March 30, 2014

AP Ignores Why Vegas Culinary Workers Have Authorized Strike: Obamacare

The headline and first paragraph at an Associated Press item on a union strike authorization vote in Las Vegas are both far more vague than they could or should be.

Though the rest of Ken Ritter’s coverage at least identifies the union involved, it completely fails to get to the heart of the matter, which is that Obamacare is causing huge increases in their employers’ cost of providing health care coverage. Culinary Union Local 226 wants their casino company employers to, well, eat those costs, and the companies are resisting. Ritter’s coverage, which to those who understand the full background reads like an exercise in stall-ball, never even specifically says that health benefits are this potential strike’s key issue (bolds are mine throughout this post):



Union members at several downtown Las Vegas casinos have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if bargaining doesn’t yield a new contract.

A statement from Culinary Union Local 226 said that more than 99 percent voted for the authorization.

The vote involved unionized workers at the downtown Binion’s, El Cortez, Four Queens, Fremont, Golden Gate, Golden Nugget, Las Vegas Club, Las Vegas Plaza, Main Street Station and The D properties, the Margaritaville bar on the Strip, and linen service workers at Brady Laundries in North Las Vegas.

Khan said more than 5,000 members were eligible to vote.

… The Culinary is the largest union in Nevada, with some 55,000 workers including bartenders, food service workers, housekeepers, cooks, porters and others at casinos and properties downtown and on the Las Vegas Strip.

Local 226 in Las Vegas is the largest local of the national UNITE HERE organization. Leaders have been negotiating with casino owners since contracts expired last summer.

… Meanwhile, culinary and bartender unions reached agreement last week on a five-year contract with the LVH casino, formerly the Las Vegas Hilton.

… The new contracts (already signed at LVH and other casinos — Ed.) preserve health benefits and add measures to protect housekeepers from hazardous work conditions. The deals also aim to restore workers laid off when restaurants closed during the recession.

So the status of “health benefits” was obviously a key issue in the settled contracts. But Ritter never identified it as even a potential issue in the current authorized strike.

On March 11, a CNNMoney report by Tami Luhby made it clear that Obamacare’s effect on health benefits and costs is THE major issue in the current impasse:

Why casino workers hate Obamacare

Casino workers are preparing to strike against several Las Vegas establishments, but their real target is President Obama.

Currently, employers pay 100% of the premiums. The union, which is in contract negotiations, wants to keep it that way. But the spike Obamacare-related expenses could make it tougher to convince employers to pony up more money.

… At issue are Obamacare fees and mandates that have greatly increased the health insurance fund’s expenses in recent years. What’s angering the local, along with many unions nationwide, is that the fund doesn’t qualify for federal subsidies to cover low-income workers that for-profit insurers do. The union fund wants these subsidies to help offset the added costs.

… But since union plans are considered employer-sponsored plans, there is no federal money to subsidize its members.

So far, White House officials have not made an exception for the unions.

“The administration has made change after change to meet other groups’ needs,” said Yvanna Cancela, the local’s political director, noting the union would like to see the president keep his promise. “Our members want to keep their health plans.”

Many unions, who supported President Obama’s push for health reform, feel betrayed because the administration failed to accommodate their health insurance funds in the Affordable Care Act.

That’s right. Culinary 226 and other unions want Obamacare subsidies which ensure that they get to keep their gold-plated plans. They’ve had four years to understand that “keep your plan” was a false guarantee from the get-go, and it still hasn’t sunk in. Suckers. (Of course, you can never rule out this administration lawlessly carving out yet another exception.)


Employers contribute $3.96 per worker per hour to cover health and pension benefits. Workers don’t pay a premium, but are responsible for about 10% of their out-of-pocket medical costs.

But since union members can’t strike against the White House, it is pressing its employers to boost their contributions by 35 cents per worker in the first year, 50 cents in the second and 55 cents in the third.

Luhby didn’t (and should have) broken out the health care component of the $3.96 cited above. Since we don’t have it, we can only say that the three requested increases totaling $1.40 per hour represent a whopping 36 percent increase in employers’ costs.

The entire UNITE HERE union has been an outspoken opponent of how Obamacare affects them. On Mardh 11, it released a report called “The Irony of ObamaCare: Making Inequality Worse.” Though it included a great deal of distracting language about how wonderful it would be to insure those who currently aren’t covered, the union’s bottom line and final finding were as follows:

(Obamacare) threatens the middle class with higher premiums, loss of hours, and a shift to part-time work and less comprehensive coverage.

If employers follow the incentives in the law, they will push families onto the exchanges to buy coverage. This will force low-wage service industry employees to spend $2.00, $3.00 or even $5.00 an hour of their pay to buy similar coverage.

If employees get thrown onto the exchanges because the casinos wash their hands of providing health coverage, rest assured that the Obamacare plans employees select, all of which have deductibles running into the thousands of dollars, certainly won’t limit their exposure to the cushy 10% of their total health care costs they are experiencing now.

The AP’s headline and ho-hum first paragraph do a “good” job of ensuring that most of those who see them on their computers, tablets, and smartphones won’t click through to identify which workers are involved. The full report fails to disclose why the strike authorization occurred.

This is not journalism. It’s more like an exercise in uninformative space-filling.

Cross-posted at


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