When health care coverage is tied to employment, labor negotiations can suffer. The stalled contract negotiations between Bath Iron Works and Machinists Union Local S6 and the resulting strike are a good example of this.

The health care section of BIW’s June 13 “last, best and final offer” included an increase in deductibles, prescription drug co-pays and out-of-pocket maximums in 2022, as well as a 5 percent annual increase in employee contributions in the years 2021-2023. According to Local S6 District Lodge 4’s June 11 negotiation update to members, “Depending on your medical plan and specific medical conditions that you or your family may have, the changes in health care could eat up the proposed wage increase.”

Deciding the pros and cons of these details is far beyond me, but what seems obvious is that neither BIW nor the union should have to be mired down in them when so many other important workplace issues need to be negotiated. A strike is the last thing either side, or the Maine economy, needs right now, but one is well  underway. This makes clear that health care cost concerns have taken time away from addressing the key disagreements: subcontractors, work rules and seniority.

It’s time to free both employers and employees from the albatross of employment-based health care coverage.

Daniel Bryant, M.D.
Cape Elizabeth

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