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.