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ObamaCare mandate could lead Washington grocery workers to picket line

Some 30,000 grocery store workers in the state of Washington could be walking picket lines as soon as next week, in what some say is a direct result of ObamaCare.

Big supermarket chains including Safeway, QFC, Albertsons and Fred Meyer are represented by Allied Employers in contract negotiations with the United Food and Commercial Workers and Teamsters. One of the employers' new proposals is to provide healthcare only to employees who work 30 or more hours per week, a minimum requirement under ObamaCare.

“As with all employers, the Affordable Care Act will impact how we deliver health benefits to our employees,” said Allied chief negotiator Scott Powers.

Under the most recent contract, workers got health care insurance if they put in a minimum of 16 hours per week.

Union officials say the President Obama's signature Affordable Care Act is being used as a convenient excuse to cut benefits.

“The reason why the employers are doing this is it's a big money grab," said Tom Geiger of UFCW Local 21.

The union grocery stores are following non-union employers, such as Home Depot and Trader Joe’s, in sending part-time workers into the government health care exchanges. Under the law, employers must pay a penalty if they don’t provide insurance coverage to employees who work at least 30 hours a week. The part-timers insurance rollback is the exact scenario the Teamsters and UFCW worried about when they wrote Democratic leaders, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. The letter warned, “The unintended consequences of the ACA are severe.”

The unions, which strongly supported President Obama’s re-election and his health care initiative, oppose several provisions which encourage employers to move some workers from their health care plans into the taxpayer subsidized exchanges.

One change they sought was scrapping a tax employers must pay on so-called Cadillac health care plans. Pro-business libertarians say employers are reacting to ObamaCare as expected.

“Why pay twice to maintain our own health insurance coverage for part-time employees, and pay taxes in order to subsidize the exchanges?” says Max Nelson of the Washington State think tank Freedom Foundation.

Union leaders are not swayed by the argument that many of the part-time clerks would be eligible for inexpensive or even free health care coverage in the exchange. They say the exchange plans are a big step down in quality of coverage.

UFCW members voted 98 percent to authorize a strike. Even as negotiations continue, the union is preparing for a walkout by naming strike captains and making picket line schedules.

Both sides hinted this could be the first of many strikes at least partially triggered by the Affordable Care Act.

Dan Springer joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in August 2001 as a Seattle-based correspondent.