Solidarity Forever? When it Comes to Obamacare and Unions, Maybe Not.

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From the time of his initial run for President, and throughout his time in office, President Barack Obama has had the near universal support of organized labor. Even though he was not able to obtain passage of the unions’ much-coveted Employee Free Choice Act (a/k/a “card check”), he has attempted to expand union influence in the American workplace through administrative action by the National Labor Relations Board.

Now, however, it appears that the President’s signature piece of legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “ACA” or “ObamaCare”), is causing dissension within the union movement.

In an August 29 letter to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (“ILWU”) President Robert McEllrath cut his union’s ties with the labor movement’s umbrella organization, citing primarily the fact that the 40,000-member union had become “increasingly frustrated” with the AFL-CIO’s support for ObamaCare. Specifically, the leadership of the ILWU was upset because under the ACA, longshoremen will have to pay a “Cadillac Tax” on their health benefits. In contrast to the AFL-CIO, the ILWU has expressed support for nationalized “single-payer” healthcare.

McEllrath accused Trumpka (and President Obama) of reneging on prior promises that a new healthcare plan would not lead to more taxes on union members. McEIlrath further wrote, “We feel the Federation has done a great disservice to the labor movement and all working people” through its support of the ACA and other Obama initiatives such as immigration reform.

The ILWU is not the only union that has issues with ObamaCare. Trade unions such as the 725,000-member International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) are finding out that because of employer reactions to the ACA, their members could end up having to buy their own insurance. On July 11, the IBEW announced a call for changes as to how the ACA treats multi-employer plans. According to the union, the ACA threatens the existence of these plans, which are administered jointly by unions and unionized employers and currently cover approximately 26,000,000 people, because it discourages employers from participating in the plans, and may place existing unionized employers at a financial disadvantage. Other unions that have sought amendments to the ACA include the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and UNITE HERE.

The complaints of various unions have prompted the AFL-CIO to pass a resolution on September 11, 2013, expressing concern with the impact of ObamaCare on the costs and availability of union-sponsored plans. The resolution, adopted at the organization’s quadrennial convention in Los Angeles, still expresses support for the ACA’s goals of reducing healthcare costs and expanding health insurance coverage, but also objects to the potential “highly disruptive” impact of the law on union health care plans.

The issues raised by unions concerning ObamaCare are just more examples of complications that have arisen with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the law. Only time will tell.  For now, labor unions are voicing separation, not solidarity, with ObamaCare.