Friday, September 5, 2008

Boeing Union Shoots Itself in the Foot Once Again

Once again, the Boeing union myopically complains about having to pay a larger amount each month for their health insurance premiums. The good news is that they only rejected the contract, and postponed a strike vote by 48 hours to allow a federal mediator to take a stab at settlement.

This issue came up full force some years back. I remember hearing a Boeing worker describe it as a "giveback". This has rankled me ever since, as to how the union could be so just plain ignorant. When the total premium cost goes up by, say, $100.00 a month, and the company asks the workers to pay a small part of that increase, say $25.00, then this is *not* a giveback!! The company is paying more than it used to, and is simply asking the worker to share a small part of the burden. But all the shortsighted union people can see is that a bit more will be coming out of their paychecks, so they stupidly see it as a giveback.

What happened in that strike years ago was quite illuminating. The workers stayed out for about a month, and then at that point they were going to have to pay their entire insurance premium for the next month, or lose their insurance. They were shocked, and were quoted time and again in the media as saying "I can't afford $400 a month". They immediately went back to work with their tails between their legs.

I am reminded of my old tax law prof, Martin Dickinson, who said that the federal government should *not* withhold the total amount of income tax to be paid from worker paychecks. He said they should only withhold 90% or so, and then when the workers had to dig into their own pockets on April 15th and cough up the remaining 10%, this was the only way momentum for tax reform would develop.

The same thing is true with health insurance. Boeing workers are used to the paternalism of the company paying the entire amount of the premium. With the skyrocketing health care costs, the company understandably is trying to share the load a bit. What progressive companies do is have the employee pick from a menu of options, and then pay for only what is needed for that particular family. This puts more of the responsibility on the user of the health care benefits, so has to be considered preferable.

I have heard of a number of situations where both husband and wife have full family coverage. This means one of the employers is paying premiums each month that are entirely unnecessary and unusable. It makes no sense, and at some point the unions need to understand this and become part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.

We have a national health care crisis in this country. We pay twice as much of our gross national product on health care as other developed countries do, with results that are pathetic in terms of any accepted measure. We all need to work together to change this.

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