Union workers who have spent decades bargaining for their health care plans might see all that negotiating go out the window under several Democratic proposals being discussed in the presidential race.
Several candidates are backing versions of Medicare for All that would eliminate most private health care options.
Members of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council have been putting portions of their paychecks into their group health and welfare fund for years.
“If we negotiate a dollar an hour raise for our guys and our health and welfare fund doesn’t meet the dime or 20 cents that year, it comes out of those guys’ raises,” Bill Gerhard, the president of ISBCTC, explained to Starting Line. “This isn’t employer provided. Employers do the administration. They send the contributions in, but [health care] actually comes out of the guys’ checks in lieu of wages.”
Those nickels and dimes should have been included in the workers’ pay raises, but they’ve instead been used to create a health and welfare fund for administrative and labor workers who are employed in an industry where the weather sometimes decides the number of hours that are worked per week.
Gerhard said their health plan was created through years of collective bargaining.
“What the guys contribute toward health and welfare goes toward their health insurance, and most of them have vision, dental,” Gerhard said. “Some have loss of time, short-term loss of time if they get injured or ill.”
After spending years of building up the health and welfare fund, Gerhard is worried it may be taken away by Medicare for All.
“We’ve got a great plan,” Gerhard said. “The guys have paid for it over the years through collective bargaining. There’s no profit in it.”
“They’re usually lean, but they’re good plans,” Gerhard said. “I don’t want to see those be taken away and us be thrown into something different. I think we need a public option for those that don’t have insurance — and I’m all for that — but I don’t think one size fits all.”
Gerhard isn’t the only union leader who thinks the idea to take away employer-based health insurance that’s written in the Medicare for All bill might not be in union’s best interests.
Harold Schaitberger, the general president of The International Association of Fire Fighters, recently wrote a letter stating the organization does not support abandoning the employer-based plans for a government-run single-payer plan.
“The elimination of employer-based insurance in favor of a Medicare-for-all or government-run single-payer proposal is a bad idea that punishes working families who have secured quality healthcare,” Schaitberger wrote.
Last week the IAFF sent this letter to all Democratic presidential candidates. It reaffirms the IAFF's position that any discussion on healthcare insurance should not include the concept of abandoning employer-provided healthcare for a government-run, single-payer plan. pic.twitter.com/NByscxXoIM
— IAFF (@IAFFNewsDesk) July 29, 2019
The IAFF endorsed 2020 presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden earlier this year.
Biden has openly criticized Medicare for All and has laid out a health care plan of his own, which would limit copays to $1,000 and further support the public’s ability to buy into the Obamacare plan. Many other candidates, including Pete Buttigieg, have called for a Medicare option for anyone who wants it, but preserves private options.
“If they like their insurance, they should be able to keep it,” Biden said during the last Democratic debate in July. “Nothing is demanded in my plan that there be private insurance, it says, ‘if the 160 million people who have it say they like their employer insurance, they should have a right to have it. If they don’t, they can buy in to the Biden plan, which is Obamacare.’”
Biden’s and others’ plans could ease the mind of union representatives like Gerhard, who says he’s not sure a Medicare for All-type system could ever compete with his workers’ current health care plan.
He said the ISBCTC’s plan currently even gives retirees a small amount of money to supplement Medicare.
“I guess I would say I can’t imagine Medicare having the same coverage we do if we have to supplement what they’re doing now,” Gerhard said.
by Paige Godden
Photo via Molly Adams/Flickr