Vegas Casino Workers Set to Strike Over Obamacare

Tuesday, 11 Mar 2014 07:42 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Casino workers in Las Vegas are ready to strike, furious that Obamacare puts their healthcare coverage, pensions, and 40-hour work weeks in jeopardy, reports say.

The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 is negotiating with about a dozen of its employers in the gambling resort to kick in more money to its health insurance fund to cover rising Obamacare costs, CNN reported Tuesday.

Currently, workers get healthcare coverage at no cost to them, along with pensions and guaranteed 40-hour work weeks.

The Affordable Care Act provisions now threaten that, the union says.

"The biggest hurdle to reaching settlements in Vegas is the new costs imposed on our health plan by Obamacare," Donald "D" Taylor, president of Unite Here, the parent union of CU Local 226, told Buzz Feed last week.

"Even though the president and Congress promised we could keep our health plan, the reality is, unless the law is fixed, that won’t be true."

Union workers walked a picket line outside the Stratosphere last weekend, and on March 20, they'll vote to give their union the right to call a strike, CNN reported.

The unions argue that Obamacare fees and mandates have jacked up the health insurance fund's expenses yet, the unions say, the fund doesn't qualify for federal subsidies to cover low-income workers, which for-profit insurers do.

The unions want the subsidies to help counter added Obamacare costs.

The subsidies, which go right to the insurers, help low-income patients buy coverage on the individual market through state and federal exchanges.

Because union plans are considered employer-sponsored plans, there's no federal money to subsidize those members.

"The administration has made change after change to meet other groups' needs," Yvanna Cancela, the local's political director, told CNN, noting that the union would like to see the president keep his promise.

"Our members want to keep their health plans."

The Las Vegas workers are not alone. Some unions that supported President Barack Obama and his drive for healthcare reform now feel they're left out in the cold because the administration hasn't included health insurance funds in Obamacare.

A strike in Las Vegas could have far-reaching implications for Obama and Democrats.

"If their health plan gets wrecked, why would they then go campaign for the folks responsible for wrecking their health care?" Taylor told the Washington Post in January.

The last time Las Vegas went through a casino strike was in 1991, when workers from five different unions walked off the job for six years, four months, and 10 days before the dispute was worked out, Buzz Feed reported.

The Local 226 fund provides health insurance for about 55,000 kitchen workers, housekeepers, bartenders, bellman, porters, laundry workers, and others, and an estimated 70,000 dependents, CNN said.

Employers contribute $3.96 per worker per hour to cover health and pension benefits. Workers don't pay a premium, but are responsible for about 10 percent of their out-of-pocket medical costs, CNN reported.

Since Obamacare came onto the scene, however, the union fund has to pay $23 million to cover the children of union workers up to the age of 26.

Cancela said the fund this year also faces a transitional reinsurance fee of $63 per insured person, which reimburses insurers on the exchange who face high claim costs.

The unions want their employers to increase their contributions to help offset these rising costs, and so far there have been agreements with five casino operators.

But 7,000 union members are left with expired contracts and, without agreements,  are ready to strike, CNN reported.

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