OPEN LETTER TO UAW LEADERSHIP – don’t agree to a VEBA

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THREE veteran leaders of the UAW have sent an open letter to Ron Gettelfinger and the UAW leadership expressing their concern that the leadership is considering establishing a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, or VEBA health care trust fund, to cover the health care of hundreds of thousands of retired autoworkers.

The letter states:

‘AN Open Letter to Ron Gettelfinger and UAW Big 3 Auto Contract Negotiators. ‘From: former UAW International Executive Board Members: Paul Schrade, Warren Davis, & Jerry Tucker.

‘Brothers & Sisters,

‘We are writing to express our grave concerns over reports that consideration is being given by UAW negotiators in contract talks with GM, Ford and Chrysler to a union-managed Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, or VEBA health care trust fund, to cover hundreds of thousands of retired autoworkers.

‘Such a proposal, if ratified as part of a new collective agreement, would represent a radical shift in the traditions of our union.

‘Knowingly placing members at risk under such a plan, whether active or retired, is contrary to the mandate of the UAW Constitution and its “Objects.”

‘It would undo decades of hard-won health care benefit protections, paid for in large part by wage diversions, past concessions and increased worker productivity.

‘It is also disturbing that a major change of this significance and impact has not been the subject of extensive discussion and debate within the union.

‘The corporate proposed VEBA, which the union negotiators are said to be reviewing, is only now being revealed to the rank and file membership and much of the local union leadership by media reports, and sketchy ones at that.

‘Yet the potential consequences of adopting such a plan will be economically painful, if not disastrous, to those covered by it.

‘A number of factors could adversely affect its viability. Secrecy and uninformed members on this question can only further damage the shared principles we were founded to defend and advance as a union.

‘Previously negotiated health care protections, along with 30-and-Out Pensions, Supplemental Unemployment Benefits (SUB), Tuition Refunds, and many other benefits were the result of an extensive open internal debate within the union.

‘In several instances, the debate went on for several years before UAW bargainers were authorised to negotiate them into the agreement between the parties.

‘The three signers of this letter represent six decades of critical experience and involvement within the UAW.

‘We have been an active part of its ascendancy and, in recent years, sad witnesses to its decline.

‘We do not minimise the assault UAW members and all US workers have been under or the challenges our union has faced.

‘But we do respectfully submit that the appropriate counter-proposal to the corporate bailout by way of a VEBA is a UAW demand that 2005’s Attachment E “Health Care Reform Letter” be implemented and the corporations become a moving force on the public policy front for the enactment of the current universal, comprehensive, single-payer healthcare legislation contained in H.R.676, introduced by Michigan Congressman John Conyers.

‘That such a national health care system would serve the auto companies’ self-interest and level the competitive playing field is well documented.

‘The companies extol the economic value of the Canadian system.

‘Our role as a union, on behalf of our members and the community at large, is not to help them escape their responsibility to their past commitments but to help them convert those commitments to the common good.

‘On that proposal, our members are informed, and they will stand behind you.

‘Fraternally,

Former UAW Regional Directors:

Paul Schrade – Region 6

Warren Davis – Region 2

Jerry Tucker – Region 5

The H.R.676 referred to was a measure of attempted health legislation in 2005 which the UAW described in the following way:

It was ‘To provide for comprehensive health insurance coverage for all United States residents, and for other purposes.

‘Summary:

‘United States National Health Insurance Act (or the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act) establishes the United States National Health Insurance (USNHI) Program (the Program) to provide all individuals residing in the United States and in US territories with free health care that includes all medically necessary care, such as primary care and prevention, prescription drugs, emergency care and mental health services.

‘Prohibits an institution from participating in the Program unless it is a public or nonprofit institution.

Allows nonprofit health maintenance organisations (HMOs) that actually deliver care in their own facilities to participate in the Program.

‘Gives patients the freedom to choose from participating physicians and institutions.

‘Prohibits a private health insurer from selling health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under this Act. Allows such insurers to sell benefits that are not medically necessary, such as cosmetic surgery benefits.

‘Sets forth methods to pay hospitals and health professionals for services. Prohibits financial incentives between HMOs and physicians based on utilisation.

‘Establishes the USNHI Trust Fund to finance the Program with amounts deposited: (1) from existing sources of Government revenues for health care; (2) by increasing personal income taxes on the top five per cent income earners; (3) by instituting a progressive excise tax on payroll and self-employment income; and (4) by instituting a small tax on stock and bond transactions.

‘Requires the Program to give first priority in retraining and job placement and unemployment benefits to individuals whose jobs are eliminated due to reduced administration.

‘Establishes a National Board of Universal Quality and Access to provide advice on quality, access and affordability.

‘Provides for the eventual integration of the Indian Health Service into the Program.’

It was moved by Representative John Conyers (D) (MI-14)

Meanwhile, the UAW reported from the negotiations with GM last Saturday night.

It stated: ‘Negotiators from the UAW and GM took a break early Saturday and agreed to extend the contact and resume talks later today.

‘Contract talks between the UAW and the Big Three automakers are coming to crunch-time. The national contracts expired at midnight Friday, the union yesterday selected General Motors Corp as the lead negotiating partner, or strike target, in the negotiations.

‘The union also has agreed to extend its contracts with Ford Motor Co and Chrysler.

‘In an e-mail to local union leaders Thursday, UAW Vice President Carl Rapson said: ‘ “The UAW International Executive Board has decided that General Motors Corp will be the strike target for this round of national automotive contract negotiations.

‘ “We are continuing to meet with the corporation and expect to put in long hours between now and the deadline. There is still much to be done.

‘ “The contracts cover 178,000 workers nationwide”.’