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“Smooth Slide to the Floor” for Lower Wage Workers Facing Obamacare

Tea Party Pamphlet about "Obamacare"

New Orleans    Talking to a senior labor relations director for a health care company yesterday where our union was a terribly cold shower of reality.  This company has 45,000 employees with 34,000 hourly, direct care staff similar to what we represent.  We asked him how they were looking at the Americans Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare, as it has rapidly become known).

We knew the participation in the current employee health plan was very low, 10% or less, for our bargaining unit solely because of the cost borne by the workers compared to their relatively low wages.  He confirmed that companywide 10% was about right, and that that was about the industry average.  He said their evaluation put their plan slightly better than what was required, and then he was brutally honest.  He said the problem with the new law, “as always” is that by setting “a floor they are also setting a ceiling,” so his company was looking at 2014 to create a “smooth slide to the floor.”   It simply takes your breath away.

I asked him who might benefit from the ACA, and he answered as if by rote, that he assumed it would “help those who were uncovered before.”  Of course in Louisiana where Governor Jindal has refused to allow coverage to be extended to the 400,000 citizens now eligible, that advantage gets wiped out pretty quickly.

A call later in the morning from a free lancer I know now asked whether we were hearing that in the face of ACA a lot of workers were going to be pushed into more part-time and contingent labor to avoid the 30-hour qualifying mark for coverage.  I remembered looking at the average hours for hotel and hospitality workers during our organizing drives over the years.  When we first organized the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans next to the Superdome, the average hours for the 356 members of the unit were about 1250 with few at the top of the seniority list making over the 1500 hours that force coverage.  Of course the Hyatt had some insurance even back 25 years ago, but in the hospitality industry that drives New Orleans many will be uncovered with less than the 30-hour average and of course the exclusion if employed by an establishment with fewer than 50 workers.

As the bloom comes off the rose, it looks like the gaps in ACA are going to be large enough for many, if not most, companies to drive trucks through while running over lower waged workers and their healthcare.