Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Debate within Unions over Health Care is about the Nature of Unionism Itself

Casual observers of the political scene got an insight into union politics when a small storm erupted over a flyer distributed by Nevada’s Culinary Union attacking Bernie Sanders and his Medicare for All proposal.

Politico has a piece surveying similar disputes in other states and nationwide.  Some unions, like the building trades and the Teamsters, want to keep the insurance plans they’ve negotiated for their members; most others want universal public insurance.

Aside from the specifics of each individual bargaining agreement and its health care provisions, this issue reveals the fundamental difference between two forms of unionism.

Business unionism is based on the idea that union members, drawing on their own resources, can create the best conditions for their work.  From this point of view, the greater the difference between how well off union members are compared to the nonunion workers around them, the more attractive the union will be, the more members it will have, and the more benefits they can win at the bargaining table.

Social unionism also wants to promote the interests of its members, but it believes that what can be achieved society-wide, through coalition-building and political action, is far greater than what any single union can achieve on its own.  Instead of increasing the gap between union and nonunion workers, social unionists want everyone to move up together as far as possible.

Labor officials attached to business unionism hate Medicare for All: it will put all workers on the same footing whether they belong to a union or not.  In their view, this takes away one of the reasons workers might join in the first place.  They think they their bargaining power will continue to assure them the health benefits they currently have without any tradeoffs on wages or other elements of their compensation.

The social union perspective is exactly the opposite.  It welcomes Medicare for All, believing the collective action of workers in all occupations, union and nonunion, can win better and more durable benefits than the efforts of a few.  From their point of view, making these alliances and promoting a politics of inclusion is exactly what unions should be about.

It’s a perfect litmus test.


ken melvin said...

Why won't Sanders and Warren refute the $30 trillion charge?

These are some of the numbers that I am finding: That annual Medicare expenditure is around $600 billion with half of that coming from payroll taxes. That annual Medicaid expenditure is around $600 billion all of which comes from federal revenue. So together the two cost some $1.2 trillion/yr with the US taxpayer paying some $900 billion/yr.

The number I found for total national health care expenditure is some $3.75 trillion with private health insurance being some $1.25 trillion and out of pocket spending about $380 billion. Bit of a conflict with these two sets of numbers; but, given that we are paying twice as much as any other developed nation, the number is around $3 trillion/yr or $30 trillion over ten years.

At the current rate of $11 thousand/yr, insuring the approximate 30 million uninsured would add some $300 billion/yr ($3 trillion over ten years). Cut in half, this would add $150 billion/yr ($1.5 trillion over ten years).

Say that your employer pays for all or most of your $11 thousand/yr health insurance; and, say that you weren't paying taxes on this benefit. Would you want to give this employee benefit up and pay extra taxes for something that provides you no extra value and costs you a lot of money?

Maybe the cost for Medicare for all should come from another source, say a wealth tax?

Truth be, as an employee, if you get real sick, you lose your job and with it your health insurance.

Anonymous said...

January 15, 2020

United States Union Membership Rates, 1992-2019

1992 ( 15.7)
1993 ( 15.7) Clinton
1994 ( 15.5)

1995 ( 14.9)
1996 ( 14.5)
1997 ( 14.1)
1998 ( 13.9)
1999 ( 13.9)

2000 ( 13.4)
2001 ( 13.3) Bush
2002 ( 13.3)
2003 ( 12.9)
2004 ( 12.5)

2005 ( 12.5)
2006 ( 12.0)
2007 ( 12.1)
2008 ( 12.4)
2009 ( 12.3) Obama

2010 ( 11.9)
2011 ( 11.8)
2012 ( 11.3)
2013 ( 11.3)
2014 ( 11.1)

2015 ( 11.1)
2016 ( 10.7)
2017 ( 10.7) Trump
2018 ( 10.5)
2019 ( 10.3)

Most of this remaining union membership is public, not private. Union membership is just not going to be significant company to company in the future, but on social-economic policy nationally unions can be very influential.

Anonymous said...

January 15, 2020

United States Union Membership Rates, 1992-2019

Private wage and salary workers

2015 ( 6.7)
2016 ( 6.4)
2017 ( 6.5) Trump
2018 ( 6.4)
2019 ( 6.2)

January 15, 2020

United States Union Membership Rates, 1992-2019

Government wage and salary workers

2015 ( 35.2)
2016 ( 34.4)
2017 ( 34.4) Trump
2018 ( 33.9)
2019 ( 33.6)

ken melvin said...

If you are a union member culinary worker making $35/hr and your employer pays for your health insurance to the tune of $12,000/yr; your back of the envelope annual salary is a taxable $70,000 plus an untaxed $12,000 for a net income of $82,000/yr plus. If Medicare for All were implemented, your salary might well remain at $35/hr for $70,000/yr income, but your taxes might well go up as much as $5,000 leaving a net annual income of $65,000 for a loss in income of $17,000 ($82,000 - $65,000 = $17,000).

Anonymous said...

"If you are a union member culinary worker making..."

I read this carefully a couple of times, but do not understand. Please explain further.