Worker Centers Exploit Lack of Scrutiny for ACA Navigator Program

Ryan Williams

10/23/2013 12:01:00 AM - Ryan Williams

Weeks into the shaky rollout of Obamacare, troubling revelations are emerging on the “navigator” program designed to aid enrollees. As reported by The Daily Caller, one Kansas navigator was hired and certified despite an outstanding arrest warrant. Additionally, several union-backed worker centers including the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) have collectively received hundreds of thousands, if not millions (many states have yet to publicly disclose their navigator funding) of taxpayer dollars to help implement Obamacare prior to the government shutdown.

Navigators receive taxpayer funds to support their efforts and earn $58 for every person they enroll. It’s the trifecta for labor groups seeking new revenue, new members and access to non-union workplaces. HHS awarded $67 million to groups nationwide for navigator outreach, and states runningtheir own health care exchanges, such as New York and California, have provided additional funding for the same purpose.

As part of their responsibilities, navigators have access to enrollees’ personal information. ROC is one of dozens of worker centers used by the AFL-CIO and SEIU to dodge labor laws and avoid U.S. Department of Labordisclosure requirements in an effort to organize non-union workplaces.

The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce recently held a hearing on the matter. Despite the controversy surrounding ROC and other worker centers, many have received funding through a variety of federal programs that not only provides them the government’s stamp of approval, but also a platform to recruit new workers into their ranks. The navigator program is the latest ploy by which government funds are being distributed to prop up the groups currently leading union protests against American employers and lobbying labor’s political agenda.

It remains unclear exactly how much funding will be awarded to worker centers because many of the 34 states with exchanges have yet to disclose their funding to navigators. Two prominent worker centers, ROC and the Retail Action Project (RAP), have already been awarded funding. Both RAP and ROC typify the worker center movement. They target non-union retailers and restaurants with raucous protests, pickets and other disruptive tactics. ROC’s tactics have been so aggressive that one judge issued a restraining order against the organization.

In July, RAP – funded and staffed by the United Food and Commercial Workers affiliate the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) – was awarded $115,000 to enroll residents in New York City. ROC will receive government funding for the same purpose, but the exact dollar amount has not yet been publicly disclosed.

That said, ROC is wasting no time getting ready. According to its website, ROC is hiring navigators who have “demonstrated commitment to furthering workers’ rights and empowerment” and have “passion, experience and effectiveness in working towards the advancement of racial, social and economic justice.” Nowhere in the administration’s definition of navigators does it make any mention of these subjective qualities. Navigators are instructed to only offer general guidance, restricted from even recommending one health insurer or plan over another. But labor groups have capitalized on various loopholes in the law allowing them to manipulate the loosely-defined program to meet their own special interests (and apparently use undocumented immigrants to do so).

Before welcoming ROC into the ALF-CIO in September, union leader Richard Trumka openly gushed that ROC is the model for future organizing efforts. Apparently that model includes taxpayers subsidizing special interest groups. Apart from acting as a navigator, ROC has also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Center for Disease Control and other government agencies to advance its ownagenda. Now other worker centers like RAP and Farmworkers for Justice – which received $777,468 in federal navigator funding – will join ROC in using public dollars for outreach that is ultimately political and entirely self-serving.

Although members of Congress may disagree on the merits of Obamacare, hopefully they can agree that implementing the new law will only be more difficult – and ethicly flawed – if worker centers hijack enrollment as a way to conduct membership drives.