes address unions’ concerns about the Affordable Care Act, according to The Hill.  

Contrary to the impression that the president likes to give, the fight over Obamacare is not between the rich and everybody else, but is far, far more complex than that. A few days ago, the Huffington Post’s Jeffrey Young noted with more than a little panic in his tone that even “the uninsured are turning against Obamacare.” “That’s a problem,” Young continued, observing that

the Obama administration is running into a somewhat surprising roadblock in its final push to get Americans enrolled in Obamacare ahead of the March 31 deadline: The nation’s uninsured are increasingly suspicious of the law.

Fifty-six percent of those who identified as uninsured in a new poll conducted in February by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a research institution, had an unfavorable view of the health care reform law, compared to just 22 percent who said they view it favorably. The uninsured now see Obamacare less favorably than they did when the enrollment period began in October. As recently as September, more uninsured approved of the law than disapproved.

Bad laws have consequences. Rhetoric can only go so far. And people will only take so much of being told what they believe.

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