Union Letter: Obamacare Will ‘Destroy The Very Health and Wellbeing’ of Workers

By Tom Gara
The Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2013

The leaders of three major U.S. unions, including the highly influential Teamsters, have sent a scathing letter to Democratic leaders in Congress, warning that unless changes are made, President Obama’s health care reform plan will “destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.”

The full letter, below:


Dear Leader Reid and Leader Pelosi:

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. Sadly, that promise is under threat. Right now, unless you and the Obama Administration enact an equitable fix, the ACA will shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.

Like millions of other Americans, our members are front-line workers in the American economy. 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.

Since the ACA was enacted, we have been bringing our deep concerns to the Administration, seeking reasonable regulatory interpretations to the statute that would help prevent the destruction of non-profit health plans. As you both know first-hand, our persuasive arguments have been disregarded and met with a stone wall by the White House and the pertinent agencies. This is especially stinging because other stakeholders have repeatedly received successful interpretations for their respective grievances. Most disconcerting of course is last week’s huge accommodation for the employer community—extending the statutorily mandated “December 31, 2013” deadline for the employer mandate and penalties.

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. Perverse incentives are already creating nightmare scenarios:

First, the law creates an incentive for employers to keep employees’ work hours below 30 hours a week. Numerous employers have begun to cut workers’ hours to avoid this obligation, and many of them are doing so openly. The impact is two-fold: fewer hours means less pay while also losing our current health benefits.
Second, millions of Americans are covered by non-profit health insurance plans like the ones in which most of our members participate. These non-profit plans are governed jointly by unions and companies under the Taft-Hartley Act. Our health plans have been built over decades by working men and women. Under the ACA as interpreted by the Administration, our employees will treated differently and not be eligible for subsidies afforded other citizens. As such, many employees will be relegated to second-class status and shut out of the help the law offers to for-profit insurance plans.

And finally, even though non-profit plans like ours won’t receive the same subsidies as for-profit plans, they’ll be taxed to pay for those subsidies. Taken together, these restrictions will make non-profit plans like ours unsustainable, and will undermine the health-care market of viable alternatives to the big health insurance companies.

On behalf of the millions of working men and women we represent and the families they support, we can no longer stand silent in the face of elements of the Affordable Care Act that will destroy the very health and wellbeing of our members along with millions of other hardworking Americans.

We believe that there are common-sense corrections that can be made within the existing statute that will allow our members to continue to keep their current health plans and benefits just as you and the President pledged. Unless changes are made, however, that promise is hollow.

We continue to stand behind real health care reform, but the law as it stands will hurt millions of Americans including the members of our respective unions.

We are looking to you to make sure these changes are made.

James P. Hoffa
General President
International Brotherhood of Teamsters

Joseph Hansen
International President

D. Taylor


The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was intended to keep insurance obtained through employment intact, while adding coverage for the uninsured through new state insurance exchanges and through an expansion of Medicaid. Among the programs to be protected were the multi-employer Taft-Hartley plans that were collectively bargained between unions and employers. Yet an unintended consequence of ACA seems to have put these plans at risk.

Why? The provision of ACA that exempts employers from a requirement of providing coverage for part-time workers – those working less than 30 hours per week – has provided an opportunity for employers to escape the burden of their health benefit programs by merely rearranging the work schedules of their employees. It is already happening even though the employer requirement does not go into effect for another one and a half years.

Employers can assuage their guilt to some extent since they know that the government will subsidize the plans when their newly part-time employees switch to the insurance exchanges. These subsidies are not available for the Taft-Hartley plans (though employers are able to deduct from taxable revenues the cost of these plans – a tax expenditure).

Another motivation for employers to attempt to reduce the Taft-Hartley plans is that ACA includes a tax to be assessed against so-called Cadillac plans. Little does it matter that these are not plans with some kind of gilded benefits. These are merely standard health plans that have not had benefits stripped out nor have they shifted excessive costs to patients through higher deductibles and other forms of cost sharing. Yet health care costs are now so high that the cost of the standard benefits offered exceed the Cadillac threshold.

Union members gave up major wage increases in order to have secure health care coverage. If they lose their Taft-Hartley plans, it is unlikely that employers would grant the wage increases that they would have received had they not had to spend so much on the health plans, even though economists consider these plans to be paid for by forgone wage increases. The reality is that the economic model we have today transfers much of the productivity of the workers to the wealthiest one percent of our society.

Taft-Hartley was designed as anti-union legislation, though allowing collectively-bargained health benefit programs. Now even those programs are at risk. The anti-union one-percenters are winning the war.

We should remove responsibility of providing health benefits from the employers, but not in a way that shafts their employees. We need to replace our current dysfunctional health care financing system with one that works for everyone, while sharing the costs equitably – a single payer national health program. The solution is so obvious. Why isn’t it catching on?