By Annie Sciacca | Kaiser Health News
This spring, Chevron workers testified that the company revoked health coverage for hundreds of members of the United Steelworkers Local 5 at the Richmond refinery during a strike that ultimately lasted two months.
Thousands of nurses at Stanford Health Care were told in April they would lose their health insurance if they did not return to work during their weeklong strike.
More than 300 workers at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City received a similar message after going on strike in mid-July as contract negotiations stalled.
Freezing health insurance benefits is a common tactic in a labor dispute because, without them, workers might be more easily persuaded to concede to management’s demands. But California lawmakers are giving an edge to strikers.
Assemblymember Jim Wood, a Democrat, is hoping a new California law he authored will dissuade employers from cutting off health benefits during labor disputes by allowing private-industry workers to maximize state subsidies for coverage purchased through Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace. The bill, which takes effect in July, was sponsored by the California Labor Federation, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
“The goal of the legislation is to say, ‘No you can’t do this,’” Wood said. “Never try it again.”
According to Covered California spokesperson Kelly Green, eligible workers will have their premiums covered as if their incomes were just above the Medicaid eligibility level.
The state would factor in the worker’s federal subsidy and cover the difference. For example, a single person making $54,360 a year may pay 8.5% of their income, or about $385 a month, on premiums under a middle-tier health plan. Under the new law for striking workers, that person selecting the same plan would pay nothing in premiums — as if that person made $20,385 a year — for the duration of the strike.
Vicki Harper, of Redwood City, speaks during a union rally at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, Calif., on Monday, July 18, 2022. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
The federal government authorized an enhanced subsidy under the American Rescue Plan Act. The enhanced subsidy will continue through 2025 under the Inflation Reduction Act. The state’s share of the subsidy could increase once the federal boost ends.
One estimate that unions shared with the state suggested the law would cost California an average of $341 a month per worker — with strikes lasting one to two months. Labor groups estimate the bill will affect fewer than 5,000 workers a year. California has nearly 15 million workers in the private sector, and strikes are generally a tool of last resort in labor negotiations.
It’s not clear how businesses will respond. Chevron, Stanford Health Care and Sequoia Hospital’s operator, Dignity Health, did not respond to requests for comment. The bill met no formal opposition from businesses or taxpayer groups. Covered California’s subsidies are footed by a mix of federal and state funds as part of the Affordable Care Act, so there’s no direct cost to businesses.
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Source:: The Mercury News – Latest News
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