Monday, December 01, 2003

Labor Struggles

Although I don't blog about politics too much (other than to encourage people to look at Howard Dean), right now I'm feeling a ton of stress about labor issues.

I've stopped shopping at Safeway after the UFCW began informational pickets in D.C. a few weekends ago. The local unions here still have a contract (as opposed to those strike in California and elsewhere), but those contacts are up in March and the healthcare issues that led to the strike are sure to become an issue in the local negotiations. I've decided that, if by respecting the California strike at D.C.-area stores can help keep increases in employee healthcare contributions off the table when the contracts here are up then that's a good thing.

I have been going to Giant (which I guess we should go to anyway since it's headquartered in Maryland, although corporate ownership is in the Netherlands) and, of course, the farmers market, small ethnic grocery stores and the non-unionized Whole Foods Market. But Safeway is closest to our house and I like the way I can earn United frequent flyer miles from them, so I hope the strike is settled sooner rather than later.

Honestly, I understand that healthcare is becoming a significant drain upon corporations, and something needs to be done. (I work for a small company and I've seen significant rises in my healthcare costs, co-pays, etc., over the past five years.) But trying to balance things on the backs of workers is only a short-term "solution."

Instead, corporations should cooperate with labor and both sides should use their lobbying muscle to get some sort of national healthcare system (NHS) in place in the United States. Yes, a lot of people don't like the changes that an NHS might necessitate, but it can't be much worse than the current bureaucracies one must navigate to under the typical HMO system.

(Side rant: I'm also frustrated by the way my BlueCross BlueShield HMO is labeled an HMO, but it's really more of an opt-in provider network system. There are no organizational links between the doctors, just shared paperwork.)

Yes, some taxes would have to levied to pay for things, but these would be offset no more health insurance deductions. Costs should be lower because the shared risks would be spread across a wider population pool and administrative costs should be reduced by replacing multiple insurers (with not-quite-standardized systems) with a single bureaucracy. Also, such a system, hopefully, could shift the focus of healthcare from intervention to prevention. It also would help make U.S. companies more competitive with European and other companies who do not have to provide health benefits.

I know after the Clinton shot at healthcare in 1993 a comprehensive national healthcare system that covers everyone is unlikely, but if labor and capital pushed for a legislative solution ... well maybe.

The other labor issue (and the one that is causing more actual stress) is internal to my office and is probably beyond the realm of what I can blog about without breaking confidentiality agreements (even if I officially refused to sign anything, I'm in an at-will employment position). Let's just say there is only so much work any given a group of people can do. Productivity is declining and morale is low. And, yes, it might be possible to squeeze in one more extra project, the long-term results aren't work it. There are solutions, but they don't fit within the economic model that was devised when there were a lot more people in the building. And management ... couldn't care less.

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