Union coalition to AFL-CIO:  Make single-payer health care a priority
Demonstration for single-payer health care. | National Nurses United

Led by National Nurses United, the longest backer of the cause, 12 unions, three state labor councils and three central labor councils are demanding the AFL-CIO make enactment of government-run single-payer national health care legislation – “Medicare For All” – a top federation legislative priority.

The group will bring a strong pro-single payer resolution to the federation’s Resolutions Committee on October 21, the day before the AFL-CIO’s quadrennial convention opens in St. Louis. They also plan a large caucus to rally for the cause and plan lobbying on the floor two days later.

If the resolution passes, it would elevate single-payer to the top of organized labor’s agenda, just as it has risen to the top for Democratic political hopefuls, from the presidency on down. But in a switch, those hopefuls won’t address the convention, as the AFL-CIO made a deliberate decision this year not to invite politicians to speak.

That leaves delegates free to debate issues, strategize on defeating anti-worker right wing moves, ponder what to do when – not if – the U.S. Supreme Court declares all seven million state and local workers potential “free riders” who can get union services without paying for them, and plot labor’s political plans for 2018, anyway.

Before a hearing room packed with NNU members, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., the original Senate sponsor of single-payer, reintroduced it(S1804) on September 13. The lead House sponsor, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., reintroduced his Medicare For All bill, HR676. In an indication of the issue’s momentum, this time a majority of House Democrats signed on.

“This is the moment for labor to step up on behalf of the entire working class and lead the fight for healthcare justice,” said Mark Dudzic, coordinator of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer, a grass-roots group.

“At its 2009 and 2013 Conventions and, again at its July 2017 Executive Council meeting, the AFL-CIO has gone on record in support of single payer Medicare For All. Now we are asking that the AFL-CIO endorse the Sanders Medicare For All bill and actively work for its passage.”

Single-payer advocates point to the contrast between government-run health care systems, such as Medicare, which has only 3 percent overhead, and the private insurers.

The insurers collect high overhead fees, charge high co-pays and deductibles, routinely deny or curb coverage and only the Affordable Care Act forced them to pay for basic procedures, such as physicals and reproductive system care.

But Congress’ ruling Republicans still want to repeal the ACA, dumping everyone back into the clutches of the insurers, without any protections. And some Democrats, notably Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., are skeptical on the state level. NNU has lobbied for years for state single-payer in California, which houses one of every eight U.S. residents.

All that doesn’t stop the advocates.

“The fight against Trumpcare and the Republican attacks on public health programs produced a sea change in popular opinion,” Dudzic said in announcing the coalition’s plans. Most “Americans now support single payer Medicare For All. People don’t want to just circle the wagons around an inadequate status quo. They want to fight for the right to healthcare.

“Anyone who has sat at a bargaining table in the past ten years understands our employment-based system of healthcare is economically unsustainable with total healthcare costs for a family of four running in excess of $26,000 per year.

“And anyone who represents public sector workers understands decent union benefits are becoming politically unsustainable as demagogues use the politics of resentment to crush bargaining rights,” Dudzic added.

He pointed to politicians such as former Gov. Terry Brandstad, R-Iowa, stirring up resentment by contrasting “public employees getting these Cadillac benefits and paying virtually nothing — $20 per month — and the taxpayers in some cases are paying over $23,000 per year for health insurance…it’s not fair,” and campaigning to strip the public workers of coverage. The alternative, Dudzic said, is to extend Medicare to everyone.

Besides NNU, other unions offering the resolution are the Amalgamated Transit Union, the American Federation of Government Employees, the Teachers (AFT), the Postal Workers, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the California School Employees Association, the Machinists, the United Auto Workers, the Professional and Technical Engineers, the Smart Transportation union and the Utility Workers

The Steelworkers back Medicare For All and specifically endorsed Sanders’ bill.

State and local councils backing the single-payer resolution are from Maine, Vermont, Washington State, Albany County, N.Y., the Green Mountain Labor Council from Vermont and the Troy Area, N.Y., labor council.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.