Republicans and Unions: Unlikely Allies Against Obamacare


It appears that Republicans might have an unlikely ally in their fight against Obamacare: labor unions. Although Republicans have until now been the biggest representatives of anti-Affordable Care Act sentiment, some labor unions fear that the law will have ramifications on their workers' take-home pay, retirement benefits, and leverage in collective bargaining. Each side clearly represents vastly different rationales for disapproving of the law, but political and practical stakes for each side are high and. If they coordinate their initiatives, they will be a formidable team against the President and his allies in executing the law.

In a letter sent to President Obama on Thursday, and copied to Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the president of Laborers International Union of North America, Terry O'Sullivan, warned that he anticipates the Affordable Care Act will come with "destructive consequences."

O'Sullivan cites particular fears for construction workers, who are often covered by multiemployer plans. Under the Affordable Care Act, there is a $63 per-person penalty for such plans, a tax that O'Sullivan anticipates will come out of the pockets of the workers he represents.

The repercussions of an increase in the cost of health insurance will extend beyond this initial deduction. It will dismantle current collective bargaining agreements, thus making union companies less competitive and nonunion companies more attractive.

And O'Sullivan is not alone in his concerns. The presidents of three other unions, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and Unite Here, sent a joint letter to congressional Democrats last week with a similar appeal. Also, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has purchased print ads in opposition to the law.

Republicans undoubtedly disagree with the Affordable Care Act for myriad other reasons, and they likely favor a different alternative than the labor unions. But some Republicans, specifically Senator Hatch (R-Utah), have been bating the unions to join in on their anti-Obamacare effort.

In a letter of his own to union leaders, Senator Hatch wrote: "Since your activities to encourage changes to the law have, to date, been unsuccessful, I want to invite you to join me in an effort to help the Obama administration and Congress understand the full impact the law has had and will continue to have."

Labor unions and Republicans will ultimately be unable to craft an alternative proposal together that satisfies both of their ideals, but they can work together to defeat one that satisfies neither of their ideals. Proponents of the Affordable Care Act will, in the 2014 election and beyond, indeed have weakened credibility on the issue if both groups stage joint opposition to the law. Many people expect Republicans to continue their fight — they've been doing it since it was a newly drafted bill — but labor unions add further legitimacy to their argument that the Affordable Care Act is counterproductive, and potentially destructive.