LaborTalk for December 13, 2006

Stern Tells Bosses to Drop Health-Care Plans;
Millions of Workers Could Lose Their Coverage

By Harry Kelber

Andy Stern, president of the 1.8 million-member Service Employees International Union, has been encouraging employers to drop their health insurance plans for their workers. He says: “It is in the economic interest of American business, now competing globally, to end employer-based care.”

If the nation’s employers were to follow Stern’s advice, tens of millions of workers and their families, who get their health-care insurance through their jobs as employees, could lose their coverage, according to Henry Aaron, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Health-care coverage, when paid for by the employer, has been regarded as a major benefit by union members, and they would offer fierce resistance to any attempt to deprive them of it. In many health plans, union members contribute significantly to their funding and operational costs.

The national AFL-CIO has remained silent on Stern’s proposals for the elimination of employer-based health care and pension plans, even though many of its affiliates are engaged in tough collective bargaining on the two issues.

Stern agrees with the idea of a universal health insurance system, but he rejects calls for a single-payer system that is financed by the federal government through taxes, somewhat similar to Social Security and Medicare. “Single-payer is a stalking horse for I’m not sure what,” he said. Yet, a growing number of unions are backing the single-payer proposal.

There is no certainty about how long it would take to establish a health-care system that would provide affordable and effective coverage for all Americans. The insurance companies, drug companies, hospital chains and equipment providers have their lobbies to serve their special interests in any universal system brought before Congress.

Employers should not be allowed to terminate their health-care plans and deny this important benefit to millions of workers and their families, especially before any acceptable universal health insurance system is adopted by the federal government.

A Union Leader Speaks His Mind on Stern’s Proposals

Of the e-mails I received regarding my series on “The Enigma of Andy Stern,” I thought that this letter by Ted Ludwig, president of Local 33 of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association was worth posting. Here it is:

“Our membership was on strike for 444 days and lost all our jobs because we did not want to give in to Northwest Airlines’ demands. They wanted us to eliminate our cleaners and custodians and over half our mechanics, not to mention, reducing wages and benefits by 26%.

“We gave up our jobs to make a statement about what Corporate America is doing to the Middle Class. If unions start acting like the corporations, what is going to be left? We need to have strong unions, not weaker ones. Unions created the Middle Class and it is up to the unions to keep the Middle Class. We need to stiffen labor laws and reduce our trade deficit.

“What benefit are we going to get if we work with the corporations? The executives will exploit even more workers and become even richer. There has always been cheap labor overseas, but corporations didn’t dare to go there because of a public backlash. But now, everyone believes we should and can compete in a global economy. How is that going to work unless we take our wages and benefits down to that of the other countries?

“The AFL-CIO may not want to comment on Stern’s middle-class-defeating-plan. But after witnessing for 444 days what corporations can do to workers, the last thing unions should be doing is encouraging more of that behavior.

“Stern’s ideas have thrown our honorable brothers and sisters, who stood on a picket line, under the bus. How disgraceful!”

Ted Ludwig

AMFA Local 33

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