Unions Growing Skeptical of Affordable Care Act

Even though labor has been a major contributor to President Obama during his two election bids, there is a growing skepticism about whether or not the Affordable Care Act — often labeled "Obamacare" — will be a benefit to their members. CBS News reports:

Some labor unions that enthusiastically backed President Barack Obama's health care overhaul are now frustrated and angry, fearful that it will jeopardize benefits for millions of their members.

Union leaders warn that unless the problem is fixed, there could be consequences for Democrats facing re-election next year.

"It makes an untruth out of what the president said — that if you like your insurance, you could keep it," said Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. "That is not going to be true for millions of workers now."

The problem lies in the unique multiemployer health plans that cover unionized workers in retail, construction, transportation and other industries with seasonal or temporary employment. Known as Taft-Hartley plans, they are jointly administered by unions and smaller employers that pool resources to offer more than 20 million workers and family members continuous coverage, even during times of unemployment.

The union plans were already more costly to run than traditional single-employer health plans.

But Obama's Affordable Care Act has added to that cost — for the unions' and other plans — by requiring health plans to cover dependents up to age 26, eliminate annual or lifetime coverage limits and extend coverage to people with pre-existing conditions…

Unions backed the health care legislation because they expected it to curb inflation in health coverage, reduce the number of uninsured Americans and level the playing field for companies that were already providing quality benefits. While unions knew there were lingering issues after the law passed, they believed those could be fixed through rulemaking.

But last month, the union representing roofers issued a statement calling for "repeal or complete reform" of the health care law. Kinsey Robinson, president of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers, complained that labor's concerns over the health care law "have not been addressed, or in some instances, totally ignored."

Union Landscape Continues to Change

More than twice as many union members now work for the U.S. Postal Service than in the domestic auto industry. Given that and other facts of declining union membership, the Heritage Foundation notes that labor laws need to be updated. Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita's efforts are mentioned.

Unions Resist Recognizing Achievement

Such sharp drops in union membership indicate that U.S. labor laws are out of step with the modern economy. Traditional unions no longer appeal to workers the way they did two generations ago. Outdated restrictions in labor laws are now seen as holding back both employers and employees.

For example, union wage rates are legally both minimum and maximum wages: A unionized employer may not pay employees more than the union rate without the union’s permission. While unions happily accept group raises, they often resist individual performance pay. They typically insist that employers base promotions and raises on seniority instead of individual recognition.

In 2011, Giant Eagle gave individual raises to two dozen employees at its Edinboro, Pennsylvania, grocery store. These raises were in addition to the union wages. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23 nonetheless argued that the pay increases violated their collective bargaining agreement. They objected to the fact that some entry-level employees made more than senior union members. The union filed charges. Last November, the Federal District Court for Western Pennsylvania ordered Giant Eagle to rescind the pay increases. Nationwide, union members are less than half as likely to receive performance pay as non-union employees.[8]

This holds back union members. A one-size-fits-all approach was workable when all employees brought essentially the same skills to the bargaining table. But the nature of work is changing. Employers have automated many rote repetitive tasks. At the same time, employers are also flattening the job hierarchy. The line between management and workers is blurring. Employers increasingly expect workers to exercise independent judgment and take initiative on the job. Employers want to reward—and employees want to be rewarded for—individual contributions that no collective contract can reflect.

Analyst: RTW Opponents Use Flawed Math

Citing research by James M. Hohman of the Mackinac Center, Michigan Capitol Confidential takes issue with the claim that right-to-work states feature lower wages. Hohman's conclusion is that, after all the facts are in, right-to-work states actually have the higher per-capita incomes.

Scores of right-to-work critics ranging from politicians to economists have cited lower per-capita incomes in right-to-work states as why the new law is not good for Michigan.

However, not factoring in cost-of-living exposes a flaw in that analysis, said Mackinac Center for Public Policy Fiscal Analyst James Hohman. Once that is considered, Hohman said the per-capita income is higher in right-to-work states than non-right-to-work states.

For example, Texas per-capita income was $37,098 but would have a purchasing power of $49,700 in the state of New York in 2007, according to Hohman’s analysis. New York’s per-capita income was $47,852.

Hohman found that in terms of Michigan dollars in 2000, right-to-work states had 4.1 percent higher per-capita personal incomes than non-right-to-work states when factoring in cost of living. Michigan was considered a non-right-to-work state because the law was passed in late December 2012. Hohman said the right-work-states didn’t surpass non-right-to-work states until 2003.

“One of the most basic arguments repeated time and time again by right-to-work opposition is that Michigan is going to lose income by passing this law,” Hohman said. “That just isn’t the case. When you adjust for what a dollar can get you, the difference reverses itself."

Hohman used the cost of living index done by political scientists William Berry, Richard Fording and Russell Hanson. They adjusted for cost-of-living in every state from 1960 to 2007.

Pennsylvania Legislators Introduce Right-to-Work

The Washington Free Beacon reports that legislators in the Pennsylvania legislature want to bring right-to-work to their state, citing its passage in Indiana and Michigan and the need for job growth and desire to attract businesses.

Six GOP lawmakers on (Jan. 22) introduced a proposal to make Pennsylvania, the “Keystone State,” the nation’s 25th right-to-work state.

The legislation, which would end the longstanding practice of forcing employees to join unions as a condition of work, has stalled several times over the past decade. The bill’s sponsors say new laws in Michigan and Indiana forced the state’s hand.

“The needs of our economy dictate that it must be adopted at some point in time,” said state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe. “The victory of right-to-work in Michigan and Indiana certainly thrust the spotlight on it and made the General Assembly look it more seriously than the past.”

Pennsylvania is one of the most heavily unionized states in the country with more than 700,000 workers belonging to organized labor groups. That is nearly 100,000 more union members than in Michigan.

The advent of right-to-work in the traditionally labor-friendly Midwest and Rust Belt has left policymakers scrambling to catch up, said Nate Benefield, director of policy analysis at the free-market Commonwealth Foundation.

“Indiana and Michigan are states that we directly compete with,” he said. “We’re going to have to evolve to remain competitive and it’s also a great opportunity for us to outcompete the northeast.”

If Pennsylvania passes right-to-work, it will be the first state to do so in the northeast. That could give it an economic advantage over neighboring New York and New Jersey, which lead the nation in union membership as a percentage of the workforce, advocates of right to work legislation said.

“We’re playing catch-up to Indiana and Michigan, but our immediate neighbors, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland are even less competitive than Pennsylvania is,” Benefield said. “I think right-to-work is a big part to improving our business climate.”

Restricting the use of compulsory union dues also could deal a blow to union influence.

Double Standard Approach Not Helping Teamsters

Having worked in Democratic politics, my take on labor in America has certainly been influenced. Without getting too deep in the woods, I think there is definitely a time and place for organization in some industries — and a functional coexistence between a union and an employer can be a healthy thing if both sides act responsibly. The unfortunate aspect of that, however, is that sometimes union tactics become so aggressive — and even hypocritical – they hinder their relevance and hardly endear anyone to their cause. Red State takes a look at a recent Teamsters strategy that even had the National Labor Relations Board irritated. As the author of the post points out, their actions seem to punish the very workers they purport to help.

Now, a Teamsters union local in Memphis is fighting its two clerical workers from unionizing with the Steelworkers and–again, the Obama labor board is having none of it.

In November, the regional office of the NLRB held a hearing to determine whether or not two clerical workers employed by Teamsters local 667 should be allowed to unionize by the United Steelworkers International Union.

Like the vast majority of employers, the Teamsters hired an outside lawyer.

In the NLRB’s Decision and Direction of Election [PDF], the Acting Regional Director notes that the Employer [the Teamsters] tried to claim that one of the two clerical employees the Steelworkers is trying to unionize should be ineligible because she is confidential.

If the NLRB found that the one employee was a confidential employee, she would have been excluded from being in a bargaining unit and the unit would have been inappropriate since there must be two or more.

The Acting Regional Director found that the individual was not confidential and, as a result, order an election to be held.

The case didn’t end there, however.

The Teamsters deployed their outside attorney to file a lengthy appeal (known as a Request for Review) to the NLRB in Washington.

On December 31, the union NLRB members in Washington denied the Teamsters request for review as it raised “no substantial issues warranting review.”

While the NLRB may not have found any substantial issues warranting a review, here are a couple:

Why is the Teamsters union spending thousands of dollars on hiring lawyers to fight unionization of their own workers?

Couldn’t the Teamster bosses just practiced what they preached and voluntarily recognized the Steelworkers and bargain a…you know…fair contract?

Note: Unions usually call these types of tactics “union busting”…Except, apparently, when it’s unions engaging in said tactics.

Worst of the Worst in 2012 Regulations

There’s room for one last "Bottom 10" list of 2012. With thousands of new government regulations each year, it’s difficult to select the worst new rules put into place. Two Heritage Foundation experts give it a try, starting with 1,099 pages of new mortgage disclosure rules that have the stated goal of simplifying home loans.

(10) Mortgaging the Future: New mortgage disclosure rules were released in July by the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with a stated goal of simplifying home loans. The rules run an astonishing 1,099 pages. The net result of this and similar rules? Fewer consumer mortgage lending options and increased costs.

(9) Tracking Your Travels: In December, the Department of Transportation proposed that electronic data recorders, popularly known as "black boxes," be required in most cars starting in 2014. The stated goal is to collect more information about car accidents. But this spooks privacy advocates, who warn that federal bureaucrats could misuse this information.

(8) Essential Choice Cutbacks: Under the Obamacare "essential benefits" rule, health insurers will be forced to cover health care services that the government deems essential, whether you want to buy them or not. The net result will be to increase health care costs, increasing the burden on consumers, employers and taxpayers.

(7) Instant Union: In April, the National Labor Relations Board issued new rules that shortened the time allowed for union-organizing elections to between 10 and 21 days. This leaves little time for employees to make a fully informed choice on unionizing, threatening to leave workers and management alike under unwanted union regimes.

(6) Don’t Let Them Eat Cake: The Department of Agriculture in January published detailed new nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast programs. More than 98,000 elementary and secondary schools are affected – at a cost exceeding $3.4 billion over the next four years. The new rules sparked protests, and even a few hunger strikes, from students nationwide.

(5) Cleaned Out: Regulators admit that the new Energy Department rules governing dishwashers will do little to improve the environment. Rather, proponents claim they will save consumers money. But they will also increase the price of dishwashers, and only about one in six consumers will keep their dishwasher long enough to recoup the cost.

(4) Soda Socialism: On Sept. 13, at the behest of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the New York Board of Health banned the sale of soda and other sweetened drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. New Yorkers apparently are still allowed refills, at least for now. No word on how many NYC cops will be moved from crime prevention to monitor the city’s soda fountains.

(3) Sticker Shock: Adopted in August, these new automobile mileage rules require a whopping average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Sticker prices will jump by hundreds of dollars. Regulators argue that the fuel savings will make up these costs. Whether consumers want to make such a tradeoff doesn’t matter. The government has decided for them.

(2) Increasing Energy Costs: The Environmental Protection Agency in February finalized strict new emissions standards for coal- and oil-fired electric utilities. The benefits are highly questionable, with the vast majority being unrelated to the emissions targeted by the regulation. The costs, unfortunately, are certain: estimated to be $9.6 billion annually. The regulations are likely to undermine energy reliability and raise energy costs across the entire economy.

(1) Conscience Denial: The Department of Health and Human Services on Feb. 15 finalized its mandate that all health insurance plans include coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization procedures, and contraceptives. The mandate allows no exception for church-affiliated schools, hospitals and charities whose religious principles conflict with the mandate. To date, 42 lawsuits representing more than 110 plaintiffs have been filed challenging this restriction on religious liberty as a violation of First Amendment.

Despite Obama’s Objections, Job Growth in RTW States Likely Aided His Reelection

It’s no secret the Indiana Chamber supports right-to-work and was a driving force in its passage in Indiana. It’s also no secret that big labor and President Obama are not fans. However, an interesting blog from the National Institute for Labor Relations Research explains how right-to-work states have seen the bulk of job increases, and most likely helped inspire confidence in Obama’s economy during his reelection bid:

Exit polling conducted by the Associated Press indicates one important reason the President was able to win at all was that four in 10 voters believed the national economy was improving, while only three in 10 believed it was getting worse.

To convince voters things were getting better, the Obama campaign pointed to the millions of jobs that have been created since the recession officially ended in June 2009.  Household employment data for the 50 states and Washington, D.C., do show an overall net gain of 2.59 million jobs through this September.

Ironically, the bulk of the increase occurred in the 22 states that have had Right to Work laws on the books since June 2009. Their aggregate household employment grew by 1.86 million, or 3.4%.  (Since Indiana did not adopt its Right to Work law until this February, the 19,000 jobs it added are not included.) Because Right to Work laws protect employees from being fired for refusal to pay union dues or fees, Big Labor bosses hate them. And the union hierarchy’s massive, forced dues-fueled campaign support is the single most important reason the President was reelected.

At the same time, Right to Work states (again excluding Indiana) were responsible for 72% of all net household job growth across the U.S. from June 2009 through September 2012 (see chart above).  If these states’ job increase had been no better than the 0.85% experienced by forced-unionism states as a group, the nationwide job increase would have been less than half as great. And the President wouldn’t have been able even to pretend the economy was in recovery.

During his first term, Barack Obama repeatedly expressed virulent opposition to Right to Work laws and enthusiastically supported “card-check” forced-unionism measures and other legislative and bureaucratic proposals designed to shove millions of additional workers under union control.  Fortunately, Right to Work proponents generally thwarted him.

Now a genuine national recovery depends on the President calling off his administration’s guerrilla attacks on Right to Work states for the next four years. Will Obama, his congressional allies, and his political appointees at last step aside and allow the 23 Right to Work states to serve as the bulwark of U.S. economic recovery? Or will they continue trying to deter employers and employees from setting up shop and expanding in Right to Work states?

Hat tip to our Political Affairs Coordinator Ryan McNicholas and the AEIdeas blog.

Make Sure NLRB Can’t Come Down on Your Social Media Policy

As if you needed more to deal with from the National Labor Relations Board, be sure that your social media policy is compliant with NLRB standards. Ragan offers this useful article, stating what you should keep in mind and how the NLRB has targeted one wholesale giant.

Here’s the deal. If a work rule has the potential to reasonably chill an employee’s right to organize or bargain collectively, it’s unlawful. Employees have the right to complain publicly if they think their employers’ labor practices are unfair.

So if I complain on Linkedin that someone else is making more than I do, and it’s unfair, that’s a protected activity. If you fire me for disclosing confidential salary information, you’re going to lose in court. It’s as simple as that, and if your social media policy prohibits it, you are opening your company up to a NLRB action.

Your social media policy cannot limit free speech

You don’t have to reference the National Labor Relations Act to violate it. If your social media policy uses language that restricts employees from using social media to "damage the Company, defame any individual or damage any person’s reputation" the NLRB sees it as restricting labor’s protected rights, because that social media policy it could have a chilling effect on what is seen a free-speech issue.

On the other hand, if the restrictions are subordinated to a clause on sexual misconduct or racial harassment, it would be allowed, as employees would be able to appreciate the rule in context. It’s the overly broad restrictions (often wrapped into social media policy) that the NLRB opposes. The best social media policies will be more exacting in their language. 

Mine Workers Likely Not Supporting President This Time Around

The United Mine Workers of America fully supported President Obama in his 2008 bid against John McCain. But as Obama seeks re-election this November, it appears the coal union’s support has cooled. Not that coal workers are clamoring to help elect Mitt Romney either, mind you. National Journal has the interesting saga:

“As of right now, we’ve elected to stay out of this election,” said Mike Caputo, a UMWA official and a Democratic member of the West Virginia House of Delegates. “Our members right now have indicated to stay out of this race, and that’s why we’ve done that…. I don’t think quite frankly that coalfield folks are crazy about either candidate.”

Both candidates are trying to prove otherwise to voters in coal-intensive swing states. Earlier this week the Obama campaign released in the first coal-issue ad of this cycle, claiming that Romney has flip-flopped his position on coal. The ad includes comments that Romney made as Massachusetts governor in 2003 standing in front of a coal plant, saying that he wouldn’t support jobs that kill people.

For his part, Romney is claiming Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is waging a war on coal with a slew of regulations.

The 54-year-old Caputo, who grew up across the street from a coal plant near Fairmont in central West Virginia and has been in the coal industry virtually his whole life, said he couldn’t remember a time UMWA did not endorse a presidential candidate. Caputo is a vice president on the UMWA’s International Executive Board.

“It’s unusual,” he said during an interview at UMWA’s Fairmont office. Caputo, who describes himself as a “hard-core Democrat,” intends to vote for Obama. “I’m loyal to my party,” he said.

David Kameras, a UMWA spokesman based at the union’s headquarters in Virginia just outside of Washington, D.C., said UMWA has not officially completed its endorsement selection decisions for the 2012 election and expects to do so by about mid-September. In 2008, UMWA endorsed Obama in May of that year.

"Our members count on coal-fired power plants and burning of coal to keep jobs,” Caputo said. “We’re a very Democratic union and we try to listen to the rank and file. They’ve sent a clear message that they’re not supportive of the environmental rules that are being put in place.”

Caputo pointed out that many of the biggest EPA rules, including one finalized last December to control mercury and other air toxic pollution from coal plants, were first enacted under Republican administrations, including President George H.W. Bush.

“A lot of our members don’t realize that,” Caputo said. “But whoever is in charge is going to get blamed.”

Caputo also noted that newly discovered resources of shale natural gas found all over the country, including the coal-intensive states of West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, have contributed to coal’s decline as low natural gas prices compel utilities to shift from coal to gas as a power generator.

But politically, the EPA is the culprit for the coal industry’s woes. Throughout Appalachia where Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia converge, the coal industry’s disgruntlement with Obama is plastered on yard signs and billboards.

One billboard alongside a freeway near the Pennsylvania and West Virginia border said drivers were entering “The Obama administration’s no jobs zone.” The billboard was sponsored by a coal-industry group, the Federation for American Coal, Energy, and Security (FACES of Coal). Yard signs seen along back roads and throughout towns juxtapose the word “coal” with “fire Obama.”

Labor groups almost always align with Democratic candidates, and Caputo said the UMWA would be very unlikely to endorse Romney given his record with the coal industry and his positions on labor issues.

“Governor Romney’s record on coal isn’t any better,” Caputo said, referring to the comments Romney made in 2003 that were featured in the Obama ad—and the fact that Romney’s former air chief in Massachusetts, Gina McCarthy, now holds a similar position at Obama’s EPA. “Mitt Romney has never been a friend of our industry," Caputo said. "Now he’s out preaching he’s all for coal, but his history sure doesn’t show that.”

Hat tip to the Chamber’s Jeff Brantley for the story lead.

Two Charters: One OK, the Other Not

Traditional public schools sharing space, when available, with charter schools simply makes economic sense. For the New York City teachers’ union, however, that only applies if the charter school is unionized. Find out more about the "blatant hypocrisy."

Eva Moskowitz put New York City’s teachers union in its place this week.

The founder of numerous successful charter schools in the city called out the United Federation of Teachers on the blatant hypocrisy of the union’s opposition to traditional public schools collocating with charter schools.

Moskowitz cites a recent UFT article online that contends Moskowitz’s Success Academy is limiting the growth of Public School 241 in Harlem by sharing the building with the school.

“Nonsense,” Moskowitz wrote. “PS 241 has 113 students – averaging just 19 per grade. Its building was built to serve 1,136 students. It has 61.5 classrooms, almost one per every two PS 241 students.

“With collocation, PS 241 has been allocated 13 rooms. That means it has nine students per room on average. PS 241 could grow by a third and easily fit within its current room allocation. However, just the opposite has been happening.

“PS 241 has shrunk in recent years from 952 students to 113. That is not because of space but because parents have many educational options in Harlem these days, including many charter schools.”

If the misleading UFT story wasn’t bad enough, Moskowitz points out that there are actually two charter schools that operate out of the same building as Harlem’s PS 241, but only the Success Academy is the target of union attacks.

There’s a good reason why, and it says a lot about the UFT’s true priorities.

“Curiously, the UFT article doesn’t mention the other charter school sharing space with PS 241: Opportunity Charter School. Why? After all, if both schools take PS 241’s space, why is only one wrong for doing so? The answer: Opportunity’s teachers are UFT members.

“In fact, the UFT never objects to space-sharing by schools, whether charter or district, whose teachers are unionized. The UFT itself even runs two charter schools that share public school space. Talk about hypocrisy.”

Moskowitz explains that the UFT is lobbying to give parents whose children attend traditional public schools the right to refuse to share space with charter schools. It’s a political ploy that would allow the UFT to exploit teachers’ intimate connection with students and their parents to limit competition from non-union schools.

The union is already taking advantage of that relationship, Moskowitz said, citing a middle school teacher who “assigned all of her middle school students to write an essay about how they could protest Success Academy’s collocation with their school.”

All of the dirty union tricks point to one clear but troubling conclusion.

“Obviously, the UFT’s opposition isn’t about the needs of students,” Moskowitz wrote in the Daily News. “They just don’t want there to be schools whose teachers choose not to be unionized, since that model threatens the UFT’s flow of union dues.

“The UFT wants to use public school buildings, built at taxpayer expense, to advance its own interests.”