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2012 Power 50: No. 44 Joseph T. Hansen

Joseph T. Hansen has been working overtime.

As the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Hansen has been meeting with top retailers and top government officials to try to figure out how health care reform will play out for the union’s 1 million-plus members employed at supermarkets and other businesses in the U.S.

“We’ve pulled our top people together, and I and some of my key staff people have spent innumerable hours with [President Obama’s] administration and with the Department of Health and Human Services trying to develop these policies,” Hansen said.

He spoke with SN shortly before the Supreme Court last month ruled in favor of health care reform — which has loomed large in labor contract negotiations this year.

Deliberating without knowing whether health care reform would get the go-ahead from the Supreme Court has been a challenge for both the UFCW and the employers, Hansen explained.

“Quite frankly, we’ve viewed it as a problem, because there’s a void in the law that doesn’t cover Taft-Hartley plans, which are the plans that cover most of the retail employees and companies in the U.S., and have proven to be good, efficient providers of health care.”

In the meantime, the union has been negotiating a lot of short-term contracts that expire at the end of 2013, before the Affordable Care Act takes effect on Jan. 1, 2014. Some contracts that have a “reopener” at that date to renegotiate health care benefits.

Hansen gives credit to the supermarket companies on the Joint Labor Management Committee of the Food Industry, which include Kroger, Safeway, Supervalu, Ahold and others.

“We have been trying to go at this in a cooperative way,” Hansen said. “It’s going to be a challenge, but we think we are pretty well prepared.”

In 2005, Congress named Hansen as one of 14 members of Citizens’ Health Care Working Group to bring the views of Americans to lawmakers.

Hansen also has been active in working on pension reform and on creating a new pension strategy with Cincinnati-based Kroger Co.

Burt Flickinger, managing director, Strategic Resource Group, New York, said Hansen should be applauded for his “heroic” work on pension reform.

“Joe’s view of the future and the things that need to be corrected for the health of the employees [and their employers] has been unprecedented,” he said.

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