Two unions are on strike against Verizon Communications in protest of proposed company policies that the unions themselves helped bring about. The new Obamacare law, which both unions supported, dramatically hikes the cost of Verizon’s employee health care plan. Efforts to pass some of that cost on to employees have sparked outrage.
Verizon’s health care plan is what President Obama commonly referred to as a “Cadillac plan” – expensive and luxurious – during his push to get health care legislation through Congress. The new law will levy a 40 percent tax on all health care plans with individual coverage worth more than $10,200 and family coverage worth more than $24,000.
Though the tax will not go into effect until 2018, “Verizon is required to account for this cost now,” according to company literature distributed to employees. “Accordingly, we will need to modify plan designs to avoid the impact of this tax.”
Verizon says it current pays $4 billion annually towards health care plans for nearly 900,000 employees, retirees, and their families. Its hundreds of thousands of unionized employees, though, pay nothing towards their health care premiums. The company estimates the “Cadillac tax” will add about $200 million to those annual costs. “The unions and our employees must work with the company to find ways to address these economic realities,” Verizon insists.
But far from working with the company, 45,000 Verizon employees from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America went on strike on August 7 in protest of proposed changes to their health care benefits. The CWA called those changes “outrageous.” The IBEW called them “retrogressive.”
But both the IBEW and the CWA, like the vast majority of Big Labor, supported President Obama’s push for health care “reform.” The two unions did their part to bring about a law that increased the health care costs of one of their members’ largest employers, and are now furious that they’re being asked to shoulder some of that burden.
True, both the IBEW and the CWA opposed the Cadillac tax specifically. But its eventual inclusion in the final bill did not stop them from supporting the legislation. “While the unions would like to see the measure stripped in that process,” the Associated Press reported, CWA President Larry Cohen “said he was not prepared to threaten to withdraw the CWA’s support for the overall health care measure if the tax stays in place.”
The IBEW, for its part, released a video on the eve of the House of Representatives’ passage of the bill imploring its members to support the legislation. The video shows IBEW President Edwin Hill telling union members that the bill “is one that I personally believe is in your best interests.”
Note: Verizon offers health care coverage to families of employees and retirees in addition to current employees. This post has been corrected to reflect that fact.