There is a tough contract fight underway in Massachusetts that may portend the future of healthcare bargaining. The Old Rochester School Committee is demanding that new hires pay 50% of all healthcare premiums. The UE represents non-teaching employees of the school system. Cooks start at $13,300 per year. Family coverage would cost 80% of their income, leaving them earning $2 an hour after deductions for health insurance!
It gets worse. Most of these workers would be better off if they bought subsidized coverage on their own through the state’s “Healthcare Connector” healthcare exchange. But, under Massachusetts’s healthcare rules, these UE members would not be eligible because that plan is only available to workers whose employers offer no coverage. To add insult to injury, many of these low wage workers would be subject to a fine of $1,000 or more per year under the state’s individual mandate rules if they chose to remain uninsured rather than bankrupt their family by participating in the employer’s plan. You can show your solidarity with these workers by signing their change.org petition.
These Massachusetts school workers know the score. Their union–the UE–has been a charter member of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer. “Healthcare should be a right for everyone”, their letter states. “Every other country in the industrialized world protects this right at half the cost through a Medicare-for-all, or ‘single payer’ type healthcare system. Until we win that, please support the families of workers at ORR by asking the School Committee to provide affordable health insurance and care for all school district employees.”
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is modeled on the Massachusetts plan. Over the next year, as the individual mandate and state exchanges are implemented nationally, workers everywhere will be confronted with dilemmas very similar to that faced by the school workers in Massachusetts. A new, complex bargaining landscape will emerge.
Employers will seek to use the ACA provisions to transfer more costs onto the backs of workers. Union supported multi-employer plans–which provide the gold standard of healthcare for working Americans–will be subjected to new stresses. The imposition of the Cadillac tax in 2018 will penalize many union workers who have sacrificed years of wage increases to maintain decent benefits. Low-wage and part time workers workers may be particularly vulnerable to these attacks.
At our January National Strategy Conference, the Labor Campaign for Single Payer resolved to stand in solidarity with workers fighting to maintain their negotiated benefits while continuing to fight on for healthcare for all. The Massachusetts school workers are doing exactly that. Please show your support by adding your name to their petition and forwarding this email widely.