The Electrical Worker online
August 2013

From the Officers
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Tell the President: Defend Multiemployer Plans

Among the achievements of unions and our signatory contractors in the building and construction trades, none shines brighter than multiemployer health and welfare and pension plans.

More than 26 million American workers, retirees and families, including tens of thousands of IBEW members, benefit from the security and peace of mind that comes from affordable, high-quality health care coverage of multiemployer plans — like the ones negotiated between IBEW and the National Electrical Contractors Association. The plans incorporate the best bipartisan ideas on health care coverage.

Unlike other insurance plans, ours affords IBEW members the ability to work throughout the U.S., for multiple employers, without interruption in health care coverage. Through this unique structure, it is common for members to maintain coverage during times of unemployment or disability.

By spreading risk over a large, diverse pool of members, nonprofit Taft-Hartley multiemployer plans keep premium costs lower than those paid by millions of Americans outside of our ranks. Far more efficient than plans provided by for-profit insurance carriers, our plans put nearly 90 cents out of every dollar into patient care.

We are proud of our accomplishments, but, as trade unionists, we always look to spread progress beyond our own ranks.

So, when President Obama proposed the Affordable Care Act three years ago, we said that it would be a major step forward for working families who are struggling to provide suitable health care for their families. And it has.

But, while we supported the goal of providing affordable coverage for the uninsured, we said something else. We stated the ACA was not the final word on health care. We said that IBEW would be in the thick of the fight to continue to improve the overall system while protecting the collectively-bargained plans that took 65 years to build.

We supported President Obama when he said, "If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period … My view is that health care reform should be guided by a simple principle: fix what's broken and build on what works."

We are sure that President Obama is serious about keeping his promise, so his administration and Congress need to make immediate changes in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The current rules need to be changed, or our multiemployer health plans — administered jointly by trustees from labor and management — will be in jeopardy.

Here's the problem. The law exempts small businesses from the mandate to provide coverage to their workers, but defines those small businesses as those having fewer than 50 employees. This would exempt more than 93 percent of construction industry employers. Any policy that puts our signatory contractors at a competitive disadvantage with less responsible nonunion contractors is dead wrong.

The Affordable Care Act fails to recognize the unique nature of multiemployer plans. It does not consider them to be "qualifying plans," meaning our plans would be shut out of some of the law's more favorable provisions. And multiemployer plan administrators are still in the dark as to how they will fit into the new system that takes effect in January 2014.

Taken together, these problems could undercut the purpose of the law by providing incentives for construction employers to drop health care coverage and take insurance away from individuals who now have it. That goes directly against President Obama's promise.

We take President Obama at his word. We are asking his administration to develop fair rules that will allow multiemployer plans to co-exist with the insurance exchanges that are coming into existence by declaring them "qualifying plans" under the ACA. We are asking Congress to amend the law to lower the employee threshold for the insurance mandate. Above all, we want our plans to continue to be examples of success and not doomed to failure. We don't negotiate nearly 3,000 collective bargaining agreements between IBEW and NECA to have our work undermined by faulty government policy choices.

The IBEW has published ads — calling for changes in the ACA in two newspapers read widely by elected representatives and policymakers in the nation's capital. We are exploring other avenues to make our voice heard.

There's much more to say on the subject, and the IBEW has prepared a white paper on this issue. Visit our Web site ( and take a look. And if you, too, care about the future of multiemployer health plans, join us in our efforts to secure their future.

Edwin D. Hill

Edwin D. Hill
International President

Salvatore J. Chilia

Salvatore J. Chilia
International Secretary-Treasurer