By Mark Gruenberg
2 September 2007
WASHINGTON – Labor unions will make achievement of affordable, universal health care the centerpiece of the 2008 election drive, elevating the issue to the top of the national domestic agenda, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney announced.
Sweeney chose his annual review of the state of unions and workers Aug. 29 to lambaste the Bush administration and politicians in general for failing to tackle key problems, such as declining health insurance coverage and the lack of the right to organize.
But he spent more time talking about the future than about the past, saying the AFL-CIO, with other union allies–including Change to Win and possibly the National Education Association–will concentrate on an intensive, many-layered educational campaign on health care between now and November 2008, and stretching beyond that, to holding politicians accountable for fixing the mess in 2009.
Health care will take precedence over other worker causes, including the Employee Free Choice Act and the right to organize, Sweeney added. But those will not be ignored. Instead, they along with health care will be part of labor’s giant educational campaign on how to create an economy that works for working families.
The importance of the health care issue was highlighted by Census Bureau data issued the day before, which showed a record 47 million people are uninsured and that, for the first time, the percentage of large corporations that offer health insurance to their workers has slid below 60 percent. Millions more are underinsured and health insurance at smaller firms is spotty or non-existent.
And even at the larger firms, workers are being forced to pay higher premiums and co-pays, coverage is being cut, health care costs are the No. 1 issue in bargaining and retiree coverage is being eliminated, Sweeney said.
“Health care is the top domestic issue for our members and all Americans, and the AFL-CIO is making the 2008 elections a mandate on fixing our broken system. We will hold candidates at every level responsible for supporting comprehensive, progressive national health care reform and we will elect a president and a Congress prepared to turn their campaign promises into reality,” he declared.
Though “we’ll put more of our resources than ever before” into the massive educational and political campaign on health care, the federation will not take a stand now for a particular piece of legislation or for or against a particular Democratic candidate’s health care program, Sweeney said.
In response to a question, Sweeney said a single-payer government-run health care bill, HR 676 by veteran pro-labor Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., which would abolish the insurance companies and their role, is a possibility, along with others. The Conyers legislation has been endorsed by the Minnesota AFL-CIO and 21 other state labor federations, along with hundreds of unions and central labor councils.
The federation has previously backed Medicare-for-all legislation–which would expand the federal health care program to everyone but leave some role for private insurers–sponsored by Senate Labor Committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), House Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and House Health Subcommittee Chairman Pete Stark (D-Calif.).
Sweeney also pointed out that unions will keep pushing states to act on health care, citing California, which has one-eighth of the U.S. population. California AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski said state legislators there are in intense negotiations over a plan that would mandate all employers cover workers or pay into a state fund that does so.
Other details of the AFL-CIO plan:
* The federation will “build an army of 1 million activists” on health care, drawing them from labor organizations and Working America, the AFL-CIO affiliate for people who cannot join unions.
* The federation and the National Labor College will train activists in the issue, who in turn will be expected to train their colleagues, especially to meet attacks on health care reform from the drug industry and insurance companies.
* The first step will be to defend the State Childrens Health Insurance Program and its expansion against a Bush veto plan. “No child should go without a polio shot or a pre-school (health) exam because George Bush threatens to veto funding for a children’s health program.” Sweeney said. The Democratic-run Congress wants to expand the SCHIP program, which now covers 6-million-plus poor kids, to cover another 9 million.
Mark Gruenberg writes for Press Associates, Inc., news service. Used by permission.
For more information
See the Workday Minnesota special section: The Health Care Crisis: Growing Consensus for Change
Visit the AFL-CIO’s special webpages on health care, http://www.aflcio.org/issues/healthcare/