New Costs of Obamacare Complicate Labor Negotiations

Tuesday, 27 May 2014 10:11 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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Labor unions, originally ardent supporters of Obamacare, are now embroiled in heated battles with employers over who has the onus of paying for future costs and new mandates, such as covering dependent children until age 26, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Obamacare-related cost increases for millions of workers are predicted to rise between 5 percent and 12.5 percent in the next few years, according to the newspaper.

"It's been a challenge for even some of the stronger unions to maintain the quality health plans that they have offered over the years," New York lawyer Daniel Murphy, who represents employers in labor talks, told the Journal.

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Union officials have said they feel like the Obama administration bamboozled them to get their support for the president’s biggest legislative accomplishment. The White House has refused to allow concessions to solve some of the issues hampering current labor talks, the Journal said.

"When we first supported the calls for healthcare reform, we thought it was going to bring costs down," said Jim Ray, a lawyer for Laborers International Union of North America, according to the Journal. Ray said Obamacare provisions have resulted in 5 percent to 10 percent increases for construction workers’ health plan costs while lowering wages for some laborers.

The Journal quoted an official it didn't identify as saying the Obama administration has "worked hard to smooth implementation" of Obamacare.

The Alaska Airline flight attendants’ union is at a stalemate with management because company officials have refused to provide sufficient protection for union members from skyrocketing costs of the healthcare law, the newspaper reported.

Similar conflicts are playing out in Philadelphia, with its transit system workers, and in Las Vegas, where thousands of housekeepers, waiters, and others have voted to go on strike June 1 if they can’t reach an acceptable resolution with their union over new Obamacare-related costs, according to the Journal.

The discord may have a ripple effect in November’s midterm elections, with the historically left-leaning union workers possibly throwing support to Republicans, The Washington Post reported in January.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, has benefited from labor’s disenchantment with Obamacare. The Laborers’ International Union endorsed Christie in his re-election campaign in 2013 and contributed $300,000 to the Republican Governors Association, headed by Christie. The Post reported that labor officials have spoken with the governor’s aides about a possible appearance by Christie at a union convention.

Donald "D." Taylor, president of the union Unite Here, which represents about 400,000 hotel and restaurant workers, told the Post that it could be a situation of union workers not so much getting behind Republicans as it is holding back support for Democrats.

"You can’t just order people to do stuff," Taylor said. "If their health plan gets wrecked, why would they then go campaign for the folks responsible for wrecking their healthcare?"

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