Across the country, unions are reeling. Union membership is at historic lows. Federally, card check legislation has now been dead for years. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker took on public sector unions and won. Michigan has put right-to-work laws on the books. Even in blue states (New Jersey, Illinois, California) some steps have been taken to try to rein in out-of-control unions.
But Obamacare and increased numbers of people using their newly gifted government subsidized insurance, could just wind up giving unions an opening to increase their waning power, risking yet higher health care costs for consumers and taxpayers (since Obamacare involves both Medicaid expansion and taxpayer-funded subsidies for private insurance). How? Take a look at this case study out of California:
Psychologists, therapists and social workers launched Monday what is planned to be a week-long protest. By Friday, 2,600 are expected to walk the picket line outside of 35 Kaiser Permanente-owned hospitals and offices in California. The action is organized by leaders of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which has been battling Kaiser in contract negotiations on behalf of the mental healthcare professionals for four years.
Usually, where unions attempt to exert their influence in walk-outs, the issue is compensation packages.
But what’s interesting in this case is that compensation isn’t what the NUHW members are striking over (good thing, too, since according to this site, a clinical psychologist working for Kaiser can make up to about $145k, plus benefits). No, the NUHW is striking to try to force Kaiser to hire more mental health care staff; more than the market (which, as noted, Obamacare has vastly expanded) actually demands.
This is being done on the pretext that patient care is currently suffering. But the union isn’t telling people two things. First, Kaiser has been ramping up its mental health care staff a lot to meet increased demand anyway (according to Kaiser, by 25% since 2011) and is currently trying to hire more staff to meet market (as opposed to NUHW) needs. And second, the NUHW is in very, very bad financial condition (think constantly increasing payroll, liabilities outweighing assets, big debt, big litigation costs). In fact, its financial condition is bad enough that the only obvious way to rectify it is – surprise! – to get more members in the door and paying union dues, which is far easier if you force a major health care provider with nearly 10 million customers, mostly in union-strong California, to hire more people who will – surprise! – join your union, pay up, and thereby get it back in the black.
Kaiser’s membership has apparently jumped 8% since 2011. It is a big provider of Obamacare-compliant insurance, so that’s been a factor in increasing its customer base (thanks, individual mandate!).
But Kaiser is hardly the only entity in the health care industry that could get targeted by unions looking to pad their coffers by increasing their membership through pressuring providers to hire over and above what the market dictates.
Consider this: The recently-released study written about here suggests that a bigger than proportionate chunk of the (previously) uninsured have mental health issues. So, those coming into the system via compliance with the individual mandate are disproportionately increasing demand for mental health care services. That study also says that nationwide, there is a deficiency of mental health professionals given patient demand.
Bear in mind that California is hardly the only state where a lot of health care workers, including in the mental health care field, are unionized.
So, ask yourself this: Just how long will it be, before other unions in other places start copying the NUHW and staging walkouts to try to force big hiring and big bailouts of big labor?
I’d call it the unintended consequences of Obamacare. Except I’m not convinced it was unintentional.