The New York Times is all over labor and health care today. First is the news that transit workers will pay part of their insurance premiums for the first time ever:
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the transit workers' union announced a settlement yesterday in which the authority abandoned its demand for concessions on pensions and the union agreed to have all workers pay a portion of their health insurance premiums.In the first year, if the average salary is $55,000, workers will pay $825 of their own health insurance premium. Given that the average annual premium for an individual is $610, that's no small concession.
The agreement calls for transit workers to pay 1.5 percent of their wages toward the premiums, cutting into the raises they receive. That comes on top of the fines of slightly more than $1,000 that most transit workers face for participating in last week's illegal transit strike.
The settlement calls for raises of 3 percent in the deal's first year, 4 percent in the second year and 3.5 percent in the third year. The subway and bus workers' current base pay averages $47,000 a year, and with overtime, their average yearly earnings total $55,000.
"These were huge items for our membership," said Marvin W. Holland, a station cleaner and board member who voted to approve the contract. "If it took a strike to get it, so be it. I think this is an overwhelming success." The agreement on health premiums will save the authority nearly $32 million a year.
Then there's this Robert Fitch op-ed decrying the labor movement and its stance on nationalized health care:
Most advocates of universal health care focus on the opposition of Republicans and insurance companies. But perhaps the most important factor keeping an overhaul off the national agenda is one that few Democrats acknowledge: most of Mr. Gettelfinger's fellow labor leaders don't support a single-payer system either.Except that he's about 10 years overdue, as Ezra writes over at TAPPED:
The reason comes down to simple self-interest. The United Auto Workers is one of the few private-sector unions that doesn't run its own health plan. Rather, most have created huge companies to administer their workers' plans, giving them a large and often corrupt stake in the current system.
The union movement is changing. And it's not just the new guard. The older unions, UAW included, are rapidly realizing that the corporate welfare state they so lovingly constructed is readying to collapse, with them beneath it. Today, the transit workers grudgingly accepted a deal that cuts into health benefits -- they had no other choice. Corporations have established similar beachheads in the benefit packages at Ford, GM, Delphi, and countless others. Where Old Labor used to focus on preserving what they'd already won, the swift disintegration of those gains is forcing them to search out more durable delivery mechanisms for health care, pensions, and the like. Their hostile posture from decades back isn't sustainable, but unions aren't stubbornly clinging to it, something Fisk fails to mention. No reason to let facts obstruct a perfectly good point, I guess.At the end of the op-ed, Fitch claims:
Moreover, the new breed of unions -- SEIU, UFCW and the other service and low-wage unions Fisk never mentions -- have long been enthusiastic supporters of national health care. UFCW's homepage is anchored by a photo of a grocery cashier saying:
“Bottom line: contract negotiations are all about health care now. Unless something happens for health care nationally, I don’t see it getting any better.”
--Laurie Piazza, Local 4289
The problem is getting American unions to fight for common concerns as opposed to narrow institutional interests. It may just be that a broad-scale union overhaul will have to precede one in American health care.Many labor leaders know their decisions to block single-payer care in the past proved poisonous. Of the big three unified interest groups with the most influence on the nature of care in the U.S. (the AMA, insurance companies, and labor), labor is the only one we'll see defecting to single-payer anytime soon. If the UFCW is any indication, labor's put their finger in the air and felt which way the wind blows. Fighting to preserve the status quo when health costs are bringing down companies (and thus eliminating jobs) is no longer in their best interest.