AFL-CIO nearing formal criticism of ObamaCare

LOS ANGELES — Unions, after a contentious and difficult process, are on the cusp of issuing formal criticism of ObamaCare at the AFL-CIO convention.

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The AFL-CIO Executive Council is expected to consider a resolution, subject to fierce internal debate, that will call for changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — setting up a potential floor vote this Wednesday before the convention closes. Frustration has grown within labor as the Obama administration has failed to offer a fix to temper union worries over the law.

A copy of the draft resolution, obtained by The Hill, praises aspects of ObamaCare and states that the AFL-CIO supports the law’s goal of providing healthcare coverage for all. But the four-page document lays out a laundry list of complaints against ObamaCare — at times taking aim at the administration.

The draft resolution says that “federal agencies administering the ACA” are “threatening the ability of workers to keep health care coverage through some collectively bargained, non-profit health care funds” under their interpretation of the law.

In addition, the resolution claims “some workers might not be able to keep their coverage,” and the law will be “highly disruptive” to union members’ health plans, known as multi-employer or Taft-Hartley plans. ObamaCare “will effectively use taxpayer dollars to subsidize employers that refuse to take responsibility for providing their employees health care” while taxing nonprofit plans to benefit insurance companies.

The measure also states that “the ACA 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 will demand the ACA be amended by Congress.”

“People have been working with the White House for a long time. There has been growing frustration that we haven’t made any progress,” Sean McGarvey, president of the Building Trades and Construction Department, told The Hill.

The Building Trades submitted the draft resolution to be considered by the AFL-CIO Executive Council. At a jam-packed Monday meeting held by the AFL-CIO Resolutions Committee that stretched past an hour, McGarvey presented before attendees on the healthcare resolution.

“It has support from all sectors of labor. Manufacturing, transportation, public sector,” McGarvey said.

Several union officials told The Hill that the resolutions committee forwarded the draft resolution onto the federation’s executive council with the recommendation that it be brought to the convention floor. With the council set to meet Wednesday morning, officials expect the measure will be debated and voted on the convention floor that day.

“It was a very difficult, complicated process that required a lot of give and take but with the bottom line to insure the authors of their proposal have their day in court,” said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and chairman of the resolutions committee.

Michael Robbins, director of government affairs for the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), attended the meeting Monday. He said there was “broad agreement” between those behind the resolution and on the committee that “it makes sense for the AFL-CIO to go on the record expressing concern with elements of the Affordable Care Act.”

Unions have several concerns regarding ObamaCare, but perhaps their most pressing worry is the law’s potential impact on multiemployer or Taft-Hartley plans.

Labor believes these plans should be considered qualified health plans and be eligible for tax subsidies, but the administration has disagreed with them so far. Without those subsidies, the multiemployer plans are in jeopardy, union officials say, since employers might be tempted to drop the plans and force workers onto the new insurance exchanges that begin enrolling on Oct. 1.

Union angst has grown louder this year as labor officials have lobbied the White House for their ObamaCare fix. Other interests, such as business groups, as well as congressional staff and lawmakers, have had better luck so far with the administration.

On Sunday in Los Angeles, Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s closest advisers, told union officials that the administration is working on their concerns over the healthcare reform law.

“Though there are challenges that remain, and [AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka] and I were just talking about some of those challenges. We intend to work to solve those problems big and small, and we are committed to sitting down in good faith and working on solutions,” Jarrett said

Concerns about ObamaCare make up the bulk of the draft resolution. But the measure also reaffirms healthcare resolutions passed at the 2009 AFL-CIO convention, including labor’s commitment “to pursue health care for all ultimately through a single-payer system.”

McGarvey, the head of the Building Trades, said the measure has grown less critical of ObamaCare as it has moved through the drafting process.

“It’s less biting, but it does point out the positive attributes of the act that we have supported for decades,” McGarvey said.

Robbins with ALPA said the draft resolution has changed as well, saying the original “did not do as good of a job of drawing a distinction between the positive elements of the ACA and the very major but narrow concerns with the ACA.”

McGarvey said the resolution’s time on the convention floor would be much harsher on the healthcare reform law.

“The commentary during the debate will be much tougher,” McGarvey said.

Schaitberger, with IAFF, said the administration must act to fix ObamaCare.

“This will not end with this resolution. We are either going to get the administration to fix some of these serious problems, or I believe, there will be an additional action plan,” Schaitberger said.