At Labor Notes: Organizing Our Way Out of “Labor’s Healthcare Muddle”

When activists from UNITEHERE—the union of hospitality industry workers—were recently lobbying in Washington DC in an effort to get relief from some of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that are undermining the hard won healthcare coverage of the union’s mostly low-wage membership, they were told by an aide to New Jersey Senator Menendez that, “Labor needs to regress to the mean.”

Of course, under the laws of mathematics, if you only reduce those factors that exceed a mean, the mean itself constantly adjusts downward. In that context, another term for “regress to the mean” is “race to the bottom”.

For many workers, the ACA is having that exact effect. UNITEHERE’s recently released report Making Inequality Worse documents how Obamacare, supported by many unions as a means of leveling the playing field between union and non-union workers, is having the perverse and opposite effect of increasing inequality.

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New York Labor Gets Behind Single-Payer

The Gottfried-Perkins Bill got a shot in the arm on February 17 when two large statewide unions-1199 SEIU and CWA District 1–and the Working Families Party announced their support on February 17. “The passage of Obamacare represented a huge advance in this country,” said CWA District 1 Political Director Bob Master, “but it is not enough.”

The Gottfried-Perkins Bill would establish New York Health: a publicly funded universal healthcare plan for all New Yorkers with no premiums, deductibles or co-pays. 73 out of 150 state assembly members have endorsed it. The Bill faces a more difficult path in the state senate where a small group of renegade Democrats have joined with the Republican minority to block progressive initiatives.

The new union endorsers join long-time single-payer supporting unions in New York State including the New York State Nurses Association, the Public Employees Federation and Local One IATSE. “As tireless advocates of patient care, registered nurses of New York state are proud to stand with Assembly Health Committee Chair, Richard Gottfried, state Senator Bill Perkins, and countless other patient advocates in support of the New York health bill,” said Lisa Blodgett, a registered nurse and member of the New York Nurse’s Association.”There’s a health care crisis throughout our state and the only solution is a single payer system that guarantees quality health care to all.”

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After the State of the Union: Make Healthcare Justice Part of the “Year of Action”

Supporters of the social insurance model breathed a sigh of relief when President Obama failed to include any reference to a “grand bargain” in his January 27 State of the Union address. “This is a huge shift that comes as a direct result of Americans of all political stripes calling for Social Security benefits to be expanded—not cut,” says Michael Phelan of Social Security Works.

Instead, the President called for a “year of action” that would focus on inequality. Proposals include a much-needed increase in the minimum wage and earned income credit, universal pre-kindergarten, addressing women’s wage inequities and expanding assistance for unemployed Americans.

While these proposals, if enacted, may put a small dent in the vast and growing inequalities generated by the U.S. political economy, much more needs to be done. And, as Dr. Martin Luther King said in 1966, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.”

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