Labor unions strike to save $8.6bn in health care bills

SEATTLE — Labor unions on Thursday voted to raise wages, cut benefits and impose a 10 percent payroll tax to save the $8,500-a-year minimum wage in health benefits and the Medicare program for seniors.

The Seattle-based National Education Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and other unions were united in their push to save more than $8 billion in health insurance premiums and deductibles for the 2018 fiscal year.

They will now submit the final bills to the governor and legislature for signature.

The legislation must pass both chambers of the state Legislature by Sept. 1 to become law.

The unions will push for a $10 minimum wage and a new 10 percent tax on businesses that fail to offer health benefits to workers.

They also want employers to pay workers their share of the costs of medical and dental care.

But the unions are also seeking more flexibility in how employers will pay for the health benefits, which will help pay for other needs like education and transportation.

The new legislation would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 from $9.75, but employers would have to pay a 10% payroll tax on employees who make $35,000 a year.

The health insurance subsidies will also be cut for some workers.

The union-supported legislation would give workers the right to keep their health insurance if they get sick.

But employers would be required to pay at least the amount the state pays to the private insurance marketplaces for those workers.

The bill also would create a state-run health insurance exchange to help low-income people buy coverage and help consumers pay for health care.