Unions and the ACA: What you should know

Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) streamlined some of the regulations surrounding health care in America, there are still many ways to get insurance. You can go through your employer, the individual market, an association plan, or even a union, if you belong to one.

 Of course, the process works a little differently for unions and collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), which is why some employers can get confused when reporting season rolls around. If your business relies on union workers to get the job done, or is considering working with a union, here’s what you should know about reporting on their health care.

What does union health care look like?

To understand how unions work, let’s use the NFL as an example.

Each team employs its own players. Drew Brees’ documentation would list his employer as the Saints, and that team is responsible for his paychecks, his paperwork, and his contract.

However, Brees—and all his teammates and opponents—are also a part of the NFL, which has a players’ association. This is where he would acquire most of his benefits, such as health care. Players and coaches don’t have to accept these benefits, but if they reject them, they won’t get an additional offer from their teams. The union ensures that everyone, across all teams in the NFL, receives equal benefits, and sets up guidelines for how players should be treated by their individual teams. In return, each team pays a fee to the NFL for each player covered, to contribute to benefits that cost money (such as health care).

Seems simple enough, right? But while union health care is easy to explain, reporting gets a little more complicated.

Reporting on the unknown

First and foremost, you need to figure out if your business is an applicable large employer (ALE)—meaning you had over 50 full-time employees at last year’s count. An important fact to note is that union employees are included in this number and the union doesn’t have to do its own count. Although your employees are a part of an organized group, you’re still their employer, so you need to count them.

Secondly, this means it’s important to track your union employees’ hours, especially if they’re on a variable-hour or irregular schedule (as many union employees are). To prove that they fall into the part-time, full-time, or seasonal specification (and therefore are eligible or not eligible for health care), you need to track them just as carefully as any other employee.

But when it comes down to actually reporting—filling out 1095-Cs for those employees who qualify—your union employees will differ slightly from the rest.

Since you aren’t actually providing your union employees health care (they’re getting it through the union, with you helping pay the bills), you can’t submit information on affordability or mandated value of care. Because of this, there is a portion of the form called the “Multi-employer welfare association (MEWA) exception,“ which allows you indicate whether a union, CBA, or other form of MEWA is taking care of an employee’s health care. This indicates that you don’t have knowledge of the contents of the health care offered to this particular employee, and that they’re getting it through some kind of CBA.

Unions and you

If you work with unions, or are considering working with unions, it’s important to keep these facts in mind. The health care costs may overall be lower, and the reporting is certainly easier. But in all other respects, you need to continually track whether these employees are full-time or part-time, and counting them as such.

As with any form of compliance, leveraging technology to keep your data in order will simplify the process of reporting. Make sure to keep track of employee turnover, hours worked, and union status on a regular basis; no matter the status of your various employees, good data collection is only going to help you in the long run.