As the former International President of United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Doug Dority represented 1.3 million members in the U.S. and Canada.
As President of America’s Agenda, Doug brings together labor unions, businesses, healthcare providers and policymakers who share a commitment to advance the mission of affordable, high quality, and accessible healthcare for all American’s.
Join Traci Dority-Shanklin and Tom Shanklin as they explore with Doug Dority the current healthcare crisis – the challenges to solving and/or evolving the system and the cost to employers and their employees.
This is The World of Multiemployer Benefit Funds podcast with your hosts, Tom Shanklin and Traci Dority-Shanklin, managing partners at Sisu Investment Partners. If you’re interested in labor and union benefit funds, well, you’ve landed in the right place. We are a go-to source for all things union benefit fund related, and we are going to bring you interviews with key decision makers and fund professionals that guide these plans. They’ll share their insights, experience, unique perspectives, all of the latest developments, and tips to unlock the mysteries of multiemployer benefit funds. The time is short. So, let’s get started. Please welcome, Tom and Traci.
Traci Dority-Shanklin 0:45
Today, I am very excited about our guest, Douglas Dority. Besides being my Dad, he has had a 44-year career in the labor movement. His career and labor began with the Retail Clerks International Union which merged with the Amalgamated Butchers and Meat Cutters of North America to form the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. He retired from the UFCW in 2004 after serving 10 years as the international president. After retiring from UFCW, he became president of America’s Agenda. America’s Agenda is an alliance that brings together labor unions, businesses, healthcare providers, and policymakers who share a commitment to advance the mission of affordable high-quality and accessible health care for all Americans. Thank you so much for being with us today.
Douglas Dority 1:36
You’re quite welcome.
Traci Dority-Shanklin 1:38
I thought we’d start off by asking you to tell us a little bit about the various positions you held. You had quite the path and we’d like to hear a little bit about it.
Douglas Dority 1:48
Well, I started off in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1961. As, uh, organizer, I spent six or seven years organizing in various states and on various campaigns, and then I was promoted to assistant director in Cincinnati. From there, I was moved to Philadelphia as assistant director and then from Philadelphia to Washington as Director of the National Director of Organizing. And later on, I was moved to New York to be the director of that region. I was in New York for nine years and then moved back to Washington DC as a director of organizing and from that position, later became international president.
Tom Shanklin 2:35
Doug, could you briefly explain the importance of the pension and the health and welfare funds and what they mean to the union members?
Douglas Dority 2:43
Well, that’s quite an easy task. The- it means everything to our members, it’s probably the most important benefit that our members enjoy as a result of being members of UFCW or any labor organization, particularly in the health and welfare. Health and welfare of late have been so important to everyone and – and with the possibility of more people losing insurance and the fact that there’s always been a large number of uninsured, working Americans in this country, and with the highest cost insurance in the world, and people that have families see their premiums going up so high that – that many of them just can’t afford them. And the other thing is that many companies that would like to provide insurance for their workers and for their employees find that they can no longer afford them because the cost of insurance is going up by double digit inflation almost every year.
Traci Dority-Shanklin 3:44
This leads us right into your role with America’s Agenda. What are the trends you are witnessing in the health care movement?
Douglas Dority 3:51
Well, the year before I retired as international president, which was 2004, we had a strike with our three largest employers and we had great relationships with our employers, but we ended up on strike and in Southern California of all places where we had almost everybody in the industry organized. But the strike was over the fact that the cost of health care and pension kept going up so vastly every contract negotiations that the employer started to take position that they were going to start shifting the cost to the workers and our members, who are their workers, decided that they were willing to fight for that. And we did.
Douglas Dority 4:34
We had a – had a long strike. It lasted for 140 days; involved 70,000 of our members and almost every store in Southern California was a grocery store was affected by this, and it was a terrible experience for everyone. The companies lost billions of dollars in sales. The union, I know for a fact, lost $350 million in benefits that we paid to our members to as strike benefits, and as hardship funds, and our members lost even more, because they actually lost their incomes with just the augmentation of what we could give them in strike benefits. And, and, and this strike was over something that was neither the fault of the union or the company. It was the fault of the fact that health care costs continue to go up every year.
Douglas Dority 5:26
And when you start thinking about double-digit inflation every year and the fact that every single year fewer and fewer employers can afford to give healthcare to their workers, it makes for a situation that’s neither the employers’ fault or the union’s fault. So, we had a terrible, terrible strike that adversely impacted our union and impacted the companies, but mostly impacted our workers, the members that we represented. It just didn’t make any sense. It was something that we could neither the company or the union could – could have any real effect on.
Traci Dority-Shanklin 6:05
So, do you think Obamacare did enough to help solve our health care crisis?
Douglas Dority 6:11
Well, even before Obama was elected, I went to help to form America’s Agenda Healthcare for All. And we lobbied in various states where we thought we had the political strength to get health care passed on a statewide basis. And of course, we lobbied in favor of Obamacare. But the bottom line is that Obamacare had so many people with differing – differing views trying to put their two cents worth in. It – it became very complicated.
Douglas Dority 6:42
But I can tell you this that it helped a hell of a lot of people get healthcare people who wouldn’t have had it. It accomplished one of the main goals we had that people that had medical conditions that we’re prohibited from even buying insurance, we’re permitted to do so, and insurance companies couldn’t cancel somebody’s insurance and get rid of them because they had health problems. So that was a major, major accomplishment.
Douglas Dority 7:09
And – and it did help. But it’s like any piece of legislation that’s passed. It should have been amended, year after year after year and improved each year. Instead, we had a political situation where the Republican party who was against the healthcare bill tried to dismantle it every year and get rid of it. So, nothing was ever, ever added to it to make it the kind of deal it should have been.
Tom Shanklin 7:38
Well, given that, I guess what, what needs to be done going forward to get some sort of momentum to get things on the right track? And we’re certainly dealing with – with a divisive Congress right now and what are our best hopes in terms of seeing some progress in this area?
Douglas Dority 7:54
Well, I think the only hope we have is the American people, rising up and saying enough is enough. We’ve had healthcare’s been the third rail in political situation in this country for years. Everybody’s known how important it is and how critical it is. And yet everybody keeps promising to do something about it, but nobody does it.
Douglas Dority 8:16
And it’s time that the American voters and the American people start saying hey, enough is enough. You guys go in and let’s get some healthcare passed that is meaningful, that provides health care, comprehensive health care for every American, and – and does not allow all price gouging and all the shenanigans that are going on in healthcare to continue to exist because we still pay more than any other country in the world. Think about that. And – and we have every year we have more and more Americans that go without any insurance at all.
Traci Dority-Shanklin 8:55
One of the things personally that I’ve witnessed happening is this pass through of costs. Is there anything that we can do to, I guess, better educate the consumer on how to have a voice where healthcare reform is concerned?
Douglas Dority 9:17
Well, people that – that go out to have medical situations worked on are not consumers. The reasons they’re not consumers is because they don’t have any idea what it’s going to cost them to go to a doctor. And there’s no way of telling what the doctor is going to charge, what the hospital is going to charge, what they’re going to charge for blood tests, or anything else. And that’s one of the big problems. People can’t be consumers unless they have the ability to make the choice about what they’re getting. And that’s not happening in this country. And that’s just one of the many things that’s going on that – that need to be corrected.
Traci Dority-Shanklin 9:58
What do you believe that biggest challenge is for unions today in keeping their both their health and welfare and their pension fund healthy?
Douglas Dority 10:09
Well, the problem that all unions are facing, and particularly the union’s that participate in America’s Agenda, I can speak about their problems a lot more coherently than I could anyone else’s. But the bottom line is that healthcare costs continue to go up on a double-digit inflation basis every year. So that puts more and more of the dollars that are necessary to get a settlement when you go to if you go and negotiate with an employer for say, a three-year contract.
Douglas Dority 10:43
They’ve got so much money to spend and you’ve got to figure out how to get as much as you can to take care of the increased cost in – in health and welfare. Then you have because the markets are not totally stabilized, you have increased cost in pension benefits. And then you get around to wanting to give people a wage increase, so that they can continue to live at the same standard of living. So, it’s a very, very monumental problem that needs to be worked on and needs to be addressed. But I can tell you this, I know that we, the union, that I represented had 1,300,000 members, a little over 300,000 of those members were in Canada, and the Canadian healthcare plan was such that – that you didn’t have to go in and negotiate anything in the way of healthcare there because it was taken care of on the fact of a national plan.
Douglas Dority 11:38
In the United States, of course, we don’t, and the healthcare costs are much higher. But the fact of the matter is that it complicated the negotiations so much more in the United States than it did in Canada, that I’m a great believer that we need some kind of national health insurance that may not be practical and may not be possible, but we certainly have to start moving in that direction. And we still have to do something that will stabilize and – and bring the cost of healthcare dollars spent on healthcare into line with what the rest of the economy is going. We know there’s going to be inflation. But does healthcare dollars need to be four or five times higher than the normal inflation? I don’t think so.
Tom Shanklin 12:22
Doug, work – the working people today, there’s clearly never been a greater need for an advocate out there. And I think the time is ripe for labor unions in general to come out and become a voice for the people. What can unions do that might help them become more relevant and more vocal in advocating worker rights in today’s world?
Douglas Dority 12:47
Well, the first thing to do is that needs to be done is they need to change some of the labor laws. The labor laws in this country make it much, much harder to organize. Say, for instance, what they do in Canada. In Canada, we see our membership in Canada continuing to grow every year. And in the United States, it’s leveled off and we have to fight all kinds of battles to try to keep it stabilized.
Douglas Dority 13:13
And many unions in this country are losing jobs, particularly those – those unions in the manufacturing industry. So, if you can’t figure a way to get your message across because the labor laws are so restrictive, that they – they give the employers all the advantage and the workers no advantage, then it’s going to be hard for the labor unions to – to change what’s going on in American society.
Traci Dority-Shanklin 13:39
Really important. Is there anything that we’ve missed that you’d like to address regarding the healthcare crisis?
Douglas Dority 13:46
Well, one of the things we’re doing in America’s Agenda and it’s in a – it’s in a small way at this time, but it’s starting to get some traction is we’re trying to redesign the healthcare system involving doctors and medical operations and insurance companies so that we save a lot of the extra cost that’s being burned up and – and misused and – and very frankly abused and wasted in this society that we’re in.
Douglas Dority 14:17
So, that’s one of the ways, but the real life is for people in general to get so upset over the fact that they can’t perceive their family continuing to have health care in this country, because the rising cost that they rise up and they vote for politicians and insist that they do something to improve the healthcare system, the way it’s delivered, the cost, the waste, and a lot of the things that are going on now. So that would be my only suggestion.
Traci Dority-Shanklin 14:48
Which is an excellent suggestion. I had the opportunity to travel with you to Oklahoma to see some clinics. Can you tell us a little bit about that project and how America’s Agenda foresees possibly expanding on it?
Douglas Dority 15:04
Well, this is a situation where we’re working with Spirit Airlines in – in Oklahoma and the United Auto Workers, and we basically set up clinics that are offering concierge service and medical needs service to our – the members that work in – in these plans is set up on the basis of very simple basis set. When you go in, you mean something. You’re important. You go in and – and people pay attention to you as an individual. The doctors, and this is a requirement that we have when hiring doctors and by the way, the Union and the company both interview the doctors to make sure they’re being the kind of doctors we want them to be. And that’s somebody that’s attentive, that’s – that’s more concerned with the individual and it is running a treadmill where they’ve got to bring people in and get them out of the clinic and in a short period of time and spend just a little time with them as possible.
Douglas Dority 16:05
In our situation that people go in, they have – they get appointments, either the same day they call for the appointment or the next day, they’re guaranteed appointments. When they first go in, they get anywhere from 25 to 40 minutes of time with the doctor, not in the doctor’s position. The doctor then finds out what their medical history is, goes through a complete list of all the things that they see need to be done and do as many of them as they can. They don’t send somebody over to another doctor just because they feel compelled to not do it that they’re compelled to do it. In fact, if for instance, little things like freezing a blemish on your arm off and instead of sending them to a dermatologist to do that, where they charge a big fee, they do it right there in the office. If there’s other little things that need to be done – a lot of bloodwork and so forth that need to be done. If they need medicine, they literally give them the medicine and the top 50 prescriptions that are prescribed in this country are given free to members coming into these clinics.
Douglas Dority 17:18
And they go out and they feel like they’re important. They feel like they’ve been – had their physical needs met, and they go out and they rave about what great service they got. And this is because this is the way medicine should be. It shouldn’t be this thing where you go in, you get weighed, you get nurse that comes in and talks to you for a minute. And then you get a physician’s assistant that comes in and talks to you for a minute. And then you get a doctor that comes in, they answer that question. If you try to bring up something else that needs to be done, they say, well, we’re going to have to set up another appointment for that and send you on your way. That’s part of what the problem is in healthcare in this country and – and we think we’ve come up with a better way. And I’m sure we’re seeing more and more of these clinics, both some that we’re affiliated with and have something to do with and others that are just popping up all over the country that we think are going to help the – the healthcare condition and help lower cost.
Traci Dority-Shanklin 18:17
I think the biggest takeaway for me during the visit was also the attention paid to prevention and the educational pieces that they’re providing in the office for the members for some of the more chronic diseases and more regular diseases, I should say. I said more often, people come down with it with heart disease and or diabetes are preventable with prevention and education. And I thought that was amazing.
Douglas Dority 18:47
Well, and the – the other thing on that is that our physicians are rewarded on the basis of what you just said. They’re rewarded on – on if it’s somebody who’s a diabetic, they get in – their incentivized and monetarily advantaged when they – they cause the number of their patients A1C to go down, or if they’re – they bring a heart patient’s high blood pressure down or if they do other medical improvements.
Douglas Dority 19:17
The other thing that I think is very critical is that these doctors are required to give the patients their cell phone number. Think about that. You try to call a doctor and I know quite often I try myself and I wish I could find a clinic like this that I could go to, but the bottom line is you try to call a doctor and – and usually you’ll get a call back in two or three days, and it’s never from the doctor or almost never from the doctor. It’s from – from somebody saying that doctor so and so ask them to call back and tell you this or tell you that and it’s very little information. There’s very little flow in terms of what’s wrong, what you really need help with medically, and with the doctor trying to solve your problems medically.
Traci Dority-Shanklin 20:03
Well, I don’t have any other questions. That was amazing. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. And, Tom, do you have anything you’d like to add?
Tom Shanklin 20:10
I think that touches a lot of points that really a lot of people are concerned about a lot of the issues that are in the headlines today. And I think there’s a consensus that something needs to be done. It’s just a matter of getting the momentum and getting some people to motivate. And I think you’re right, Doug, I think it starts with the politicians and getting people who are listening to the people and then you start to follow that up with the legislation. And it’s just – there’s a whole mindset here that has to change. But – but thank you for bringing all this to the table for us today.
Douglas Dority 20:42
Traci Dority-Shanklin 20:43
With that, we will close this amazing conversation with Douglas Dority. If you thought this episode was valuable, please share it. Our goal is to expand this much needed healthcare conversation. Thank you so much for listening, and we hope you’ll listen to our next episode.
And that’s it for this week’s episode of The World of Multiemployer Benefit Funds podcast. We would love to hear from you. And if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, head over to www.multiemployerfunds.com and let us know. Tom and Traci, thank you for joining us, and we look forward to next time.
For even more information and resources, head over now to www.multiemployerfunds.com and get involved.