Workers’ correspondence

Our April 27 “Walk of Shame” targeted the opponents of employer-paid health care, SB 2. This bill, signed by then-Gov. Gray Davis last year, will take effect Jan. 1, 2006. However, our present governor, right-wing Republican Arnold Schwartzenegger, has vowed to defeat SB 2 with a ballot initiative in the November election.

SB 2 requires employers to provide health care coverage to employees and dependents either through a plan of the employer’s choice or through a fee paid by the employer to the State Health Purchasing Program, thereby creating a “financial pool” for coverage of uninsured employees.

In 2001 over 6 million Californians lacked health coverage some of the time, while almost 4 million had no coverage.

Since Big Business is bankrolling the effort to defeat SB 2, the California Labor Federation felt it was necessary to expose them. So our “Walk of Shame” began with a spirited rally of at least 300 people – Teamsters, Communications Workers, Hotel and Restaurant Employees, UNITE, Food and Commercial Workers.

We marched to the building housing the Chamber of Commerce. “Health care is not a privilege, it is a right,” said Mercy Hospital shop steward Sharon Martinez. Gregg Ball, president of the Communication Workers, said SBC Communications is demanding its workers pay for their health benefits. The marchers cried “Shame on SBC!” and “Health care is our right – we’ve just begun to fight!”

Next was the building housing the California Restaurant Association and the California Lodging Industry Association. Assemblyman Paul Koretz said rolling back health care was like killing thousands of people in California. Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, agreed, saying, “It’s a question of saving lives.” He vowed that SB 2 would remain the law of the land.

Chanting, “We’re in a fight, damn right!” we moved on to the California Retailers Building, housing such corporations as Macy’s and the notoriously low-wage Wal-Mart. Teamster leader Chuck Mack said, “What we must do in November is say No to Wal-Mart, No to the Chamber of Commerce, and Yes to health care!”

Incidentally, ballot initiatives, originally seen as a way “the people” could put a proposal before the voters and change the law, have too often become tools of the wealthy. They pay as much as $3 per signature to an army of petitioners to put their issue on the ballot, and then spend millions in advertising to confuse the voters. Very often the people end up screwed.

– Nell Ranta
Sacramento, Calif.