Labor-capital disputes and the ACA

I had a friendly series of e-mails with a commenter late last week.  His bargaining unit at Verizon is now working without a contract.  I don’t know how the contracts that the CWA and IBEW have with Verizon treat healthcare.  My experience and knowledge is solely personal as my family’s health insurance as a child was provided through a benefit/welfare fund administered by my dad’s union for its members who worked for hundreds of companies.  I don’t know if Verizon creates a massive ASO with defined benefit structures for its union contracts or offloads all of the risk onto union welfare funds.  That difference will matter.

My correspondant’s big worry would be what would happen to his health insurance if he either went on strike or was locked out.  He stated that Verizon had stated that health insurance would disappear as soon as a work stoppage of any sort started.  He knew COBRA insurance at 102% of monthly premium would be available, but no one could afford COBRA if they aren’t working anyways.  Pulling health insurance is an effective (and underhanded) way of dividing union solidarity as it pits the members who are either old or sick or who have old or sick dependants against members who don’t have pressing medical needs.  Someone whose daughter needs chemotherarapy next week will push leadership to take a shitty deal far faster than someone whose kids eventually need to go in and get their teeth cleaned.

However, the ACA changes this power dynamic a bit.

Losing employer sponsored coverage is a qualifying event.  It creates a special enrollment period for all locked out or striking workers to go on the Exchanges and get coverage.  That coverage will not be anywhere near as good as the coverage they currently have in their union contract (Verizon workers have the equvilent of Platinum plus plans) but it provides oh-shit coverage possibilities for the families of workers who don’t use a lot of services, and it provides cheaper than COBRA platinum coverage for the worker whose daughter is mid-way through her chemo.  It reduces a pressure point that Verizon can use as health insurance is no longer directly tied to employment.

This is a subtle value add of PPACA. It is a slight corrective to the massive bargaining differential between Capital and Labor that has tilted so many agreement zones towards capital instead of labor over the past forty years.

22 replies
  1. 1
    Another Holocene Human says:

    Now, if they could only get rid of state laws outlawing strikes.

    If striking is illegal … are we really free labor?

    Walking out can blackball you from working anywhere else. It happened to a dude I knew. Knew because he drank himself to death at the ripe old age of 47.

    eta: damn, don’t want to imply that he left out of principle, but someone who did would get the same treatment: “Would you rehire this individual?” – “No.”

  2. 2
    Another Holocene Human says:

    Right to work is terrible too. You don’t get a choice in whether you pay payroll tax, unless you’re a plutocrat (that needs to stop, too), but you benefit from it whether you like it or not.

    Every covered position benefits from bargaining, yet they’re allowed to skip out on the “tax” that pays for lost time wages, fucking lawyers, the greater union apparatus (that lobbies for you in DC trying to make the laws more favorable for you, and backs you up when you have a big, ugly case), also office and/or hall rent and staff salaries if needed.

    So what if you hate your officers? They’re your coworkers! You work there! Join and vote for somebody else next election. Just like with your local government. This isn’t complicated, people.

    If they could combine the elimination of RTW with a rule requiring fair and democratic union elections (DOL is moving in that direction by stages with rulings, but it doesn’t apply to unions not covered by DOL), we could really get somewhere. That includes stewards. In some unions they are flunkies, but in others they’re more powerful than God.

  3. 3
    PurpleGirl says:

    My father was a member of IBEW – Local #3 in NYC. That Local 3 was the important part; they were the guys who were in construction. I don’t know how Local #3 handles certain benefits now but when I was growing up (1950s to 1960s) they had their own clinic for dental and eye care. I don’t remember how other medical problems were handles because we went to our own doctor for colds and minor stuff like that.

  4. 4
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    I don’t know if Verizon creates a massive ASO with defined benefit structures for its union contracts or offloads all of the risk onto union welfare funds.

    is answered by

    He stated that Verizon had stated that health insurance would disappear as soon as a work stoppage of any sort started.

    As a union carpenter I never had to worry about what would happen with my union provided and administered HI as long as I had 1200 hrs in the previous year or 250 hrs in the applicable quarter. If it is under his union, Verizon could cut off their contribution to the Health Insurance fund, but that would not translate into an immediate cut off of insurance.

  5. 5
    Kylroy says:

    Not sure how much the option of Silver coverage helps the guy whose daughter needs Chemo – the coverage means he’s on the hook for $12,000 instead of $120,000, but without a paycheck either bill probably bankrupts him.

  6. 6
    a different chris says:

    You enumerated a rather old fashioned view of the world. Some people have spouses with perfectly good medical insurance available, whereas others do not. So they bring another dynamic to the strike force – I can’t say what it is though, because on the one hand they can afford to strike longer, on the other hand their pay incentive is less.

    An unexpected benefit of gay rights is to disconnect this job/health care monster a bit more. Man as we move into the future we find that everything is connected somehow, isn’t it?

  7. 7
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Another Holocene Human:

    You don’t get a choice in whether you pay payroll tax…

    You don’t mean ‘payroll tax’, you mean Union Dues. If your job/company isn’t unionized, you don’t pay union dues.

  8. 8
    p.a. says:

    IBEW 3 is, I believe, an electricians union. They deal with multiple employers (contractors) so many of their contracted bennies are self-administered . Vz unions, IBEW/CWA are more on the GM IBM model from the 1970’s. Our choice of (employer provided) insurer depends on the companies available in our state of residence. A Mass resident working here in RI on a would have a choice of Vz authorized Mass plans. As a RI resident my choices in the last signup were Anthem PPO (and maybe an Anthem HMO) and UnitedHealth PPO. I used to have MassBlX (liked it) as my insurer, but lost the option after the 2012 contract: Vz sets a $ sum per employee and contracts with insurere who come in at or below that value. We did not have contractual premium payments (my current $660/yr non smoker)or deductibles ($1,000) until 2012. We got whacked in that contract.
    My 2014 W2 valued my health insurance at approx $10,100 single no dependents. Think family was about 25k-27k.

  9. 9
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @p.a.: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

  10. 10
    raven says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Dudes are on the roof. I hope they just work a half-day but who know?

  11. 11
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Depends on how large the reserves are in the union Welfare fund… if the welfare fund is operating with minimal reserves, they might just have enough money to pay claims for services that happened but not yet billed.

    My dad’s union usually kept a 6 month strike reserve in the health insurance fund but I don’t know enough about the relevant CWA and IBEW local finances to make a definate statement. (amazing how the local having a 6 month health insurance reserve and a 4 month strike fund reserve (everyone gets 20 hours of pay/week) made the threat of a strike a very credible threat).

  12. 12
    p.a. says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Just because IBEW does not mean it only reps electricians. Vz techs do are not required to hold elec. licenses-very few do. Vz-IBEW (and CWA) represents technical/craft (contractually “Plant”), Traffic (operators), Accounting (billing), Service Reps, the newer employee categories involved in Fios, and all support groups; clerical etc. @Richard Mayhew: in the past CWA has had a reasonable strike fund, IBEW not. After the 4 month strike in 1989 there was a minor movement to decertify IBEW and join CWA. Part of the reason, besides lack of a strike fund, was that (pls note Ozark) IBEW electricians came into our area to do line and splice work while we were on strike. After the strike the TELCO-IBEW leadership made it clear to the IBEW international that if we were to be treated as a red headed stepchild we would take our employees AND THEIR DUES elsewhere. They’ve been more supportive since. But I’ve always considered the lack of a strike fund foolish.

  13. 13
    sparrow says:

    I have a claims question for any experts in the room.

    I had a bad experience with a crazy PCP who told me birth control was abortion…. so I quickly pulled up the ole’ google and found a new doctor. I submitted an online form with BCBS and they very promptly sent me a new card with the new PCP. I then scheduled a visit with that PCP because in the meantime I had developed a disconcerting lump in my skin that I wanted checked out and I have a “point of service” type insurance that requires referrals for dermatologists.

    So I get the referral from the new PCP, she orders basic tests as a “new patient”, whatever, and then… I’m charged $500 because BCBS says I should have waited 5 weeks to see the new PCP. I’m confused how that isn’t a breach of contract… they sent me new cards! I can’t take that card to the old PCP (and I wouldn’t want to, anyway), and clearly in their system they HAD changed the PCP listed. They just had some fine print somewhere that says you can’t use the new PCP until the end of the following month (or something, they have not been clear on this).

    Help? I don’t have $500 just lying around.

  14. 14
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @sparrow:

    That is bullshit (which is the highly technical term of art).

    In a POS/HMO style plan, you are expected to use the PCP as a gatekeeper for anything and everything. There is no reasonable expectation that you control when you get sick (unless you are a teenager who did not start your term paper until 11:00PM last night and it is due at noon time) so PCP access should be unrestricted, especially once the PCP switch had been recognized by the sysem.

    Here is your course of action.

    1) Write a nice, polite letter to the Complaints and Grievances group at BCBS. Ask to see the fine print, and tell them they are absurd and you want your typical coverage/cost-sharing for following the gatekeeper procedure.

    2) If you don’t like the result of #1, send to the state insurance comissioner/regulatory agency the following
    A) A brief letter outlining why you think BCBS is full of shit.
    B) A copy of the reply letter
    C) A copy of your initial letter
    CC your local newspaper and television consumer reporters, CC BCBS regional leader

    #2 should see your problem go away, as bad publicity is far more costly than $500 in cost sharing, hell, the complaints and grievance process probably cost BCBS more than the cost sharing. This is a small problem that they’ll want to throw money at to make it go away.

  15. 15
    La Caterina (Mrs. Johannes) says:

    I work for a non-profit. My union, the UAW, covered all care at the same level as our employee plan through self insurance during our last strike in 2013. For those with ongoing and high health care costs, the union paid the cobra premium.

    And management cutting off our health care made them look bad with our government funders. I’m pretty sure CWA/IBEW has this covered, so to speak, for their members in the event they strike. I imagine they also have a strike fund to keep anyone from going bankrupt due to catastrophic co-pays.

  16. 16
    RaflW says:

    This is a subtle value add of PPACA. It is a slight corrective to the massive bargaining differential between Capital and Labor that has tilted so many agreement zones towards capital instead of labor over the past forty years.

    No doubt this, plus the notion that workers are more able to quit and look for work with that triggering an ACA window (thus the old terror of being uninsured, even if one had a good bankroll to job hunt) have made labor some tiny fraction more demanding and ‘hard to work with.’

    Which I’m sure is a significant, if under-discussed, reason that all the anonymous Koch confabulators oppose ACA as freedom-destroying. That’s freedom to exploit workers, you see…

  17. 17
    Eric says:

    @La Caterina (Mrs. Johannes): Yes, I’m certain the health care coverage is the primary reason for the temporary dues hike. With the Big 3’s contacts up this year, that would be one steep bill for International to cover. And providing that benefit is a major chip I’m sure in getting more members to buy in to any strike action should it come to that.

  18. 18
    p.a. says:

    @La Caterina (Mrs. Johannes): see my above post on Telco IBEW/CWA differences. IBEW Telco workers have nada; no strike fund, no union healthcare fund. I spoke with our local today re: my emails with RM. The union said 1) our contract ended at midnight 8/1 therefore strike or not we were covered for all of August. 2) after Aug. their advice would be COBRA for 60 days to get to the ACA November signup. Can’t speak to CWA. They are usually better prepared.

    The main reason we succeeded in ’89 in New England through 4 months was because of the tremendous support provided by United Way, whose head in Mass/RI was a former Business Agent of the Machinists’ Union. The company (Nynex then) put pressure on UW not to support the strikers. They were told to fuck off. We never had the ‘support UW ‘ meetings again; they weren’t welcome on the property anymore.

  19. 19
    JGabriel says:

    Richard Mayhew @ Top:

    I had a friendly series of e-mails with a commenter late last week. His bargaining unit at Verizon is now working without a contract.

    Alternate link for those who refuse to give Murdoch’s WSJ rag any advertising hits: Verizon union workers remain on the job despite no new contract.

  20. 20
    sparrow says:

    @Richard Mayhew: thank you!!! Your help and expert posts are really appreciated…

  21. 21

    […] insurance expert blogging at balloon-juice.com (and a must-read on insurance issues), points us to a subtle benefit provided to unionized workers by the Affordable Care Act: it gives them more leverage in contract […]

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