The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Auto companies target health care

Jun 23, 2003

Last month, Ford Motor Company said it will increase what it charges salaried workers on their medical insurance. Deductibles will increase from $250 to $600. Prescription co-pays on generic drugs go up from $5 to $7. And out-of-pocket maximum costs go up from $500 to $1,000 per year.

This follows similar earlier actions by GM and Chrysler against its salaried workers and retirees.

It's no coincidence that new contracts with the automakers' hourly UAW workers must be negotiated this September. The hit against salaried workers sets the stage for company demands from the 262,000 UAW workers.

UAW president Ron Gettelfinger has repeatedly said that the UAW will hold the line on health care, that there will be no "cost-shifting." But then he goes on to say that he understands the companies' problem with medical costs and the UAW is willing to find ways to help them.

Nobody provides free health care. If the UAW is going to help a company lower medical costs, either workers will pay more – or get less care.

In fact, past UAW contracts have already followed this script. Repeatedly UAW leaders have proclaimed that they have "held the line" on health care benefits when they sent the contract out for a vote. But during the life of each new contract, workers find the hidden sacrifices. Certain procedures become "not covered" or covered only if workers use certain plans like the "foot care" plan. Drug co-pays go up in the middle of the contract. Or co-pays on doctors' visits doubled while those on emergency room visits went up $50 as workers in some PPO or HMO plans discovered this past February.

This is the way past UAW leaders have "held the line," while also "helping" the companies.

It's an expression of the union leadership's policy of "partnership" with management. The top leaders of the major unions in the U.S. stick to this policy, pretending that the workers can't do well unless their own boss does well. In fact, this "partnership" amounts to putting the bosses' interests first, and letting the workers' interests be damned.

Auto workers will need to be on guard this year – not only against open demands for concessions on health care – but also on guard against the habitual attempts of the UAW leadership to "help" these exceedingly rich companies by negotiating hidden concessions.