Photo Courtesy White House Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, second from left with Sen. Dick Durbin at the White House, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi were targets of an irate letter from labor union leaders over the Congressional health care plan being implemented by President Obama’s administration.

In a startling development, three national labor union leaders, including the head of Nevada’s Culinary Union, have sent a letter to Democratic congressional leaders blasting the Democratic health care plan, which they say “will shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40-hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.”

The letter went to Harry Reid in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House and said that the union movement is being taken for granted at a time when other groups that have been less supportive of health care changes are having their complaints addressed by the White House.

“Since the ACA [Affordable Care Act]was enacted, we have been bringing our deep concerns to the administration, seeking reasonable regulatory interpretations to the statute that would help prevent the destruction of non-profit health plans. As you both know first-hand, our persuasive arguments have been disregarded and met with a stone wall by the White House and the pertinent agencies. This is especially stinging because other stakeholders have repeatedly received successful interpretations for their respective grievances. Most disconcerting, of course, is last week’s huge accommodation for the employer community—extending the statutorily mandated ’December 31, 2013’ deadline for the employer mandate and penalties.”

The Nevada unionist who signed the letter is D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, as the Culinary is now known. (Taylor goes by his initial, which stands for Donald.) His union endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Nevada Democratic presidential caucuses—the first major union to do so. Taylor’s union represents about 60,000 Nevada workers.

Joining Taylor in signing the letter were United Food and Commercial Workers president Joseph Hansen and Teamsters president James P. Hoffa.

The distress of the union leaders stems from the July 2 Obama administration decision to postpone for a year the employer mandates called for in the health plan, the ACA. It is uncertain whether that postponement is legal. The three labor leaders called the deadline “statutory,” which would mean that delaying it would be illegal.

“First, the law creates an incentive for employers to keep employees’ work hours below 30 hours a week,” the letter reads. “Numerous employers have begun to cut workers’ hours to avoid this obligation, and many of them are doing so openly. The impact is two-fold: fewer hours means less pay while also losing our current health benefits.

“Second, millions of Americans are covered by non-profit health insurance plans like the ones in which most of our members participate. These non-profit plans are governed jointly by unions and companies under the Taft-Hartley Act. Our health plans have been built over decades by working men and women. Under the ACA as interpreted by the Administration, our employees will [be] treated differently and not be eligible for subsidies afforded other citizens. As such, many employees will be relegated to second-class status and shut out of the help the law offers to for-profit insurance plans.

“And finally, even though non-profit plans like ours won’t receive the same subsidies as for-profit plans, they’ll be taxed to pay for those subsidies. Taken together, these restrictions will make non-profit plans like ours unsustainable, and will undermine the health-care market of viable alternatives to the big health insurance companies.”

In case Pelosi and Reid missed the message, the union leaders spelled it out for them: “Congress wrote this law; we voted for you. We have a problem; you need to fix it. The unintended consequences of the ACA are severe. Perverse incentives are already creating nightmare scenarios.”

In 2009, unions joined the push for a Democratic health care plan with some reluctance, because one of the benefits unions have long offered their members is health care benefits.

Second letter

Reaction to the letter came quickly, particularly from conservatives. National Review, the magazine founded by conservative leader William F. Buckley Jr., called it “remarkably blunt language.”

A story in the right wing Washington Times ran under the headline, “Obama’s health care law shifts big unions’ political alliances to GOP.”

Kristen Frasch of the business publication Human Resource Executive wrote, “It’s pretty scathing. … Just when I thought I had this country’s political soldiers figured out, just when I thought unions’ Democratic alliances could never be budged, and I knew—at least for the most part—who had whose back, here comes this new boulder, gaining steam down the healthcare-reform mountain that everyone’s desperately trying to climb.”

Meanwhile, another union letter—this one from Laborers Union president Terry O’Sullivan to President Obama—excoriated the plan: “Approximately 3 million laborers, retirees, and their families now face the very real prospect of losing their health benefits. This, I must remind you, was something that you promised would not happen.”

Locally, Laborers Local 169 secretary-treasurer Richard “Skip” Daly agreed with both his national president and with the other three union leaders on the issue of fees paid by union members who get nothing for them.

“It’s unfair and illegal,” Daly said. “They’re asking us to pay a tax for which we get no benefit.”

Daly is also a Democratic state legislator. As an individual, he supported the Democratic health care plan as a way of dealing with a problem that had become so extreme, but said this week, “I don’t know that this is better.” He—and Sullivan—are referring to a $63 payment each covered individual must pay under the law, the proceeds of which are used to subsidize insurance companies offering health plans.

Critics of ACA gloated in some articles, sometimes overshooting their marks, as when an unsigned article on Inquisitr.com claimed that the Laborers Union was “suffering from buyers’ remorse over Obamacare, a.k.a. the Affordable Care Act.” The writer seemed to believe that the Laborers had backed the plan. Actually, the Laborers never supported the plan when it was working its way through Congress, so it had nothing to be remorseful about.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...