What happens when the emergency funding of our IWA and Division A health funds ends?

August 24, 2020 12:22 PM

Important note: Our Union has been negotiating extended healthcare coverage across the over 350 hotels and casinos we represent. Your benefits, and any extension to your healthcare coverage during the Coronavirus crisis, depend on your contract and the health plan in which you participate. This article applies specifically for those workers in hotels that are covered by the IWA and Division A contracts.

As you know, normally, if you are laid off or leave your job, your healthcare coverage ends unless you buy continuing COBRA coverage.

Fortunately, during the Coronavirus crisis, our Union has been able to make the employers to pay the cost of continuing to provide health coverage to the tens of thousands of our members who have been laid off. First, the Union won an arbitration case that required the employers covered by the IWA and Division A contracts to pay for four additional months of coverage through the end of August. Then, on August 14th, HTC President Rich Maroko negotiated another month, extending coverage for those workers until the end of September.

No other unions in the devastated hospitality industry have been able to secure so much extra coverage for the workers they represent who have been out of work because of this disaster.

While your Union is trying to extend benefits even further, there is little question that the additional funding for employees who are not working is going to end before the industry gets completely back on its feet. We want the workers we represent to be prepared for when that happens.

For laid off workers: When the current health coverage stops, the Union will help you navigate your options for continuing healthcare

When the emergency funding stops, workers who are still laid off will stop receiving coverage under our health insurance. As President Maroko committed in his address to the membership, at that point, the Union will commit the resources to help those workers find and choose from other options to maintain healthcare until they return to work, including paying out of pocket for COBRA, using their paid time off, or enrolling in a different plan altogether.

For members who are still working in IWA and Division A shops: reduced healthcare services

Even if you are still working after emergency funding ends, this crisis will affect your health care. Our system of four health centers in New York City was built to serve approximately 30,000 union-represented workers and their families (nearly 90,000 patients in total). Only 5,000 are now employed. When emergency funding for health benefits for the employees who are laid off comes to an end, there will be far fewer contributions and far fewer patients than the system is designed to handle. The Benefit Funds will need to temporarily scale back to accommodate this reduction.

Dr. David Jacobson, the Chief Executive Officer of the Funds, and his team have begun to explore all options for temporarily downsizing and controlling costs, in order to be able to best provide healthcare to those 5,000 members who are still working and their families. On August 21st, Dr. Jacobson sent out an official WARN notice to the employees of the health centers and benefit funds.

Dr. Jacobson explained, “We have a responsibility to make sure that the Funds remain viable in the months ahead. Unfortunately, that likely means that we will have to lay off doctors and staff, and there is even the possibility we may temporarily close or reduce the hours at some of our health centers. Although we have not made any definitive decisions, we have a legal, and moral, responsibility to let our staff know of the uncertainties ahead.”

While the Funds are exploring different options, workers who remain eligible can rest assured that family health care will remain free and the range of services available will remain the same. And above all, whatever changes are implemented will be temporary.

As the industry recovers, so will the benefit funds

This pandemic has devastated the hospitality industry, put tens of thousands of our members out of work, and strained our health benefit funds. That is the hard reality of this disaster, the worst our country has suffered since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

But the other reality is that these hard times will come to pass. New York City will bounce back and tourists will return. As more of our members go back to work, the benefit funds will recover and any temporary closures or changes to the health centers' hours will be reversed.

“As soon as industry picks up, we look forward to returning to normal operations at all of our health centers and getting back to building a bigger and more sophisticated system for the Union’s growing membership” said Dr. Jacobson.