Union members take back town halls

Original source:

The word is getting out to union members across the country that voices of working families must be included—and heard—in the growing health care reform debate taking place at town hall meetings across the country this August.

Yesterday, union members in Portsmouth, N.H., and Houston, Texas, were among those making sure participants at town halls could discuss the real facts about the health care proposal.

Stirred up by a lie-filled campaign from extremist groups—some funded by corporate donations and backed by extremist Republican leaders vowing to kill health care reform—loud and aggressive groups hijacked several early August meetings with lawmakers back home for the congressional recess.

Yesterday, in Portsmouth, where President Obama hosted a health care reform town hall meeting—click here for details—more than 300 union members came out to support health care reform.

AFL-CIO field staffer Ben Traslavina reports that a torrential downpour followed by stifling humidity didn’t deter the big union contingent that included members from AFSCME, Communications Workers of America (CWA), Electrical Workers (IBEW), National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), Postal Workers (APWU), Letter Carriers (NALC), Laborers and SEIU.

They rallied outside the high school auditorium where the town hall took place—(admission to the meeting was limited to those who won tickets via an online lottery).

Says New Hampshire AFL-CIO President Mark MacKenzie:

New Hampshire workers desperately need major health care reform and we will not let our voices be silenced by the corporate funded mobs on the other side.

There was also a large and loud group of opponents, some carrying signs characterizing Obama as “Adolf Hitler,” others claiming reform would establish “death panels” for the elderly and disabled and other outrageous lies (click here for the real facts on health care reform legislation and why so-called death panels are egregious scare-monger tactics and lies ). Says Traslavina:

In spite of intense provocation from protesters against health care, our union brothers and sisters kept their cool and stuck to the high road. The rally was peaceful and there were no physical confrontations.

Meanwhile in Houston, Richard Shaw, president of the Harris County AFL-CIO ,files this report on a health care town hall with Rep. Sheila Jackson (D-Texas) that included union members and retires. H/t to Texas AFL-CIO communications director Ed Sills for passing along Shaw’s report.

Sheila was composed and articulate. She indeed knew her stuff. Even in the face of questions pertaining to alleged practices of euthanasia and genocide (the questioners were utterly convinced that these practices were in the bill and would be implemented), Sheila calmly and clearly dealt with these issues.

A few times, some would call out and try to be disruptive but they were not able to disrupt the flow of the meeting. Some were quickly brought back into line when a senior citizen would ask them to be quiet so that everyone could hear the questions and the answers.

In addition to some of the above questions, most were about the plan and many persons expressed their feelings about our insurance companies that do not cover pre-existing conditions and for those not covered by a healthcare plan at all and/or could not afford to even get proper medical treatment.

When confronted with the charges that other industrialized countries (like Canada, England, Japan) had poor ’socialized’ healthcare plans, Sheila would repeat the statistics on how the U.S. longevity rates were much lower and prenatal care issues were more severe than these countries. These folks had no answer for this.

The AFL-CIO union movement is working with allies such as Health Care for America Now! (HCAN!) to ensure big turn-outs for town hall and community forums with House and Senate lawmakers. National unions are asking their local unions to reach out to rank-and file members with letters and worksite fliers, reminding them what’s at stake and encouraging working families to attend town hall meetings and to contact their lawmakers.

The Alliance for Retired Americans also is mobilizing to recruit members to attend town hall meetings with lawmakers and plans a series of events highlighting the need for real health care reform.

The Alliance is also setting the record straight on the phony “death panels” that the group terms “a cruel and appalling distortion of the truth,” and other lies designed to scare seniors. Click here for their fact sheet.

Working America canvassers will be out in neighborhoods across the country talking to families about health care reform.