March 6, 2012, AFSCME President Lee A. Saunders speaks in Albany, New York. (AP Photo/Stewart Cairns)
Los Angeles—The nation’s largest labor federation closed its quadrennial convention Wednesday by challenging President Obama on the Affordable Care Act, pledging international solidarity and bipartisan politics, and promising to make good on the week’s themes of opening up and doubling down.
An hour before gaveling the convention to a close, AFL-CIO delegates passed a resolution expressing support for aims and accomplishments of the Affordable Care Act and deep concerns over its implementation. The resolution urges that the act “should be administered in a manner that preserves the high-quality health coverage multiemployer plans have provided to union families for decades and, if this is not possible, we demand the ACA be amended by Congress.” It calls for more penalties for employers who cut hours to shirk coverage, curtailing some new taxes and fees applied to union health plans, and extension of tax credits to them. The debate on the resolution stood out for the number of union presidents who personally took the floor to press their case and, more so, for the pointed comments they directed at the White House.
Noting Obama’s pledge to fix what was broken in healthcare and build on what was working, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers President Ed Hill told the hall, “The ACA as it currently stands is not meeting his promise.” “If an employer wanted to transfer money from a nonprofit, successful healthcare plan to a for-profit insurance company,” said Hill, “we’d be on the streets.” Paraphrasing Vice President Biden’s famous whispered comment on the ACA’s passage, Laborers’ International Union of North America President Terence O’Sullivan warned, “It’s gonna be a big fricking deal if our members lose our health insurance.”
While urging support for the resolution, O’Sullivan voiced his concern that “it does not go far enough,” because “If the Affordable Care Act is not fixed, and it destroys the health and welfare funds that we have all fought for and stand for, then I believed it needs to be repealed.” Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union President Joe Nigro warned that the ACA, if not fixed, would decimate union membership: “I guarantee you, by your next convention four years from now, you won’t need a quarter of this room. You won’t be here.”