Union Civil War – UFW Replaces UFCW In Ventura County – May Have Government Sponsored Health Plan to Thank

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12/11/2017

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Union Civil War – UFW Replaces UFCW In Ventura County –
May Have Government Sponsored Health Plan to Thank

By: Michael C. Saqui

The United Farm Workers (“UFW”) recently won an election to replace the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (“UFCW”) at a group of growers and nurseries in Oxnard. The UFW beat out the UFCW and “no union” options by a handy 25% margin. Hiji Bros. Inc., Seaview Growers, Inc., and Ventura County Nursery will now have to bargain with the UFW. Some have speculated that recent legislative activity and the UFW’s now taxpayer-subsidized health plan may have played a role in the recent union victory. This is just the first of many battles between these two unions which are expected to continue throughout the summer.

In October of 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 145, which subsidizes the UFW’s Robert F. Kennedy Farm Worker Health Plan to the tune of $3 million per year for California taxpayers. The health plan, a trust created 46 years ago, provides medical coverage for over 13,000 farmworker families every year. Unfortunately for the health plan, the Affordable Care Act required the health plan to provide expanded healthcare coverage, which the UFW could not support without purchasing additional stop-gap insurance for any excessive claims which its cash reserves and member contributions could not cover. The funding secured by the bill allows the UFW to purchase that insurance.

The UFW and State Senator Dr. Richard Pan touted the bill actually being a money-saver despite being a spending bill. They reasoned that any workers not able to obtain coverage if the UFW’s health plan was cancelled, would overburden the Medi-Cal system and end up costing California more money in the long run. However, the Department of Finance was unable to find any evidence to support that claim. The Department also suggested that the health plan could alternatively seek to subsidize the cost of health insurance on the private market for undocumented individuals rather than seek the 3 million dollar per year bailout. Further, the Department explained another problem with the bailout is that the health plan would not be subject to the same consumer protection rights as other plans and enrollees could be subject to much higher out of pocket expenses than alternatives because the health plan is a Taft-Hartley plan. Taft-Hartley plans are self-funded healthcare programs formed as a joint venture between unions and usually multiple employers which are exempt from certain state insurance regulations.

Much criticism has been lobbed at the bill asking why the UFW’s plan gets special bailout treatment and “most favored union” status, while most every other health plan has absorbed the cost of compliance with the Affordable Care Act. The bill also offered no state oversight of either the administration of the health plan or quality of and access to care paid for by the plan, so taxpayers get no insight into what they are actually paying for. The UFCW and other unions may have difficulty fighting off the UFW when it has weapons provided by the State of California. However, the UFCW did recently increase its resources by rejoining the AFL-CIO in late 2013.

COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT

The UFW’s new subsidy to its health plan is definitely a selling point that the union will be touting as it runs its campaign this season. As this election in Oxnard shows, other unions like the UFCW and even employers may not be able to compete with the UFW’s health plan when it is backed by the spending power of the State of California. The bill is set to sunset in 2021, but in the meantime employers should be ready to counter this selling point in the Union’s campaign propaganda. As the UFCW and UFW battle it out, the UFW may also attempt to claim credit for California’s recent minimum wage to $15.00/hour. The UFW is also supporting a pending bill which would require overtime pay for farm workers after 8 hours of work rather than the current 10 hours.

Employers should also be ready for the unique consequences of having competing unions fighting it out for the hearts and minds of workers. Employers must refrain from creating any appearance of support for one union or another when the fighting bleeds into the fields or the workplace. However, unique opportunities are raised during this period of shifting allegiances which may allow employers to convince employees to vote against any union representation whatsoever. This election also shows that the UFW may now be looking to expand its focus and turn its efforts towards nurseries or secondary commercial operations as well. If your company is facing an election or union organizing, turn to the experts at The Saqui Law Group, who have already established a winning record under the NLRB’s new ambush election rules.

 


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