The complexity of the profit-based U.S. health care system is well known. It is a patchwork quilt of corporations seeking to maximize their profits. For the nation’s unions, this has meant the necessity of dealing with a complicated myriad of negotiated benefit plans.
At the bargaining table, union representatives must negotiate to gain access to the hospitals, physicians and related health services their members need.
The basic avenues of negotiating a health benefit plan with an employer are:
• Independent benefit funds, commonly known as multi-employer, Taft-Hartley funds. This used to be used exclusively within the building trades, but nowadays many other labor and management negotiators utilize this form. A whole legal and political world has emerged from this kind of benefit system.
• Employer-based systems, where the union negotiates a level of benefits and the employer provides them, regardless of the cost. The auto industry exemplifies this method.
• Finally there is the public sector, where, upon employment, workers receive a level of health benefits. Public workers’ unions negotiate above that level with the government entity for better benefits such as vision, dental, etc.
There are other variations, but these are the essentials.
Labor expertise is a great resource
A direct outcome of this system of private, labor and management health benefits is that elected union leadership and staff have gained a level of expertise that few in other progressive organizations have. While this expertise may be only in regard to their own benefit packages, it is a kind of specialization that can be generalized with some more education. This expertise, if pulled together by one organized labor movement, could be a great resource in dealing with the medical-industrial complex.
In the halls of Congress, statehouses
Coupling that expertise to labor’s political strength in Congress and statehouses is the next step. You cannot create a national health care system through individual labor negotiations with employers. This anarchy has benefited the current for-profit health system. But, and this is a big but, organized labor going into Congress and statehouses individually is exactly what the insurance, drug, hospital and medical supply and equipment companies want. Corporate lobbyists know how to pick their enemies apart.
A strong AFL-CIO
The practical value of a House of Labor is that everyone is in and no one is out. Labor solidarity will maximize the points of unity that every union must maintain regardless of any proposed national health program.
There are many possible variations for a national health plan but there is only one labor movement that must protect gains of the past, give itself maximum room for improvements, and lead the struggle to bring health care services to everyone. That has been and must continue to be labor’s historic role.
Is it possible? You bet it is. That is why the health industry spends millions of dollars preventing this kind of labor and community coalition from being successful. The enemies of workers and their unions are salivating over a major fracture within the labor movement. They will move in and foster disunity that only Corporate America benefits from.
“Solidarity Forever for the people’s health” has never meant more than today.