Insurers Telling Employees To Lobby Lawmakers For Weaker Health Reform, In Likely Violation Of California Labor Code
Santa Monica, CA — Consumer Watchdog today asked California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown to investigate major health insurers that have asked their workers to lobby Congress—during business hours—to weaken health reform. United Healthcare and Wellpoint have launched national campaigns to individually “assist” employees in writing and calling members of Congress. Such individual coercion, with results tracked by the employer, is almost certainly illegal under the California Labor Code, said Consumer Watchdog.
Read the letter to Atty. Gen. Brown.
The letter said:
“We write to request that you investigate actions by health insurance companies Anthem/Wellpoint and United Healthcare that may violate the right of employees in California to be free of political pressure by employers. Both companies are urging their employees to lobby members of Congress and offering corporate assistance in doing so, including talking points and even the placing of phone calls for the employees. We believe that such individual political coercion by an employer is illegal under the California Labor Code.
* “United Healthcare has sent a general letter to employees, asking them to contact members of Congress to urge weakening of health care reforms. The letter contains this language:
“ ‘As part of our effort to educate and assist you in your efforts to communicate your view to your elected officials, YOU MAY BE CONTACTED during business hours by a member of the United for Health Reform advocacy team.’…
* “Anthem/Wellpoint sent what appears to be an undated general employee e-mail carrying the Anthem logo. The e-mail urges employees to ‘make your voice heard’ by visiting a ‘grassroots website,’ the Wellpoint Health Action Network, ‘to assist you with contacting your elected officials… about this important issue.’
“The message, by claiming that “tens of millions of Americans” would lose private insurance coverage and “end up in a government-run plan,” also implies that employees would lose their jobs if proposed national reforms are passed.”
See the United Healthcare document, first obtained by Talking Points Memo.
See a screenshot of the Anthem/Wellcare e-mail.
The original e-mail is viewable here.
The letter cites the relevant law:
“While coercive communications with employees may be legal, if abhorrent, in most states, California’s Labor Code appears to directly prohibit them. The relevant codes are:
§ 1101. Rule, regulation or policy as to political activities or affiliations
No employer shall make, adopt, or enforce any rule, regulation, or policy:
(a) Forbidding or preventing employees from engaging or participating in politics or from becoming candidates for public office.
(b) Controlling or directing, or tending to control or direct the political activities or affiliations of employees.
§ 1102. Coercing or influencing political activities of employees.
No employer shall coerce or influence or attempt to coerce or influence his employees through or by means of threat of discharge or loss of employment to adopt or follow or refrain from adopting or following any particular course or line of political action or political activity.
“United Healthcare labels employee participation as ‘voluntary,’ but the individual contact (by United Healthcare), both companies’ ability to monitor compliance by individual employees and the instruction to take action on company time override any such disclaimer.”
Consumer Watchdog noted that both companies also urge employees to attend and participate in town hall meetings to demand that health reform not contain any Medicare-like public non-profit alternative to private insurance.
“These companies are intent on preserving their profitability, wastefulness and inefficiency, at the cost of taxpayers and patients,” said Judy Dugan, research director of Consumer Watchdog. “Now, in addition to their multimillion-dollar lobbying campaigns in Washington, they are enlisting their tens of thousands of employees to lobby as individuals.”
California’s employee protections against coerced participation in politics are the strongest in the nation, said the nonprofit, nonpartisan Consumer Watchdog.
“Wellpoint and United HealthCare are no doubt tracking which employees respond to their demands,” said Dugan. “To call such action ‘voluntary’ defies common sense.”
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