October 18, 2019

Unions’ Misgivings on Health Law Burst Into View

But their conversation soon moved to what has become a contentious topic this summer: labor’s renewed anger over Mr. Obama’s health care law and decisions surrounding it, especially the postponement of an employer mandate to ensure coverage for workers and the potential effects of the coming health insurance exchanges on existing plans.

According to officials briefed on the call, the president voiced concern about labor’s criticisms, prompting the union federation’s leader, Richard Trumka, to promise that he would try to soften the harshly worded resolutions that several unions planned to push at this week’s A.F.L.-C.I.O. convention in Los Angeles.

Despite overtures on both sides — with Mr. Obama agreeing on the call to sit down with some union leaders to address their concerns at the White House, and Mr. Trumka initially hoping to quash such a public rift between the president and his party’s traditional allies — labor leaders criticized the administration and Congress on Wednesday at their convention.

While praising the overall legislation, the delegates overwhelmingly passed a sharply worded resolution that demanded changes to some of its regulations, although Mr. Trumka made sure to strip out some proposals that called for repealing the legislation.

At the convention, though, several labor leaders spoke their minds.

“If the Affordable Care Act is not fixed and it destroys the health and welfare funds that we have fought for and stand for, then I believe it needs to be repealed,” said Terence M. O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. “We don’t want it to be repealed. We want it to be fixed, fixed, fixed.

“We’ve had our asses kicked on retirement security and we know our health funds are under siege,” he added. “We ask the president and Congress to do the right thing for the men and women we represent.”

The resolution asserts that the law, by offering tax credits to workers seeking insurance from for-profit and other companies in the exchanges, will place some responsible employers at a competitive disadvantage and destabilize the employment-based health care system.

The administration and health officials have repeatedly tried to assure critics that the legislation will not encourage companies to dump workers from employer-based plans into newly created health insurance exchanges, even if the employer-based coverage stands out as more generous and therefore more expensive for companies and even municipalities.

At the convention, Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez’s cautious response to questions about the leaders’ concerns underscored how the complexities of the president’s signature domestic accomplishment and a longstanding goal of labor continue to present political difficulties for Mr. Obama.

In his speech before A.F.L.-C.I.O. members, Mr. Perez praised labor for helping enact the health law, but acknowledged that “challenges remain.”

During an interview here, he said, “The administration has been working to address questions and concerns raised by a wide array of stakeholders.”

Mr. Trumka declined to offer details about his telephone conversation with Mr. Obama, except to say: “We’re trying to solve problems.”

He and a group of union leaders also met late last month at the White House with Denis McDonough, the chief of staff, and Mr. Perez. Two other sessions have taken place since then with more junior administration officials, union officials said. The sit-down with Mr. Obama himself, Mr. Trumka and the union presidents is set for Friday.

Any erosion of health care benefits poses a singular threat to labor leaders, whose arsenal of tools to attract workers into union membership has dwindled alongside the decline of their organizations and their concomitant loss of influence around the country. Many unions and retirees have lost some benefits since the recession began, especially in the public sector as governments froze pension plans.

Steven Greenhouse reported from Los Angeles, and Jonathan Martin from Washington. Robert Pear contributed reporting from Washington.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/business/unions-misgivings-on-health-law-burst-into-view.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

A Gathering Storm Over ‘Right to Work’ in Indiana

The thunderclouds are gathering first here in Indiana. The leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature say that when the legislative session opens on Wednesday, their No. 1 priority will be to push through a business-friendly piece of legislation known as a right-to-work law.

If Indiana enacts such a law — and its sponsors say they have the votes — it will give new momentum to those who have previously pushed such legislation in Maine, Michigan, Missouri and other states. New Hampshire’s Republican-controlled Legislature was the last to pass a right-to-work bill in 2011, but it narrowly failed to muster the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto by the Democratic governor; an Indiana law would re-energize that effort.

Right-to-work laws prohibit union contracts at private sector workplaces from requiring employees to pay any dues or other fees to the union. In states without such laws, workers at unionized workplaces generally have to pay such dues or fees.

Many right-to-work supporters say it is morally wrong to force unwilling workers to contribute to unions, while opponents argue that it is wrong to allow “free riders” not to support the unions that represent them in negotiations and arbitrations.

Right-to-work is also a potent political symbol that carries serious financial consequences for unions. Corporations view such laws as an important sign that a state has policies friendly to business. Labor leaders say that allowing workers to opt out of paying any money to the union that represents them weakens unions’ finances, bargaining clout and political power.

Organized labor has vowed to fight the Indiana bill, which it says would turn the state into the “Mississippi of the Midwest.” If the legislation passes, Indiana would become the first state to have such a law within the traditional manufacturing belt, a union stronghold that stretches from the Midwest to New England. Right-to-work laws exist in 22 states, almost all in the South and West, with Oklahoma the most recent to pass one, in 2001.

Right-to-work supporters say they can win quick passage because Indiana’s Republican governor, Mitch Daniels, backs the bill and Republicans have large majorities in the House and Senate.

Democratic and union leaders say they hope to block the legislation, in part by flooding the statehouse with thousands of protesters — exactly as unions did last year in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana in an attempt to defeat legislation that limited bargaining rights for public sector workers. Democratic lawmakers in Indiana have also hinted that they might once again flee to Illinois, as they did last year, to block votes on anti-union bills.

Indiana’s Republican leaders are eager to pass the bill — and end any related commotion — before Feb. 5, when the national spotlight turns to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl.

In heading the legislative push, Brian C. Bosma, the Republican speaker of the Indiana House, argues that not being right-to-work is a big handicap when Indiana competes for jobs.

“Local economic development officers testified that 25 to 50 percent of companies looking to create employment, whether through expansion or locating a new facility, just took Indiana and other non-right-to-work states off the table,” he said in an interview. “This is stopping employers from coming to Indiana. We need to deal with that.”

Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, praised the bill as a low-cost way to improve the business climate. “It’s not like we’re going to spend a billion dollars on tax incentives,” he said. “It’s free.”

But opponents say the talk of improving Indiana’s business climate is just a pretext.

“It’s a political attack on what the Republicans see as one of their main opponents — organized labor,” said Jim Robinson, the top United Steelworkers official in Indiana. “They want to weaken unions to help assure continued Republican majorities.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=b1c7a06ed7040530df2fba25e21822b1