THE BLOG
06/13/2013 11:55 am ET | Updated Aug 13, 2013

Union Support Waning for the Affordable Care Act: Look for the Union Label on Obamacare? Perhaps Not

Peeling the Obamacare onion is divulging how it works, layer by layer, year by year. Understanding what it is and the effects to labor unions is creating dissension among the ranks. Unions to date, collectively one of the strongest supporters of Obamacare are changing their tune, "Look for the union label..." will not likely continue when it applies to the Affordable Care Act.

Now understanding the practical effects; unions are predicting headaches for their dues paying members and that their organizing strategies will be harmed. Health care is a badge of honor for unions. "Unintended consequences of Obamacare," they call it. But is this the reveal of unintended consequences or a miscalculation of the provisions and support for the Act?

Perhaps labor unions failed to understand the provisions of the 2,801 page law and the forthcoming effects. After all, they were in good company; not many understood the full effects. This included members of Congress that voted for it to find out what was in it. They trusted and financially supported the president/candidate who said "If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan." and promised a 19 percent decrease in health premiums. But according to the chief architect of Obamacare, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, health care premiums will increase on an average of 19 to 31 percent.

This is no news flash or change to the provisions; the consequences have always been the same. It is more the devil in the details, taking a bitter pill for the effects.

Again, the reality; premiums have and will continue to increase. Many union leaders and union members feel betrayed.

According to Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, "It makes an untruth out of what the president said -- that if you like your insurance, you could keep it, that is not going to be true for millions of workers now."

"We're concerned that employers will be increasingly tempted to drop coverage through our plans and let our members fend for themselves on the health exchanges," said David Treanor, director of health care initiatives at the Operating Engineers union.

Are labor unions concerned about losing their state of coverage, their functionality including loss of member interest, their organizing capabilities, how about all of the above? Health care is a critical earmark of union organizing and negotiations. When union organizers come calling, they assure employees, if they choose to be represented; they will get health insurance.

Nonetheless, clearly the negative impact to unions came as quite the surprise. After all, President Obama is a staunch union supporter.

Despite their widespread support, immediately after the provisions took effect, unions requested and were granted waivers from the annual benefit caps under Obamacare until 2014. In fact the Health and Human Services granted 1,231 waivers totaling 543,812 union employees exempted. And, there were 69,813 non-union worker exemptions. But union members received by far, over 90 percent of waivers starting in 2011. The most visible supporters of Obamacare received these waivers in astounding numbers, particularly, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and Service Employee International Union (SEIU). Let's not forget, unions picketed the Supreme Court in support of Obamacare carrying signs that read "Protect Working Families, Protect the Law."

Some now question if they can effectively co-exist, Obamacare and labor unions. The Act, by its consequences, likely will result in an expected decline in union membership. Many unions are raising their heads advocating for repeal, or serious revisions to the Act. We cannot forget that there will be a Cadillac plan tax of 40% in 2018. Most plans of union represented employees will likely fall in that category.

The AFL-CIO is asking for special dispensation for fees, advocating for tax breaks for union members. In reality, this is a request for American taxpayers to subsidize their "unintended increases."

According to The Hill, The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) -- a 1.3 million-member labor group that twice endorsed Obama for president -- is very worried about how the reform law will affect its members' health care plans.

Last month, the president of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers released a statement calling "for repeal or complete reform of the Affordable Care Act." UNITE HERE, a prominent hotel workers' union, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are also pushing for changes

According to the Congressional Budget Office, seven to eight million Americans will lose their coverage through their employers. This estimate is an increase from a predicted four million in 2012. There will be reductions in work schedules and employers paying the IRS penalty in lieu of insurance. The health care exchanges (if states chose to go there) may also erode the value of unions negotiating for benefits and multi-employer/union health care plans that pool resources to offer insurance plans.

It is clear that we need sweeping health care change but this bill was hastily created and supported without the proper review and vetting of the "unintended consequences." And strong labor support is clearly waning after being the most staunch supporters of President Obama's Affordable Care Act. Consequently, the function of going back to the drawing board is long overdue.