Mesothelioma and Health Care Support for Union Members
For millions of Americans, trade and labor unions have provided protection, support, and resources to employee union members since their creation. Compared to non-union employees, unionized workers have greater access to employer-provided healthcare benefits (95 percent vs. 68 percent). Moreover, 84 percent of union members used these benefits (i.e., medical, dental, vision, and outpatient prescription drug coverage) compared to only 54 percent of non-union members.
Workers in nearly any profession can join together to form a union. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, about 10.5 percent (or 14.7 million American workers) of employees were union members. Career fields and industries with unions include:
- First responders
- Public workers
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Unions can provide a variety of support options to their members, including some health care benefits, negotiating for higher wages and pay increases, and better working conditions. For union members who develop an occupational disease, a union can provide support like:
- Accessing sick leave benefits
- Collective agreement negotiation
- Disability accommodation
- Job and position security
- Some human rights claims
Union Member Statistics
- Occupational diseases caused by chemical exposure are responsible for over 50,000 deaths each year.
- According to General Motors, members of the United Auto Workers union pay approximately three percent of their total healthcare costs, compared to 33 percent paid by salaried, non-union employees.
- Through the Workers Defense Project, researchers found only five percent of construction workers interviewed in six southern states received workers’ compensation to cover the cost of their injuries.
- Approximately 15 percent of Americans who qualify for benefits like Medicare and Social Security (people aged 65 and over) are still active in the workforce, today.
Do Union Members Have More Support Than Non-Union Members?
For regular employees as well as contracted workers, unions can provide another line of support – especially in times of crisis. For instance, when someone is diagnosed with a work-related long-term illness (like lung cancer, mesothelioma, or another respiratory disease), their union may offer several programs or resources to help.
Cancer treatments and other hospital and doctor visits often complicate work schedules and pay. Your union representative can guide you through the details of your collective employment agreement and your rights with the company. Some collective agreements include medical and employment benefits like:
- Advances for sick leave
- Application for worker’s compensation
- Continued participation in group benefits and pension plans while out of work
- Maintaining your current role and position without demotion
- Prospective accommodations upon returning to work
- Protecting certain medical information from being released to your employer
- Right to return to work after sick leave
The circumstances of your situation, your line of work, and the capabilities of your union may affect how much support the union can offer. Still, some health and retiree resources are offered by many professional groups.
Union Health Care Resources
Typically, unions are able to secure health care benefits for their members in one of two ways: forming an agreement with a company to provide benefits through group insurance programs or by offering medical coverage directly to union members. Studies of union-employer relations show that health insurance benefits are so important to workers they are willing to forego higher pay increases to maintain coverage.
Insurance programs offered or supported by a union might include life, accident, medical, dental, vision, homeowners, renters, auto, and pet health insurance. Examples of unions that provide health insurance directly to their members include:
- AFL-CIO Union Plus
- American Postal Workers Union
- Auto Workers Union
- Carpenters and Joiners Union
- Communications Workers Union
- Food and Commercial Workers Union
- Hospitality Workers Union
- International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees
- Laborers Union
- Longshore and Warehouse Union
- Steelworkers Union
- Teachers Unions
- Teamsters Union
- Transit Union
The types of health benefits covered by unions can vary greatly depending on the field of expertise. If you’re a union member, reach out to your union representative for details about your individual benefits.
Union Resources for Retirees
In many cases, unions’ advocacy for the wellness of their members does not end with their employment. When a union member retires, they typically rely on social security payments, pensions, and their own savings to pay medical bills. While wages have fallen for hourly workers since the 1970s, unions have worked to ensure retirement and disability benefits for members.
Unions similarly advocate for employer-paid, defined pension plans instead of 401(k)s and other types of long-term investments. Defined pension plans are not only backed by federal guarantees, but pensions also provide a set monthly stipend. Furthermore, they’re not affected by the performance of investment funds or the stock market.
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Reaching out to your union for help may be as simple as making a phone call, sending an email, or visiting the local representative’s office. Union members may have access to various resources to assist you or your loved one through cancer treatments, recovery, and more.