President Obama tried yesterday to convince 11 major union leaders meeting with him at the White House to end the labor movement's opposition to the tax on workers' benefits that is part of the Senate bill.
Indications are that the labor leaders remain opposed to the tax but that a compromise on the issue could be gaining ground. One of the labor leaders at the meeting outlined the shape of a compromise he said is under consideration.
Rather than taxing the benefits of individual plans that cost $8,500 per year or more, for example, the tax would be levied on only those plans that are significantly more expensive than that, the leader said. Also part of the compromise, according to the union official, would be a tax on the rich, although the amount of the tax would be lower than what had been proposed in the House bill.
Obama hosted Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and 10 other labor leaders at a late afternoon meeting at the White House to discuss the tax. At issue was a key provision in the Senate's version of health care reform, taxing 40 percent of the value of workers' health insurance above minimums of $8,500 yearly for an individual and $23,000 for a family.
While union leaders present issued no statement after the meeting, the White House called the session "an exchange of views" and a "productive discussion about a shared goal, health reform." Machinist Union President Tom Buffenbarger did announce the union's executive committee voted it would not back any health bill that was financed by taxing workers' health plans, and the International Association of Fire Fighters President Harold A. Schaitberger said in a statement that the president was abandoning his campaign promise. Buffenbarger and Schaitberger were not at the White House meeting.
Trumka repeated the labor movement's strong opposition to the tax in a speech to the National Press Club just hours before the White House meeting. He warned that the Democratic Party risked losing seats if the final health care bill that is passed is watered down.
Determined to fight to the last minute for improvements in the health care reform package moving through Congress, the AFL-CIO has called for a national call-in day tomorrow, Jan. 13.
All indications are that a national phone blitz on Congress will virtually tie up the lines in the nation's capital tomorrow.
Typical of the mobilizations across the country is one being mounted by the North West Indiana Federation of Labor which sent e-mails to every union member in the state who is on line.
"As we reach the finish line in our fight for national health care reform, we are calling on union members nation-wide to deluge members of Congress with phone calls demanding reform that works for working families," the federation's call reads.
Unions are asking everyone to call a free number, 1-877-3-AFL-CIO, with the brief message: "We need you to stand strong for working families by voting for health care reform that does not tax our benefits, requires employers to pay their fair share and includes a public health care option."