Telecoms blasted for health care takeaways

DALLAS – A week after unionists in Southern California grocery stores announced the end of their five-month fight for health care benefits, activists here took part in a nationwide day of action to defend and expand health care benefits.

North Texas Jobs with Justice targeted the SBC Corp., formerly Southwestern Bell, which has begun negotiations with the Communications Workers of America. About 75 union members at corporate headquarters flocked out the doors into One Bell Plaza to rally and picket during their lunch period on March 4.

The picket line snaked around several SBC buildings and around the surrounding downtown Dallas city blocks. They shouted, “No health care, no peace!” at first, but soon changed it to “No health care, no work!”

Activists on the line said that three big union contracts terminate simultaneously on April 3: SBC, Verizon, and PacTel. Together, communications workers in a 13-state area are covered by the contracts. None of the CWA locals is expected to settle until they all do. Another important CWA contract is being negotiated with Cingular Wireless where health care is also likely to be a major issue.

Literature at the March 4 picket laid the blame for the U.S. health care crisis on greedy corporations and the Bush administration. One leaflet quoted figures from Fortune magazine that show in 2002 the top 10 drug companies in the Fortune 500, as a group, saw $35.9 billion in profits, more than half the profits netted by the top 50 companies.

National Jobs with Justice reports that health care premiums have been increasing by 12-16 percent every year. Many employers are dropping coverage completely. JwJ says that the new Medicare law passed last November by Congress will only make things worse. This measure includes special tax breaks to companies under the pretext of encouraging employer-sponsored drug benefits. It creates Health Savings Accounts that promote the use of “high deductible” insurance. It prohibits Medicare from using its purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices. This law will only fuel corporate profits and hurt working people.

The author can be reached at flittle7@yahoo.com.