March 12, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The author of a new report touting the enormous economic and social benefits of single payer healthcare and the New York Health Act, is urging organized labor in the Empire State to “get ahead of the curve” and to boldly take healthcare off the bargaining table once and for all.
Trade unionists have traditionally looked upon their negotiated healthcare packages as great sources of pride, and one of the most attractive things about being part of a union.
But at an open forum looking at the New York Health Act held near Union Square this week, Gerald Friedman, PhD, chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, suggested that clinging to negotiated healthcare benefits is unnecessary under a single payer system, and actually undermining the labor movement in a couple of important ways.
“That’s the past,” Friedman said. “Unions have to get ahead of the curve. If you go to collective bargaining negotiations these days, it’s always the first thing the employers talk about — how healthcare costs for retirees or current employees are too great, so, we can’t give you wage increases. At this point, we’ve got to get healthcare off the bargaining table. It’s working against unions.”
NYSNA — The New York State Nursing Association — is a major advocate for single payer and adoption of the New York Health Act. It too, however, reports encountering some rank and file reticence when presenting members with the idea that, under a single payer system, the state would cover their healthcare needs.
“Our health benefits are one of the prize reasons for being a member of a labor union in this country,” said Steve Toff, director of Strategic Campaigns for NYSNA. “If you ask people why they pay their dues, they often think, ‘Well, in return I get great healthcare.’ But that’s come at the expense of collective bargaining over the course of 30 or 40 years. If the state, all of a sudden provided it, it would throw a big wrench in the way that works. I think it’s a good wrench, ultimately. But it creates a lot of transitional problems from our past dependency.”
The single payer system outlined under the New York Health Care Act uses a progressive model, and places an 80 percent assessment on employers, and a 20 percent assessment on employees. Workers earning less than $25,000 a year would not be assessed at all.
Advocates for passage of the New York Health Act argue that the single payer system would be at least as comprehensive as any employer- or union-based sponsored coverage with no deductibles, co-pays or limited networks. Additionally, unions that have negotiated low or zero worker contributions to a health plan would negotiate the same arrangement for the worker share of the payroll assessment.
“Even without renegotiation of a contract, [workers] will be getting savings from not paying co-pays and deductibles,” Friedman said. “Even the well positioned workers will probably be doing better.”
Friedman also projects that switching to a single payer system under the New York Health Act would generate some 200,000 new jobs, while saving New Yorkers $45 billion.
In a perverce way, the economist says that the comprehensive healthcare packages that organized labor has been able to win at the bargaining table, has actually made unions vulnerable to right wing attacks.
"It's made unions look like there's something wrong with them…they're these spoiled brats with all that good healthcare," Freidman said. "It's not helping anymore."
Vermont Governor Pete Shumlin recenlty sparked shockwaves when he reversed stated plans to bring single payer to the Green Mountain State. Friedman denounced the governor's actions this week saying, "There's no ecoomic basis for Governor Shumlin's decision to back away from single payer. He did it because of poliitcal considerations."