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Is Obamacare Stealing Your Benefits?

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—"Be careful what you wish for," goes the old saying. After all, you might just get it. Apparently, this choice advice was was forgotten by some major labor union leaders. These union bosses campaigned vigorously for President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act (ACA) to be passed by Congress into law.

They did so despite warnings from those opposed to the ACA – commonly referred to as Obamacare - that the plan would be problematic. Nonetheless the chiefs of the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) and UNITE-HERE, a union representing textile workers, hotel and restaurant employees were adamantly in favor of it and inveighed against those who opposed it.

But that was then, and this is now. Now they are getting what they asked for, and buyer's remorse has set in – and in a major way. The three union presidents, James P. Hoffa of the Teamsters, UFCW's Joseph Hansen and Donald 'D' Taylor President of UNITE-HERE, sent a letter July 11 to the Democratic congressional leaders Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) imploring them and President Obama to "enact an equitable fix."

"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 union bosses state. "Sadly, that promise is under threat...We have been strong supporters of the notion that all Americans should have access to quality, affordable health care. We have also been strong supporters of you. In campaign after campaign we have put boots on the ground, gone door-to-door to get out the vote, run phone banks and raised money to secure this vision. Now this vision has come back to haunt us."

The letter continues by citing the concerns they have voiced to the White House since the ACA was enacted – laments that were unheeded. Yet the union bosses are angered by the fact that businesses have been allowed to delay the deadline for the employer mandate and penalties.

They also note that employers have an incentive to keep workers' hours below 30 hours a week. Because of this, not only are union members losing their pay, but they are also losing their current health benefits. Furthermore, many union health insurance plans are non-profit and governed jointly by unions and companies under the Taft-Hartley Act. But the Obama administration is interpreting the ACA so that union members will be treated differently "and not be eligible for subsidies afforded other citizens," the union bosses claim. As such, they argue, many employees will be relegated to second-class status and shut out of the help the law offers to for-profit insurance plans.

The union leaders are getting increasingly urgent: "Time is running out: Congress wrote this law; we voted for you. We have a problem; you need to fix it. The unintended consequences of the ACA are severe."

The Teamsters, UFCW or UNITE-HERE were all contacted but declined comment.

One union that did comment when asked was the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Spokesperson Jim Spellane said that his union is focusing on the provision of the ACA that concerns Multiple Employer Health Plans, which affects his members.

"The act needs to be fixed to take into account the unique nature of Multi- employer Health Plans," said Spellane. "There are a couple of provisions that concern these and with 65 million people covered by them we think they should be fixed. We were told they would be addressed. But they have not as of yet. We them corrected before the provisions of the ACA regarding them kick in. We want the correction process to begin with more urgency."

Another union, the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers International, has gone so far as to ask for repeal of the ACA. Citing the loss of benefits to members and the deleterious effect the ACA will have for the industry and Multi-employer Health Plans, Roofers' president, Kinsey M. Robinson, said in a transmission in April that his union is tired of waiting.

"Our Union and its members have supported President Obama and his Administration for both of his terms in office," Robinson announced. "But regrettably, our concerns over certain provisions in the ACA have not been addressed, or in some instances, totally ignored. In the rush to achieve its passage, many of the Act's provisions were not fully conceived, resulting in unintended consequences that are inconsistent with the promise that those who were satisfied with their employer sponsored coverage could keep it."

He observed that those conditions "jeopardize our multi-employer health plans, have the potential to cause a loss of work for our members, create an unfair bidding advantage for those contractors who do not provide health coverage to their workers, and in the worst case, may cause our members and their families to lose the benefits they currently enjoy as participants in multi-employer health plans."

He further noted that for "decades, our multi-employer health and welfare plans have provided the necessary medical coverage for our members and their families to protect them in times of illness and medical needs." This collaboration between labor and management has been a model of success that "should be emulated rather than ignored." These are now being jeopardized by the Obama administration.

Robinson said he will not be silent and refuses to "idly watch as the ACA destroys those protections."

--Written by Michael P. Tremoglie

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