December 5, 2013
By Steven Wishnia
Health care will be at the top of the agenda at the 37th annual National Labor & Management Conference, to be held Feb. 13-18 in Hollywood, Florida. The effects of the Affordable Care Act will be driving the conversation, says conference director Barbara McCabe. Its system for buying and subsidizing health insurance “doesn’t reflect well for union benefits,” she explains, but the details, such as whether there’ll be concessions for Taft-Hartley multiemployer plans, are still being worked out.
The event will also highlight UNITE HERE Health’s model, a system of clinics run cooperatively by labor and management, which McCabe calls a “stellar example of how to deliver health care at a fraction of the cost.”
The conference, founded by former New York state labor commissioner Louis Levine, is intended to provide union officials and management technical information on topics such as managing health-care plans and pension-fund investments. It also gives them an opportunity for them to meet each other and talk to experts in those fields.
That personal contact is becoming more crucial in the age of electronic communication, says McCabe. And as the conference generally draws around 400 people—mostly union, some management—it’s easier for people to develop relationships and discuss complex questions than it would be at a larger event, she adds.
“The need to meet face to face is more important than ever,” she says. “People are generally surprised by the interaction between our speakers and the audience.”
Speakers will include Dan Kane, international secretary treasurer of the United Mine Workers; Edwin Hill, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven, president of the American Medical Association; Joshua Gotbaum, director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., Michael Hood, an economist at J.P. Morgan Chase; and ULLICOmanaging director Sonia Axter. Kane will speak on “the tightrope the UMW walks with regard to a green economy,” says McCabe. Terry O’Sullivan, head of the Laborers International Union of North America, has been invited but has not yet confirmed.
With a federal bankruptcy judge ruling that Detroit can cut retired city employees’ pensions, she adds, they are also working to assemble speakers for a panel on the “Implications of Cities Going Broke” that will discuss effects on the public sector, the private sector, and infrastructure.
Another workshop will cover the future of labor unions and collective bargaining. “Labor’s the backbone of the middle class,” says McCabe, “and what do you do, in the country and the world, without a middle class?”