Calling on the labor movement to “Finish the job! Make healthcare a human right!,” activists from the Labor Campaign for Single Payer,Labor United for Universal Healthcare and the Campaign for Healthy California were all over last week’s AFL-CIO Convention. They distributed copies of the Open Letter to the AFL-CIO, signed by over 600 union leaders and activists and attended workshops and spoke from the convention floor.
Leslie Lashinsky (AFM), Tom Newman (IATSE) and Betty Madden (IATSE) at the AFL-CIO Convention
Delegates to the Convention overwhelmingly re-affirmed their support for a single-payer, Medicare-for-All healthcare system. One resolution called for Protecting and Expanding Medicare Benefits. It declared the Federation’s “ironclad opposition to any and all proposals to cut Medicare benefits or shift costs to beneficiaries.” “Instead of looking for ways to destroy Medicare,” the resolution concluded, “…we must build on its experience as a single-payer program, demonstrating that single payer is the most cost-effective and equitable way to provide quality health care.”
A second resolution, on the Affordable Care Act presented a bill of particulars regarding union problems and concerns with Obamacare. The resolution went into detail on how the ACA will undermine “…the ability of workers to keep health care coverage through collectively bargained, non-profit Taft-Hartley multiemployer plans.” It declared that, unless changes are made, “…the ACA will effectively use taxpayer dollars to subsidize employers that refuse to take responsibility for providing their employees health care.”
In addition, the resolution cited concerns that the ACA could create “a new underclass of less-than-30-hour workers” and condemned the Act’s “cruel” and “short-sighted” denial of eligibility to immigrants. It reaffirmed the AFL-CIO’s “commitment to pursue health care for all ultimately through a single-payer system.”
Some Convention delegates were reluctant to support this resolution. They argued that it was inappropriate to antagonize the Administration while discussions were still ongoing about the possibility of regulatory changes that could relieve some of the pressures on multiemployer plans. On September 13 (two days after the Convention adjourned), they got their answer. The Treasury Department effectively shut the door to all union fund requests for waivers. As the anti-labor Forbes Magazine declared, “Well played, Mr. President.”
The Labor Campaign for Single Payer will work to transform the “resolutionary politics” of the AFL-CIO Convention into real commitment of resources and organizing capacity at the grassroots of the labor movement. On September 27, union leaders and healthcare justice activists will meet at the California Nurses Association headquarters in Oakland. Together with former State Senator Sheila Kuehl and California Labor Federation President Connie Leyva, they will lay out the agenda and strategy of the Campaign for a Healthy California. This is the type of substantial organizing effort for healthcare justice that labor must lead.
We cannot go backwards. The only effective way to overcome the problems inherent in the ACA is to keep moving forward to healthcare for all.