As the AFL-CIO prepares for its quadrennial convention September 8-11 in Los Angeles, a number of unions have gone public to expose the new stresses that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) places on their ability to negotiate decent healthcare for their members and retirees. This is particularly true for union-supported Taft Hartley Funds, long the healthcare gold standard for working Americans.
These complaints have been exploited by anti-labor, right wing ideologues to undermine the very idea of healthcare reform. Some in labor will use these attacks to call for a circling of the wagons around Obamacare. We in the Labor Campaign for Single Payer maintain that such a response is self-defeating. Rather, we believe that this crisis is an important organizing opportunity to unify the labor movement around the continuing fight for healthcare justice.
We have drafted the below Open Letter to the AFL-CIO from Concerned Trade Unionists to President Richard Trumka and will distribute it at the Los Angeles Convention. Please consider signing it to add your voice to the growing grassroots labor movement for single-payer Medicare for All. Signatures must be submitted by Thursday, September 5.
Finish the Job! Make Healthcare a Human Right.
An Open Letter to the AFL-CIO from Concerned Trade Unionists.
Dear President Trumka,
On January 1, 2014 millions of Americans will become eligible for no-cost or subsidized healthcare under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). There is no doubt that this is a monumental political achievement. One only has to look at how difficult it was to pass the ACA and the continued obstructionism of its opponents to understand the powerful forces opposed to healthcare justice in any form.
Almost without exception, unions supported the ACA. Most did so because they saw it as a modest and achievable reform that could mitigate the combined effects of rising costs, decreasing quality and increasing numbers of uninsured and underinsured faced by working families everywhere. Many saw it as a first down payment on real reform that would make healthcare a right for everyone in America through expanded and improved Medicare for all.
When labor went all-out to support the ACA, we did not anticipate the devastating impact it would have on Multi Employer Taft Hartley Funds.
We did not anticipate that our non-profit, worker friendly plans would be forced to pay a hefty “reinsurance fee” to subsidize the risk taking of private insurance corporations.
We did not anticipate the acceleration of race to the bottom pressures caused by the Cadillac Tax and the low standards of the tiered exchange plans.
We did not anticipate that it would encourage the insidious creep of hard won employer-provided coverage towards defined contribution plans.
Nor did we anticipate that the Obama administration would ignore legitimate labor requests for relief and adjustment while bending over backwards to accommodate business and private insurance interests.
All of this is creating division in the house of labor. While many raise legitimate issues, some in labor have begun to call for the repeal of Obamacare. These divisions have been exploited by the enemies of labor to advance their own anti-worker, anti-healthcare justice agenda.
The tragedy is that a model for healthcare reform existed right within the labor movement. Multi Employer Plans have long provided a vehicle for continuity in coverage, particularly for employees in seasonal, temporary or part time jobs. Their non-profit healthcare model has been the gold standard for millions of workers and retirees. A real reform could have built upon this model and expanded it to everyone.
Yet this model of care is one that is most threatened by the ACA. We would not be in this boat if the crafters of the ACA had looked to the labor movement for guidance rather than relying on insurance industry lobbyists whose business model relies on a failing employment-based system and whose profits depend on shifting costs onto the backs of workers while reducing choice and quality of care.
We believe that this is not the time to turn our backs on health care reform and advancing the cause of health care justice. Rather, we must push the envelope further.
America’s working families need a healthcare system, not a healthcare industry. They need healthcare that is affordable, guaranteed and accessible to all without regard to age, employment status, income or geography. They need a system like every other industrialized country in the world where healthcare is a birthright, not a commodity.
Only labor can lead this fight. The business community’s lockstep adherence to a failing ideology blinds them to the benefits they would enjoy under a single payer healthcare system. It would create more agile enterprises, a more productive workforce and unleash greater entrepreneurial creativity. And, for both business and labor, it would take healthcare off the bargaining table and establish predictable and equitable costs, eliminating competitive disadvantages
Seldom in American history have such powerful economic and reactionary forces been so mightily aligned against such a moral and just cause. The viciousness and extremism of the enemies of healthcare justice defies description. Their intent is to convince the American people that all reform is impossible because the enemy is too powerful.
Labor did not win its place in American society by backing away from such challenges. Rather, labor’s greatest advances have been made in times of trouble when it has aligned its interests with those of the vast majority of Americans who work for a living.
We are encouraged and inspired by the AFL-CIO’s leadership in calling on all union members to join the discussion on building a revitalized labor movement that will speak for all working people. We believe that continuing the fight for healthcare justice is a central part of this agenda.
We urge the AFL-CIO to take the lead to mobilize support for single payer healthcare among other stakeholders including religious, community and poor people’s organizations and among the sick, healthcare providers and the small business community. We hope that this September’s quadrennial convention takes up this historic task.
As a first step, the AFL-CIO should endorse national single-payer legislation such as HR 676 sponsored by Representative John Conyers and endorsed by hundreds of local unions and labor councils and pending legislation that will be submitted by Senator Bernie Sanders. In addition, support and resources are needed for a number of state campaigns from Vermont to California that seek to utilize the 2017 innovation waivers under the ACA to put their states on the path to healthcare for all.
Note: Because this is a letter from concerned trade unionists, only union members are asked to sign this form, but feel free to distribute it widely in your community.