Published 19 Nov, 2013
Union members around the country are reeling from health care contribution costs—what Local 291 President Clarence Washington calls “the big gorilla in the room,” in every labor negotiation.
Local 291, which represents Miami-Dade public transit workers, has long been concerned about its membership’s rising health care costs. Some members with dependents are paying several hundred dollars month between medical premiums and dental. And the more comprehensive the coverage, the bigger the financial hit. “These costs are too exorbitant for working people,” said Clarence. “Labor must take the lead on this.”
In South Florida, the regional AFL-CIO has asked Local 291 to head up a comprehensive investigation into new ways of accessing affordable, quality health care for the more than 50,000 members of the Central Labor Council. Last week, Local 100 hosted Local 291 when its leadership traveled to New York on a fact-finding mission, touring the Hotel Workers’ union’s dedicated health care facility in Harlem.
The Hotel, Restaurant & Club Employees and Bartenders Union Local 6 operates a network of dedicated health care facilities that serves only union members, retirees, and their families. The nation’s first medical practice run by a union, the centers keep costs low by providing almost all treatment in-house, including full dental and optical. The union is paying 1/3 of what it paid in health care costs when employers maintained contracts with health insurance providers—and there are no deductibles or co-pays. If a member shows up, regardless of whether they have an appointment, they will be seen.
“When we looked at the care the members were being given and the condition of the facility, we were just blown away,” said Clarence. “What we want to do is bring this model to employers on behalf of the CLC. If they fund this type of facility for the CLC unions as a block, they could cut their health care costs by 2/3. And we would expect that that savings would be passed on to the workers. With a big ticket item like this, you have to work together with management.”
It was in talks with John Samuelsen, TWU International Executive Vice President and president of Local 100, that Local 291 first got wind of the Hotel Workers’ dedicated health care facility. Local 291 board member and CLC Vice President Jeffrey Mitchell coordinated with the Hotel Workers union in NYC to sit down and discuss what the union has done to keep health care costs down. The South Florida CLC counts among its member unions a number of AFSCME locals, teachers, aviation, water and sewer, nurses, and other transit locals. “All of these unions are interested in doing something to change their health care situation,” said Clarence.
“We were very impressed by what we saw in New York,” said Clarence. “Some of the labor organizations in the CLC are paying twice what we’re paying, and we can’t wait to present the information we got to them.”