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Change to Win or Win for a Change?

From a working person’s point of view, the recent (and to most of us) completely unexpected split in the AFL-CIO leaves a lot of unanswered questions in its wake.

Not that anybody has ever asked me, but I’m a member of  the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, so I have my own questions, too. To begin with, I’d ask John Sweeny: what makes him think that more highly paid lobbyists in Washington would change anything? Don’t we already pay for lots and lots of them?  When all is said and done, if you were Corporate America, would you enact laws against your own interests on the say-so of a bunch of overpriced hired guns in suits?  I wouldn’t.  I’d come up with a lot of worker-friendly-sounding double talk, but never lose sight of my own bottom line, because that’s the kind of person I would be if  I were Corporate America.

My union is proud to point out that, as of the time of this writing, we have been able to hang on to a non-formulary prescription drug plan.  That means, for those unfamiliar with the lingo, that we are covered for any drug prescribed by a doctor.  We are not held to a list, or formulary, of approved drugs.  I agree that this is a good benefit to hang on to.  The only problem is that it is just not quite true.  There is one prescription that somewhere along the line the Brothers agreed to having kicked off the plan: prescription birth control.

Viagra is covered, as it should be.  All Viagra-like copycats are also covered, and, in the unlikely event that an erection lasts more than four hours, well, that’s covered too, as it should be, but no prescription birth control.

On the long list of human injustice, I do realize that this is on the bottom somewhere, but it irritates me, and it does show whose interests are front and center, and whose concerns are throwaways.

Does it matter if my health plan is self-insured?

Yes. If the health plan provided by your employer is self-insured, New York’s contraceptive equity law does not apply because a federal law, called the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), governs all benefits under self-insured employee benefit plans. A health plan is “self-insured” if an employer uses its own funds to pay the health-care claims of its employees rather than purchasing an insurance plan from an outside provider. However, a plan may be administered by an outside provider and still be self-insured. Although a self-insured health plan does not require your employer to comply with New York’s contraceptive equity law, your employer may be required to provide contraceptive coverage under other laws [e.g., Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] (See §VII).

Source: Center for Reproductive Rights, “New York’s Contraceptive Equity Law”

CoverMyPills.orgSee, also, CoverMyPills.org.

Along comes the Women’s Health and Wellness Act in New York State, which mandates that companies providing prescription drug coverage must cover services to women, including prescription birth control.  Eureka! I was on the benefits committee at that time, and I couldn’t wait to tell the company to pay up.  Right. They calmly told me that they self-insure, so they are exempt from any legislation that bars discrimination against women (my words). I couldn’t believe it, I made a million phone calls, but it was true.  Discrimination is not discrimination if a company self-insures, or, discrimination is still discrimination if a company self-insures, but it’s OK.

So much for worker-friendly legislation.  We lose when we lose and we lose when we win.

I have questions for the Change to Win side, too. First of all, congratulations on the organizing victory in Texas.  That is great.  My question is, now what?  Workers who are organized in long established unions have been hemorrhaging for decades, with no turnaround in sight. It’s true that those of us who still have jobs are  better off than our non-union counterparts, but in my opinion we are riding on momentum from the past, and the gap is closing with every round of union negotiations.  What used to work, if it ever really did, doesn’t work anymore, but the union leadership just keeps on plodding along that same old road to nowhere. So what now for our  newly organized brothers and sisters? Will union membership mean that now they have a union official to explain to them what they can’t have, instead of the boss? From where I stand as a rank-and-file worker and union member, it looks like the interests of the organization are front and center, and the concerns of the workers are throwaways.  Well, nobody asked me.  Thanks for listening.Nancy Wallace


Nancy Wallace is an alternate steward in Local 97 of the IBEW-AFL-CIO.


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