Opinion

Labor to Lara: Cutting group insurance discounts is wrong

Construction workers in Bakersfield on the job at a shopping center project. (Photo: Richard Thornton, via Shutterstock)

Across California today, more than 60,000 young men and women are working as apprentices in the construction and building trades – earning a good blue-collar wage even as they learn the skills of electrical, masonry, plumbing and other well-paying professions. Thousands more are enrolled in pre-apprenticeship programs.

These budding tradesmen and tradeswomen come overwhelmingly from underprivileged communities, and more than two-thirds are people of color. In fact, in every region of the state, the percentage of black and Latino apprentices far exceeds the percentage in the general population.

The Department of Insurance is considering sharp limitations on these discounts that would make it much more difficult to offer this benefit to union members.

California labor unions are proud of the role we play in helping to build bridges to the middle class for those in underserved communities.

We will always fight to protect the interests of these workers. That’s why we are urging Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara to reject proposed new regulations that could eliminate group insurance discounts that we provide our members.

Through their unions, these workers and all members of the LA/OC Building Trades are able to receive group discounts on auto insurance – a significant benefit that saves a couple hundred dollars a year for workers.

The Department of Insurance is considering sharp limitations on these discounts that would make it much more difficult to offer this benefit to union members. The department’s stated goal is to expand these affinity discounts to more low-income and underserved communities, but the proposals being considered run counter to that goal.

The fact is that California law already strongly protects against discrimination in setting auto insurance rates.

For instance, proposed regulations would prohibit discounts offered through “occupational based groups” – an overly broad phrase that could be interpreted to prevent unionized laborers or janitors from joining together to realize important savings.

In addition, the proposed regulations could restrict discounts to only members of the participating group and not their spouses or dependents. That would create a hardship for the families of workers whose labor provides the primary source of income that enables them to keep a roof over their heads and bread on the table.

The fact is that affinity discounts in auto insurance have existed for decades, and millions of Californians from all walks of life – teachers, seniors, trade workers, small business owners and many others – take advantage of these programs to stretch their budgets by lowering their insurance premiums.

To eliminate these savings would hurt working people by raising their car insurance costs by hundreds every year.

The department’s stated concern is to protect the interests of motorists in underserved communities. If there was a true question of equity involved, it would be a different story. But the fact is that California law already strongly protects against discrimination in setting auto insurance rates.

To severely restrict or eliminate group discounts would simply punish the millions of working Californians who now participate.

These last 16 months have been tough on working Californians. To a large degree, governments at every level have stepped up to help by providing direct cash relief, expanded unemployment benefits, rent forgiveness, lower-cost health insurance and other assistance.

Now is not the time for any government agency to adopt policies that would take money from the pockets of hard-working Californians.

Editor’s Note: Ron Miller is executive secretary of the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building & Construction Trades Council. 

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