LOS ANGELES — The AFL-CIO, after three days of closed-door meetings and heated discussion, spoke out for serious changes to ObamaCare.
On Wednesday afternoon, the nation’s largest labor federation adopted a resolution outlining what it said are serious flaws in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that could potentially hurt union members’ health plans. The move by the AFL-CIO sets unions up for a clash with a president who was reelected with labor’s funds and ground troops during the 2012 campaign.
The resolution also threatened to divide the labor group as some unions vocally lobbied for fixes while others were more circumspect, wondering what could be accomplished in Washington dominated by a Republican-controlled House.
But unions were able to coalesce around one resolution that took aim at the ACA’s impact on multiemployer health plans, undermining the 40-hour work week, and its series of taxes and fees that will hit collectively bargained coverage particularly hard.
The resolution also espoused the benefits of the law, but its critiques will gain much wider circulation in the political arena, giving fodder to GOP opponents who want to defund the law.
But this battle with the White House is one that labor must have, said several union presidents on Wednesday.
During floor debate on the resolution, Joseph Nigro, president of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union, underlined ObamaCare’s dire consequences for labor if a fix isn’t forthcoming.
“You allow an ACA bill to go through like this, I guarantee you by your next convention four years from now, you won’t meet a quarter of this room. We won’t be here,” Nigro said.
The long day toward the resolution’s passage began early Wednesday as several union leaders straggled into a 7:15 a.m. meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council. Their staff milled outside during the hour that labor presidents discussed the resolution behind closed doors on the Los Angeles Convention Center’s third floor.
Union officials said that the measure had passed the council with few changes from a draft version obtained by The Hill earlier in the week and looked set for passage.
That move set up a vote on the convention floor. First expected to occur during Wednesday’s morning session, the vote on the resolution was delayed. Some union officials began to wonder whether the measure would get a vote before the AFL-CIO closed the convention.
The vote’s delay came as union leaders’ talked of the White House and Labor Secretary Tom Perez reaching out to them to express concern the resolution went public, as reported by The Hill.
But if there was a genuine lobbying effort by the Obama administration against the resolution, it wasn’t successful. The vote was scheduled for after lunch as attendees filed back into the convention hall during the 2 p.m. hour.
The measure would soon pass. After the faint cries of “no” were outmatched by the hall’s booming affirmation of the resolution, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “The ayes clearly have it.”
But before adoption, more than a dozen union members took to the convention floor. Almost all supported the measure’s passage during roughly 30 minutes of debate on the resolution.
Some of the biggest names in labor went to the microphones, including D. Taylor, president of Unite Here; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers President Ed Hill; and Sean McGarvey, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department, who opened the discussion.
There were impassioned pleas from several for changes to the law.
“But we will be damned if we are going to lose our health insurance because of unintended consequences in the law. It needs to be changed. It needs to be fixed. And it needs to be fixed now,” bellowed Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of America, to standing ovation.
Several thanked Trumka for threading the needle and bringing the compromise resolution on ObamaCare to the convention floor.
“It has been a difficult few days for you, Mr. Chairman [Trumka]. I appreciate your patience,” said Hill with IBEW.
For others, the debate served as a rallying cry to motivate labor as they push for changes to the law.
“We are not going to take it anymore! We are going to fight for our workers! Every one of our members is important to us,” said Nigro to growing applause in the hall.
The union leader also challenged Trumka to push on fixing the ACA, saying this is one fight that labor must win.
“And Rich, I thank you for all you have done here. I know how hard you have worked. I know it’s tough. I want to tell you something. We have to win this one,” Nigro said.