DETROIT — Almost every hand went up when John Dick asked the audience: “Who knows someone without health care?”

Dick, from National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 3126 in Royal Oak, Mich., was giving a presentation on the need for national health care at the Metro Detroit Labor Council office. He emphasized that “30 cents out of every one dollar spent for health care goes to the insurance companies and 50 percent of all bankruptcies are caused by medical bills.”

Not so long ago, he too was one the victims. In 1994, Dick broke his leg in 11 places and one year later had $50,000 in medical bills, forcing him to file for bankruptcy.

Saundra Williams, president of the council, said labor councils are focusing on health care because it is a key concern with trade unionists in this year’s election. Reminding people that McCain wants to tax workers’ benefits as income, Williams said, “With John Mc Cain you get more of the same.”

During April, more than 300 central labor councils around the country are dedicating their monthly meetings to helping local unions mobilize members around health care reform as part of labor’s 2008 drive to turn around America.

Labor support for HR 676, the single-payer bill introduced by Michigan Congressman John Conyers and co-sponsored by 88 more, continues to grow: 410 union organizations, 34 state AFL-CIOs, and nine international unions have all endorsed 676, Dick said.

Liv Boykins, special assistant to Conyers, said HR 676 is the only bill that would make health care a human right. She thanked Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney for the Michigan federation becoming the latest to endorse 676. Health care, dental care, prescription coverage and choice of physicians are basic features of the bill. Boykins said “How can I help you?” not “What kind of insurance do you have?” will be the first question asked when this bill is passed.

One day’s spending on the war in Iraq would fund SCHIP, the state children’s health insurance plan, declared Duron Marshall, an aide to Michigan Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick. He said it is shameful that the seniors who built this country are going broke trying to pay their bills.

John Freeman, chair of the Health Care for Michigan campaign, told the group about the campaign’s ballot initiative to add to Michigan’s constitution a statement that health care is a primary concern of the state. Petitioners have already started collecting signatures to place the referendum on the state’s November ballot. He said the strategy behind the Health Care for Michigan campaign is to “reach out to people and educate them on the need for reform.”

Freeman indicated the campaign will put pressure on the state Legislature to take action and will increase bottom-up pressure to support Conyers’ HR 676. It is a “twofer,” he said, that will drive health care reform at the state level and build more momentum and public support for national health care reform.

jrummel @ pww.org

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