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Brokering Commercial Lines Insurance for Unions (a Q&A with Sally Corbin)

May 24, 2023

Sally Corbin has spent a career “laser-focused” on unions. Twenty-six years ago, she and her father founded Union Services Agency, a brokerage dedicated to providing commercial lines insurance to labor organizations, multiemployer funds and public sector entities. Last year, Corbin sold the agency to Segal. In a Q&A with Ullico, Corbin shared what makes the union market unique and how Ullico’s relationship with Great American Insurance Company is a good thing for brokers and their clients.

You’re an insurance broker serving a unique market. As a specialist, what have you learned that generalists might not know?

It’s a finite space. As you get to know insurance carriers, they’ll give you a list of their appetites, that is, what risks they’re interested in underwriting. What I’ve learned is that it’s rare for insurance carriers to include unions on that list.

During the past five to 10 years, more carriers have entered the space and shown interest in writing for labor unions, but more often than not, they say they’re not interested in writing for this class of business.

What’s the problem? Why do insurance carriers shy away from underwriting for labor unions?

Labor unions are misunderstood. Some carriers don’t always have a complete or balanced understanding of the risks that labor unions face. One of my roles has been to educate carriers. I feel that’s part of my responsibility, to educate them this is a good book of business in which they should take an interest.

It’s important to note that unions are highly regulated by the Department of Labor and OSHA. They endure a lot of scrutiny and regulation. When you explain to carriers the long history and high level of safety standards associated with unions, that bodes well. Those are good stories.

Even if they don’t understand the risks, some carriers insure unions, but on an ad hoc basis. You’re skeptical about how well this works for unions. What are your concerns?

Let’s say there’s a broker who writes policies for a lot of manufacturing accounts with a particular carrier. Let’s say they have a prospective union client and they’ve convinced the carrier to write for it. You wonder about those scenarios. Is the client getting what they deserve?

Carriers who don’t know the market will put very exclusionary endorsements on a policy, because they don’t understand the business in which our clients are engaged on a daily basis. Some unions might not even know about the exclusions until a specialized broker looks at them.

A specialized broker can look at a commercial policy, and even if there are exclusions, they can make sure they’re picked up in other policies. You need to know where coverage ends and where it can be picked up somewhere else. It’s important to know where you can get coverage.

What I’m hearing is that unions may not get the best coverage if or when carriers treat them as part of a broader risk category?

Here’s another example. Maybe the carrier is used to writing for schools, so they agree to write for a union training and apprenticeship program, but they don’t really know or understand how highly specialized and how highly regulated apprenticeships are for safety issues.

Very high standards of safety are put in place. Not every insurance carrier would know that unless they worked with apprenticeships on a regular basis, so the writing may include endorsements that are oppressive to the union policyholder.

I’m also hearing that it’s important to engage with a specialized broker, someone who knows the union market.

Most of my clients have always seemed to appreciate working with a broker who can speak the same language. The important thing is that you understand their risk. I’ve tried to be a student of multiemployer funds.

Certainly, as labor union leaders progress through their careers, they quickly become aware of their personal liability. They realize it’s far better to communicate with a broker who understands their risks, who can explain what coverages are available to them, and who can advise them on good risk management strategies.

They already know, as union members, that it makes a difference who you build with, that you’re using a union contractor. They believe that inherently, so they get why using a specialized broker or carrier makes a difference.

Ullico recently collaborated with Great American Insurance Company to offer a commercial lines program. What does that mean to you and your clients?

It’s wonderful. When Ullico endorses a carrier, it says to me, as a specialized broker, that they’ve identified a carrier who has made a commitment to the union market. It says to me that Great American has been a good listener and student, that they understand our clients’ risks.

Our clients have a responsibility to find the broadest coverage endorsements available. Having another carrier in the market certainly gives us an opportunity to support our clients in their due diligence, to help find the broadest policies at competitive rates.

I would also add that we’re excited to hear that Great American has made a commitment at the national level. Some carriers will only concentrate on accounts in a particular region. For example, a carrier might write labor union clients on the West Coast, but not in the Midwest. That makes it very difficult if an insurance brokerage firm is working with national accounts. What Great American is doing, by underwriting across the United States, is important for our clients.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.