Revoking Health Insurance Coverage Has Been Frequent Corporate Tactic Against Striking Workers
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the Striking Workers Healthcare Protection Act which would require employers to continue providing health insurance to workers exercising their right to strike, so working families aren’t forced off the health coverage they’ve earned and negotiated, and aren’t forced to pay out-of-pocket for potentially lifesaving health care.
“Too many times in Ohio and around the country, we’ve seen corporations kick their workers off their health coverage in an attempt to break a strike. Employers shouldn’t be able to cut off health insurance for workers and their families or threaten to as a way to silence workers,” said Sen. Brown. “Threatening the wellbeing of employees, their families and their communities because they’re exercising their right to strike for fair pay, good working conditions, and a voice in their workplace is unacceptable and shouldn’t be a tool employers can use to break a strike and force workers back into subpar conditions.”
The bill would create a separate unfair labor practice category, punishable by fines, for when employers cut or alter workers’ health insurance while the workers are on strike. The fines would vary based on their history of violations, size, the scope of the harm, and the public interest.
“When workers strike, they do so because they’re fighting for a level playing field for themselves, their coworkers and their families,” said Sen. Casey. “Employers should be coming to the table and negotiating with workers, not forcing them to choose between health care and their voice in the workplace. I’m proud to join my friend Senator Brown to introduce legislation to ensure employers can’t kick workers off their health care while they’re exercising their fundamental right to organize.”
As the pandemic has illustrated, health insurance can be the difference between life and death, prosperity or financial ruin. As more workers go on strike across the country, more companies are using this harmful tactic to try to break worker strikes.
GM dropped workers’ health insurance, including the coverage of workers in Ohio, during a 2019 national strike.
Members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union (BCTGM) Local 37 have been without health care benefits since January 1 while on strike from their jobs at Rich Products at the Jon Donaire Desserts plant in Santa Fe Springs, California.
During the United Auto Workers strike last fall, John Deere threatened to cancel the health care coverage of thousands of striking employees across the Midwest before deciding to continue that coverage until a final contract was reached with UAW workers.
Warrior Met strikers represented by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) had their health care coverage cut off when they went on strike in April 2021 and the union has been paying the health care coverage for those members since the strike began.
The legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Alex Padilla (D-CA). Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03).
“This measure will protect workers from having to choose between standing up for what they believe in and their health care. Some employers reprehensibly use threats of taking away health care benefits from their workers to discourage strikes. Our Striking Workers Healthcare Protection Act would hold those employers accountable while supporting workers in exercising their rights,” said Sen. Blumenthal.
“As workers across the country strike to demand better wages and working conditions, employers have increasingly responded by threatening to cut off their employees’ health insurance,” said Sen. Booker. “This threat puts the well-being of workers and their families at risk, especially in the ongoing public health emergency. I am proud to join this bicameral legislation to better protect our nation’s workers by penalizing employers who pursue this unfair and unjust practice.”
“Collective bargaining is a fundamental right, and means workers can get better wages, benefits and working conditions. Employers should not be able to threaten striking workers with cutting their health insurance,” said Sen. Smith. “Going after the health care coverage of workers and their families should be off limits. This bill is a much needed step towards ending this unfair intimidation tactic.”
“American workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain is deeply rooted in our Constitution and laws. As workers exercise this right it’s unconscionable that employers would seek to strip them of their health care, threatening both the lives and livelihoods of workers and their families. This important legislation would ensure the health care of these workers and their families is not jeopardized,” said Sen. Van Hollen.
“Nobody should have to fear losing their health insurance while fighting for better pay and working conditions,” Sen. Wyden said. “The status quo where employers can force their workers to choose between health coverage for their families and a fair wage has to change.”
The legislation introduced today has the support of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers (BCTGM), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Communications Workers of America (CWA), United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), International Association of Iron Workers (IW), United Steelworkers (USW), and the Teamsters.
“We thank Senators Brown and Casey for introducing the ‘Striking Workers Healthcare Protection Act.’ Warrior Met strikers had their health care coverage cut off when they went on strike April 1, 2021,” said United Mine Workers of America President Cecil E. Roberts. “The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) has been paying the health care coverage for those members since the strike began.”
“The BCTGM commends Senators Brown and Casey for introducing the ‘Striking Workers Healthcare Protection Act.’ Workers should not lose their health insurance for exercising their lawful rights,” said BCTGM President Anthony Shelton. “The legislation will go a long way to leveling the playing field for workers in the collective bargaining process.”
“We thank Senators Brown and Casey for taking this stand on behalf of working people who bravely put their jobs on the line to win a better future for their families,” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler. “Employers should not be permitted to unilaterally alter workers’ union-negotiated health care at any time, let alone during the national COVID emergency. Guaranteeing access to health care during a strike is the least we can do to help working families during difficult times.”
“No working family should be forced to choose between their right to advocate for better pay and benefits, and their need for medical care,” said UAW President Ray Curry. “Senators Brown and Casey’s bill protects working families from corporations that would seek to use the health care of members as a pressure point against workers who are advocating for better working conditions. This one simple bill by Senators Brown and Casey protects the dignity of all working families and we encourage Congress to take action and pass this common-sense bill. UAW commends the senators for their unwavering commitment to working people.”