Union Leader Praises GOP Probe of Jobs Council Companies’ Healthcare Records

Mike Elk

Earlier this month, two members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to the CEOs and other top officials of the 23 companies represented on the President Obama’s Jobs and Competitiveness” council, requesting all communications, including e‑mail, sent to or received” by company employees over a two and half year period regarding the effects of Obama’s new healthcare law.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R‑Mich.) and Subcommittee Chairman on Oversight and Investigation Cliff Stearns (R‑Fla.) claimed they were interested in the law’s effect on hiring, economic growth and the cost borne by patients, doctors and medical device manufacturers.” Major employers on the Jobs Council asked to comply with the request include General Electric, Boeing, BNSF Railway, DuPont, and Xerox, among others.

House Democrats were quick to attack the Republicans for launching a probe of the companies that serve on the council. House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking member Henry Waxman (D‑Calif.) and Diana DeGette (D‑Colo.), a member of the subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation Ranking, wrote a letter to their Republican counterparts complaining about the probe, saying: Your decision raises an exceptionally serious issue: are the Committee’s powers being used to intimidate companies that cooperate with President Obama?”

While House Democrats are complaining about the House GOP probe, UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend, whose union represents workers at General Electric, says he is in favor of the probe by House Republicans. (Full disclosure: My father, Gene Elk, works as a union organizer for the United Electrical Workers union.)

Why? Because earlier this year as part of contract negotiations, 15,000 union GE workers were forced to agree to concessions in which union members agreed to a higher deductible healthcare plan. Townsend wants to see all GE documents related to why the company forced its workers to agree to a healthcare plan that made workers pay more.

BSNF Railways documents related to healthcare could also be of interest to union railroad workers currently involved in negotiations with an association of more than 30 railroad companies demanding that workers shoulder a greater share of their healthcare costs. Earlier this month, President Obama stepped in to prevent the strike under the powers granted to the president under the Railway Labor Act, which governs labor relations in the railway and airline industry. 

By revealing major companies’ healthcare practices, the probe could provide valuable information for union organizers negotiating workers’ healthcare benefits. Despite this possible value, House Democrats remain opposed to the probe. Democratic members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce did not return calls from In These Times asking about this opposition.

We got a crappy bill that nobody is happy about. Nobody. Then, Democrats get their asses kicked in the 2010 elections. Now victorious Republicans launch a congressional fishing expedition focusing on the companies who sit on the fraudulent White House jobs and competitiveness” council,” says Townsend. Maybe the Dems should be glad that the Republicans are fishing for health legislation gossip for the Drudge Report, and are not aimed at revealing the real jobs records of the companies whose CEOs chair — and serve — on the council.”

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Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.
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