When is a union health plan not a health plan? A good guess would be the moment at which its “beneficiaries” discover they’re not covered. Thousands of enrollees in a plan sponsored by a California-based union have been finding out the hard way. This past December the U.S. Department of Labor filed suit against the International Union of Public and Industrial Workers (IUPIW) Canadian Benefit Fund and its trustees for more than $1.2 million. DOL officials say the action was required to cover unpaid health care claims due more than 2,000 workers and family members.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, alleges mismanagement by plan trustees. The plan itself is intended for employees belonging to one of two affiliates of the Paramount, Calif.-based IUPIW: the International Union of Petroleum and Industrial Workers (IUPIW) and the International Union of Industrial and Independent Workers (IUIIW). Named in the suit are four trustees, plus Pamela Barlow of Fullerton, California, secretary-treasurer of one of the IUPIWs. Barlow’s inclusion as a defendant confirms long-held suspicions by union dissenters that nepotism rules the day. She’s the daughter of IUPIW President George Beltz of Gainesville, Mo.; her brother is Geoffrey “Joe” Beltz of Bedford, Texas, president of the IUIIW. “She sends her father his check every month to Missouri. He has not been at headquarters in 20 years,” a union dissident wrote UCU, preferring to be anonymous.
The union recently made news elsewhere. Last March, Texas Insurance Commissioner Jose Montemayor signed an order barring the IUPIW and the Manufacturing and Industrial Workers Union (MIWU) from selling plans in his state. The plans allegedly were falsely marketed as exempt from regulation. Both plans told enrollees, falsely, that they did not have to belong to a union in order to receive benefits. Many enrollees previously had been part of other union “plans” shut down by regulators. “It’s bad enough that these operators are taking people’s money in the form of premiums every month,” Montemayor remarked at the time. “But the impact of the fraud is magnified by the fact that it’s not until the victim is facing a health problem that they find they have no insurance.” (Department of Labor, 12/13; Texas Department of Insurance, 3/4/05).