On eve of national health care vote…Grassroots labor leaders vow stronger, long-term campaign to support “Medicare for All” approach to health care reform

Over 125 activists from across U.S. plot strategy for coordinated grassroots campaign to win single payer healthcare

Silver Spring, MD – More than 125 union leaders and activists from 25 states gathered at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, MD last weekend to strategize about next steps at the state and national level to win comprehensive health care reform. The group is promoting a “single-payer” reform plan that would work like the Medicare program, except improved and expanded to cover everyone.

The national meeting was the second convened by the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer Healthcare which is spearheaded by trade union organizations. The group supports the national single-payer bill, HR 676 that has been endorsed by 39 state AFL-CIO federations, 135 Central Labor Councils, 22 international/national unions and more than 500 local unions. The bill has 87 co-sponsors in Congress.

Conference participants celebrated a significant achievement since their first meeting in St. Louis last year. After receiving a record number of resolutions from the grassroots, the AFL-CIO unanimously passed a resolution supporting the Medicare for All approach to health care reform at its national convention in September 2009. AFL-CIO resolution 34 stated, “In building on Medicare to move toward a universal program, we can find a practical, achievable and affordable solution to our country’s health care crisis.” The resolution committed the AFL-CIO to, “mobilize our members to build support for bold, meaningful and comprehensive reform and work to pass legislation that assures everyone comprehensive coverage.”

“All of us involved in the fight for health care reform know that single payer is the only real solution,” said Larry Cohen, President, Communications Workers of America. “Everything else is just a step along the way. Our union is committed to single payer, to bringing our health care system into the 21 century.”

Other speakers at the conference included national union officers, AFL-CIO Executive Council members, AFL-CIO state federation and central labor council presidents along with many other major union leaders. A list of conference speakers is at the end of this news release.

Over the course of the weekend meeting, delegates heard presentations on “Lessons from the Past and Prospects for the Future,” “Strategies to Move Forward,” Impact of the Health Care Crisis on Collective Bargaining” and how to deepen labor’s support for Medicare for All at all levels of our organizations.

Congressman John Conyers, the lead sponsor of HR 676, participated in the entire conference. He gave a keynote presentation on “Current Legislative Issues and the Future of HR 676,” and he and his staff frequently lent their expertise and political savvy to the discussions.

Delegates were also treated to a rousing speech from Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards. “Just because a health care reform bill is passed and signed into law this year doesn’t mean that our fight is over,” she said. “We’ve got to redouble our efforts for legislation that will provide real health care for all.”

Participants vigorously discussed and debated strategies to promote single payer reform within the labor movement while developing action plans for securing more support within their unions and communities.

“Achieving Medicare for All is critical to the future of the labor movement,” said David Newby President of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO. “Our movement is growing because the proposed national reforms fall far short of the health security that all workers need. Our economic future depends on making the right policy choices on health care — and that’s single payer.”

“Our meeting highlighted the serious grassroots organizing that thousands of workers and their unions are doing to change the terms of the debate on health care reform,” said Martha Kuhl, Secretary-Treasurer of the National Nurses United and a working nurse. “Still, many unions need to expand member-to-member education so that workers understand that an improved and expanded Medicare for All is the best solution to the health care crisis. We emphasized the need for union activists to redouble their efforts to push some labor leaders to actually lead on this issue.”

“In virtually every contract negotiation, employers are seeking to shift the cost of health care to workers. It has resulted in highly contentious bargaining and many strikes. For the vast majority of workers without a union, the situation is even more desperate. A publicly financed, national health care plan similar to our Medicare system that could efficiently cover all Americans is the only solution that will control costs, increase access and improve the quality of care,” said Jeff Crosby, president of the North Shore Labor Council in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Speakers at the conference included:

  • Stewart Acuff, Special Assistant to the President, Utility Workers Union of America
  • Larry Cohen, President, Communications Workers of America
  • Jeff Cosby, President, Health Care Consumer Collections & Billing Council
  • Donna Dewitt, President, South Carolina AFL-CIO
  • Peter Knowlton, New England Regional President, United Electrical Workers
  • Michael Lighty, Director of Public Policy, National Nurses United
  • David Newby, President, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO
  • Clyde Rivers, Past President, California School Employees Association
  • Robert Score, Recording Secretary, Local One, Theatrical Stage Employees, IATSE
  • Kay Tillow, All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care
  • Jos Williams, President, Washington DC Central Labor Council
  • Nancy Wohlforth, member, AFL-CIO Executive Council

Conference speakers and other participants are available for interviews about the single payer approach to health care reform and the labor movement’s campaign to win it.

Download a PDF of this press release

Labor for Single Payer Healthcare

AVideo clip of CWA President Larry Cohen speaking at the conference

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