April 9, 2021
Reps. Pressley, Courtney, McGovern and Clark Secure COBRA Subsidies for Striking Workers Under American Rescue Plan
BOSTON – Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02), Congressman James P. McGovern (MA-02) and Congresswoman Katherine Clark (MA-05) today applauded the U.S. Department of Labor’s recently-released guidance confirming that striking workers are eligible for COBRA subsidies under the American Rescue Plan, a victory for striking workers nationwide, including hundreds of nurses currently on strike at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The expanded guidance, which marks a major reversal from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, comes after Pressley, Courtney, McGovern and Clark sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, IRS Commissioner Charles Retting, and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, requesting that any guidance issued to implement the American Rescue Plan clarify that workers exercising their right to strike under the National Labor Relations Act are covered by the COBRA subsidies.
The American Rescue Plan does not explicitly address the issue of striking workers, but the letter requested that any guidance issued regarding eligibility of workers to receive subsidized COBRA coverage explicitly clarify that these workers are eligible in order to ensure that striking workers are not unintentionally harmed. This decision will prevent striking workers from having to pay the extremely high cost of COBRA out of pocket, lose their providers, or become disconnected from their providers during expensive and complicated treatments in the middle of a pandemic.
“I’m glad we were able to secure these subsidies for workers in Massachusetts and across the country exercising their right to organize and collectively bargain,” Rep. Pressley said. “Health care is a human right. And when workers choose to withhold their labor to demand and secure safer working conditions, better wages or better benefits, that choice shouldn’t come at the expense of their health care.”
“This guidance ensures the American Rescue Plan’s COBRA subsidies are consistent with COBRA law, and with the intent of the American Rescue Plan,” Rep. Courtney said. “I applaud the Department of Labor for its thoughtful and fair decision, which will directly assist hundreds of workers in our region.”
“As St. Vincent nurses in Worcester continue organizing to demand fair staffing ratios and patient safety, I’m proud we secured this important guidance affirming that no worker should be asked to choose between fair labor conditions and health care,” said Rep. McGovern. “This is a big win, not just for the nurses at St. Vincent, but for workers across the country. Health care is a human right and we will continue working to protect and expand access to high quality care for all Americans.”
“This is an important victory for workers,” said Rep. Clark. “This guidance ensures that workers exercising their legal right to organize can receive the COBRA subsidies they need to maintain their health care coverage during the global pandemic. I applaud the Biden Administration for this important step to protect our workers’ rights.”
“The nurses of St. Vincent Hospital deeply appreciate the leadership provided by Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and the Biden administration, Congresswoman Pressley and Congressman Courtney of Connecticut, along with other members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, for their efforts to provide COBRA subsidies to ensure our 800 nurses have access to quality health care for our families, as we now move into our fifth week of a strike to ensure the safety of our patients and our community,” Marlena Pellegrino, RN and co-chair of St. Vincent’s Hospital nurses local bargaining unit with Massachusetts Nurses Association said. “Being on strike is a stressful process, but having the support of such great leaders gives us the strength to persevere and do what we know is right.”