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Unions Rally to Oppose a Proposed Tax on Health Insurance

01.09.10

Unions Rally to Oppose a Proposed Tax on Health Insurance

By STEVEN GREENHOUSE, New York Times

When millions of blue-collar workers were leaning toward John McCain during the 2008 campaign, labor unions moved many of them into Barack Obama’s column by repeatedly hammering one theme: Mr. McCain wanted to tax their health benefits.

But now labor leaders are fuming that President Obama has endorsed a tax on high-priced, employer-sponsored health insurance policies as a way to help cover the cost of health care reform. And as Senate and House leaders seek to negotiate a final health care bill, unions are pushing mightily to have that tax dropped from the legislation. Or at the very least, they want the price threshold raised so that the tax would affect fewer workers.

Labor leaders say the tax would hit not only wealthy executives with expensive health benefits, but also many rank-and-file union members who have often settled for lower wage increases in exchange for more generous health benefits.

The tax would affect individual insurance policies with annual premiums above $8,500 and family policies above $23,000, which by one union survey would affect one in four union members.

The House bill does not contain such an excise tax, and many House Democrats oppose adding it to the combined House-Senate legislation. But the tax is a critical revenue component in the Senate’s bill. If the bill does too little to cover its costs, it might be defeated. Many economists support the tax, saying it will help hold down costs.

With labor groups warning that the tax will infuriate a key part of the Democratic base — union members — President Obama has agreed to meet with several top labor leaders on Monday to address their concerns and try to defuse their anger. The group includes the presidents of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., Teamsters and the steelworkers’ and service employees’ unions.

But whether the tax is negotiable remains unclear. Not only has Mr. Obama specifically endorsed the idea, but the White House and Senate leaders see the tax as pivotal in paying for the health care overhaul and addressing runaway health care costs.

Many Democrats and union officials fear that if both sides dig in on the issue, it could create a rift between the White House and labor — with some union leaders hinting they might lobby aggressively against the entire health care bill if it contains such a tax.

Union leaders have repeatedly warned the White House about the strong rank-and-file dismay, which could hurt the Democrats in Congressional elections this fall, especially in battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Ron Gay, an AT&T repairman in Youngstown, Ohio, who spent much of the summer of 2008 urging co-workers to vote for Mr. Obama, said, “If this passes in its current form, a lot of working people are going to feel let down and betrayed by our legislators and president.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 19 percent of workers — or about 30 million employees — would be affected by the tax in 2016. Economists say most of them would be nonunion, although it is organized labor that has the lobbying clout to take a stand.

In recent days, labor’s strategy has become clear. Unions are urging their members to flood their representatives with e-mail messages and phone calls in the hope that the House will stand fast and reject the tax. The A.F.L.-C.I.O., a federation of nine million union members, has declared next Wednesday “National Call-In Day” asking workers to call their lawmakers to urge them not to tax health benefits. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is urging members to tell their representatives that “such a tax is simply a massive middle-class tax hike that this nation’s working families should not be forced to endure.”

Many Democrats fear that enacting the tax will hurt their re-election chances.

“This would really have a negative impact on the Democratic base,” said Representative Joe Courtney, Democrat of Connecticut, who has enlisted 190 House Democrats to sign a letter opposing the tax. “As far as the message goes, it’s a real toughie to defend.”

While union leaders would prefer killing the tax, some say privately that they could live with it if the threshold is lifted to $27,000, say, or $30,000. They argue that many insurance policies above $23,000 are typical of the coverage in high-cost areas like New York or Boston, or policies that cover small businesses or employers with older workers.

According to a union survey, one in four members would be hit by a $23,000 threshold, but only one in 14 if the threshold were raised to $27,000.

White House officials, however, voice concern that raising the threshold that much would lose $50 billion of the $149 billion in revenue that the tax is expected to generate over 10 years….

(Read the rest of this article at the link below)

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/09/business/09union.html?hpw

Teamsters Union Local 401 members ratify new five-year labor agreement

01.09.10

January 2010 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Teamsters Union Local 401 members ratify new five-year labor agreement

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, December 23rd- Members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Union Local 401, South Washington Street in Wilkes-Barre, ratified a new five year labor agreement with Altadis USA in McAdoo, Luzerne County.

Teamsters Local 401 represents approximately 140 employees of Altadis USA.

According to James Murphy, President and Business Agent for Local 401, the contract was ratified on December 20th with around 67 percent of the participating members voting in favor of the successor agreement.

“This is a fair package for our members and it also allows for the company to remain competetive and continue to provide jobs for our members,” said Mr. Murphy, who negotiated the agreement for the Union.

Mr. Murphy told the newspaper Local 401 members will receive two percent pay increases each year of the pact.

Also, employees health insurance benefits will be paid for by the company. Employees can choose from several health insurance plans of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania. For family coverage there is a deductible for medical attention.

Mr. Murphy stated under the terms and conditions of the agreement there
was contract language improvements including:
• layoff language;
• bereavement language; and
• shift differential

United States Chamber of Commerce challenges labor law

01.09.10

January 2010 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

United States Chamber of Commerce challenges labor law

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, December 27th- The United States Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit on December 22nd alleging that a new State of Oregon law is unconstitutional because it is too pro-union.

The business organization jointly filed the lawsuit with Associated Oregon Industries and is arguing a new Oregon law “unconstitutionally eliminates an employer’s right to conduct mandatory meetings with employees to rebut union rhetoric and provide information about drawbacks of a unionized workplace.”

“Organzized labor hasn’t been able to muster the votes or the public support to pass Card Check, so they’ve moved on to “Plan B” to muzzle employers during union organizing drives. Just like Card Check, this law flies in the face of the country’s democratic values,” said Steven Law, chief legal officer and general counsel for the business organization.

Oregon is the first state in the nation to pass such a law that would prohibit employers from conducting mandatory meetings with their employees during union organizing campaigns. The Oregon legislation is modeled after language in the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCAct) legislation that is currently being held-up in Washington, DC.

The United States Chamber of Commerce told the newspaper the federal law pre-empts the Oregon law, which runs counter to fifty years of federal protection for employers’ right to hold mandatory meetings to rebut labor leaders’ rhetoric about unionizing. The business organization lawsuit also alleges the law violates employers’ speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The legislation became law on January 1st, 2010.

The law, known as SB 519, and the case is Associated Oregon Industries and Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Brad Avakian and Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 296.

“This legislation is organized labor’s first salvo in an apparent state-by state assault on federally protected employer speech,” said Robin Conrad, executive vice president of the National Chamber Litigation Center, the United States Chamber of Commerce public policy labor firm.

Organized labor has urgued for decades that the conducting of mandatory meetings with workers by employers during organizing campaigns were unfair because all employees must attend or face being discipline or termination.

House Bill 50 would ban unions from gaining union security clauses

01.09.10

January 2010 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

House Bill 50 would ban unions from gaining union security clauses

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, December 28th- On November 10th, 2009 legislation was referred to the Committee on Labor Relations of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in Harrisburg that if passed would ban labor organizations and employers from entering into agreements that make joining a union part of a compulsory condition of work or employment. Such legislation is often referred to as “right-to-work.”

House Bill 50 has 32 co-signers with Republican House of Representative Daryl Metcalfe (12th Legislative District) and a member of the Committee of Labor Relations being the lead sponsor of the legislation.

“The General Assembly finds that to require a person to be a member of, or not to be a member of, a private organization as a compulsory condition of work or employment is not in accord with fundamental principles of individual liberty and freedom of choice. It is therefore declared to be the public policy of this Commonwealth that membership or no membership in a labor union should not be made a condition of the opportunity to work or to be or remain in the employment of any employer,” states House Bill 50. No local representatives were co-signers of the legislation.

“The legislation is an insult to the workers of Northeastern Pennsylvania,” said Democratic Pennsylvania House of Representative Ken Smith (112th Legislative District). “In a region known for the labor movement, this legislation is an insult to all those hard working miners and laborers that were killed while working,” added Mr. Smith who made it clear he would oppose the legislation should it be introduced on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Mr. Smith added he is surprisedthat House Bill 50 has 32 co-signers. “I really don’t know what they are thinking. They should be more interested in finding ways to improve wages, not decreasing them.”

“I will not support any anti-union legislation,” said Democratic Pennsylvania House of Representative Kevin Murphy (113th Legislative District).

Mr. Murphy was a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Union prior to gaining a seat in the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 2008.

Democratic Representative Eddie Pashinski (121st Legislative District) did not immediately return several phone messages from the newspaper regarding the legislation. Mr. Pashinski was a member of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) Union and is a member of the American Federation of Musicians Union.

Mr. Smith stated Mr. Metcalfe often supports anti-union legislation, including legislation that would prohibit the use of Project Labor Agreements (PLA’s) on public projects in Pennsylvania.

“No person may be required to become or remain a member of a labor organization as a condition of employment or continuation of employment,” states the legislation.