D. Taylor, president of the service employee union Unite Here, blasted the Senate Democratic leadership in an open letter Wednesday, saying that in their zeal to attack the Republicans' efforts to repeal Obamacare, they have insulted workers who fought for and obtained high-quality healthcare.
Taylor was upset with the Democrats for attacking the GOP's repeal legislation as a sop to the wealthiest because, in part, it delays for four years the implementation of a so-called "Cadillac tax" on high-premium health insurance plans. The union leader pointed out that it wasn't just the rich that had such plans: So do the members of his union.
"It is offensive to modest income workers and our 270,000 Unite Here members to portray them as fat cats who aren't paying their fair share to subsidize healthcare when some of these workers are already living with little room to spare," Taylor said. "It is intellectually dishonest to pretend that workers on 'Cadillac' plans are receiving lavish, over-the-top healthcare when in reality their benefits, wages, and overall compensation are often under $50,000 per year. More to the point their out-of-pocket costs are exploding and pushing them underwater."
Taylor was reacting to comments made by leaders such Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at a press conference last week. "Why are they doing all of this?" Schumer asked. "To provide a giant tax break to the wealthiest Americans. Simply put, the bill will result in higher costs, less care."
The letter, dated Wednesday, was addressed to Schumer and Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., all close union allies.
"We are hopeful that the delay (of the Senate vote) is an indication that Senators will come together for a separate fix that adequately lowers premiums for consumers and expands coverage instead of narrowing it. With the upcoming 2018 Senate elections, support for repealing the excise aka Cadillac tax, expanding coverage, and lowering the cost of healthcare premiums will be the litmus test our 270,000 members will be using to cast their votes," Unite Here spokeswoman Rachel Gumpert told the Washington Examiner.
While the labor movement overall supported the passage of Obamacare, leaders have expressed grave concern for years over the tax, which was a key part of Obamacare's funding. Unions that have negotiated generous health insurance coverage from employers fear the tax will severely disrupt those plans.
"The reality is that the 40 percent tax is already on the books, and if the healthcare of our workers and millions of others is taxed at 40 percent, it will incentivize employers to offer substandard healthcare to their workers, resulting in massive reductions to their health benefits and overall compensation. The tax is already forcing employers to boost out of pocket costs to the breaking point for working families," Taylor said.
The tax is a big problem for the unions since the insurance is one of the key benefits many provide to workers. Some labor leaders have characterized the tax as an existential threat to unions. "You allow an [Affordable Care Act] bill to go through like this [and] I guarantee you, by your next convention four years from now, you won't need a quarter of this room. We won't be here," Joseph Nigro, president of the Sheet Metal Workers said at the AFL-CIO's 2013 convention.
Such concerns have brought delays in the tax's implementation, currently set for 2020, but not its repeal. Financial projections for Obamacare depend on the money. The issue has been a sore point between labor and Democrats, usually close allies. Taylor is careful to say he strongly opposes the effort to repeal Obamacare and calls "Trumpcare" a "disaster." But he also argued that the Democrats are missing a good opportunity to fix a key problem with Obamacare.
"As Democrats, you should be fighting to relieve — not impose upon — the majority of American workers who are being asked to shoulder a disproportionate share of taxes commensurate with their income," Taylor said.