By Doug Cunningham
The International union ICEM is joining other international unions today in a Day of Action against the Islamic Republic Of Iran. It’s a protest against the illegal arrests of union leaders and others by the Iranian regime as it cracks down on dissent. The AFL-CIO is also calling on Iran to stop the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations.
A short rally was held in New York City on Thursday in advance of a Rite Aid shareholders meeting. In March of 2008, Rite Aid workers in Lancaster, California voted in favor of representation by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. According to the union, the company has hired union busting firms to help stall negotiations and decertify the union. The company says they have been bargaining in good faith.
By Doug Cunningham
On Thursday the SEIU won another election against the fledgling National Union of Healthcare Workers in California – this time at Hazel Hawkins hospital in Hollister. SEIU’s Hans Johnson says workers at the hospital rejected what he called an attempt by NUHW to raid SEIU members at the hospital. The NUHW says caregivers at the hospital are requesting that the election be re-run due to the widespread use of what NUHW calls illegal tactics by SEIU. But Johnson says the NUHW allegations are false and workers’ voices were heard.
[Johnson]: “It does not cover up the fact that workers’ voice was heard and they wanted to stick with their union – SEIU.”
Good news for one state is bad for two others. Jesse Russell reports:
Michigan is the birthplace of automobile manufacturing and as the grip of the recession grew tighter it was also impacted the most. The state is leads the country for unemployment with a rate of 14.1 percent with some regions even breaking the 20 percent unemployment mark. Michigan, the home state of General Motors, has suffered greatly with the collapse of the U.S. Automobile industry, but on Thursday Michigan autoworkers received a small dose of good news. A plant in Orion Township, near Pontiac, Michigan, has been chosen to produce GM’s new subcompact car creating 1,200 jobs in the area.
|Sen. Arlen Specter says health care is a right.|
|“Nothing is more important to me than ensuring that President Obama passes health care reform.”|
Members of Congress met in town hall sessions Thursday with constituents who were on Capitol Hill to rally and demand health care reform. Read dispatches from some of the meetings.
Ohio Weighs In
After the rally, more than 250 activists from Ohio met at the Columbus Club at Union Station to plan for an afternoon of lobbying and hear from members of Congress about health care reform.
The session was introduced by Tim Burga of the Ohio AFL-CIO, who decried the “free market run amok” in the current health care system and affirmed that we must have a serious public health insurance option.
He introduced Hattie Wilkins, who made one of the most moving speeches of the event. Her situation illustrates the deep problems working families have with the way the current system operates. Hattie is a member of the United Steelworkers (USW) union who worked for 35 years for Brentwood Originals, a pillow factory in Youngstown, Ohio. The USW struck Brentwood Originals in 2008, and more than three-quarters of the workforce has been laid off. She was fired because of her strong support for the union, Hattie said. She has been collecting $887 a month in unemployment since then. She has COBRA coverage, and now pays $275 per month—31 percent of earnings from unemployment—for her health insurance. She pays another $450 per month for her mortgage payment, leaving her only $162 each month for food, utilities, transportation and all her other expenses. Now her unemployment payments are ending and she doesn’t know what she is going to do.
At 58 years of age, Hattie is searching for another job at places like McDonald’s but has to compete with applicants much younger than she is. She gave us her cell phone number, though she wasn’t sure how much longer she would have it. Hattie came to Washington, D.C., to participate in the rally and make sure her elected representatives heard her voice on this critical issue.
The Latest on Pennsylvania Town Hall
Sen. Specter has arrived, and compliments the crowd on its tenacity and commitment. Specter says he agrees that health care is a right and believes health care legislation will pass and will include a public option component. Of course, in a room full of union members, the Employee Free Choice Act came up. Specter says he is working hard to find an answer for early union certification and gaining first contracts.
The folks at Capitol City Brewing Co. are waiting for Sen. Arlen Specter to arrive. We hear reports he’s been at the White House.
From the North Carolina Meeting
Sen. Kay Hagan just arrived. She says the fight for health care reform is the “most important thing going on in our country.” Everyone in America must have health care coverage, she says, and patients with pre-existing conditions should be able to get health insurance.
About a public health insurance option plan, Hagan says some critics are getting caught up in nuance about language used in the debate. “I don’t care what you call it as long as it provides affordability accessibility and covers pre-existing conditions,” she says. We’d heard earlier reports that her staff told union leaders Hagan believes if health care reform passes, it will include a public option. The senator herself did not specifically say she supports the public option.
I think the key is if you have health insurance, you keep it. We don’t want to dismantle what exists.
More Pennsylvania Town Hall
Rep. Sestak arrived and talked about his daughter’s brain tumor and his health care plan to help keep her alive. Everybody deserves health care for themselves and their families, as well, he said. Sestak says his support for health care reform is “payback” to the country that provided health care for him and his family when he was in the Navy.
Everybody must be covered under health care reform, according to Sestak, and a public health insurance plan must be an option.
Nothing is more important to me than ensuring that President Obama passes health care reform.
Pennsylvania Town Hall
Hundreds of union members from Pennsylvania have packed a hall just a block from the U.S. Capitol to hear from their elected officials on the status of real health care reform. As they wait for Sen. Arlen Specter (D) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D) to appear, the chanting is in full force:
Congress, This is our demand. The option of a public plan.
What do we want? HEALTH CARE!
When do we want it? NOW!
Congress, This is our demand, the option of a public plan!
We are waiting for Specter and Sestak so we can spring that on them.
Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D) did not attend. A staff member is delivering her talking points.
Health care reform that guarantees quality, affordable health care reform must be passed.
We must ensure that patients’ choices are protected.
Maryland Town Hall
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Rep. John Sarbanes and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer speak to hundreds of Maryland workers and all support public option.
Rep. Blumenauer at Town Hall on Small Business
At a town hall focused on small business issues this morning at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) advocated a public insurance option plan, guaranteed coverage and a “pay or play” system that would require businesses to provide health care coverage for their employees or pay into a fund. These reforms would level the playing field and reduce cost burdens on small businesses, he said.
Seth Michaels is posting live from the massive health care reform rally and lobby day.
Today in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill, thousands of union members, community activists and health care advocates are coming together to demand quality health care for everyone.
To find out more about why America needs health care reform now, read the results of the 2009 Health Care for America Survey.
Follow us here on Twitter.
Coming from unions, community organizations and all walks of life, nearly 10,000 supporters of health care reform gathered on Capitol Hill today to send a strong message: We demand affordable, high-quality health care for all, and we aren’t waiting any longer.
Every corner of the Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill was filled this afternoon with union members, health care advocates and community activists from scross the country, and they heard from not only members of Congress and union leaders, but also from nurses, small business owners, workers and parents who told compelling stories about why we need health care reform.
Like all of the speakers, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker expressed confidence that we can move from an unsustainable health care system to one that protects families and covers everyone:
Health care without cost control will not work. Health care without a quality public option to lower costs is totally unacceptable.
Many rally participants are spending this afternoon at town hall meetings and on Capitol Hill lobbying members of Congress for real health care reform. The rally and lobby day were sponsored by Health Care for America Now! (HCAN), a coalition that includes the AFL-CIO. In addition to the strong turnout of union members and community organizers, groups including Working America and Democracy for America brought tens of thousands of signatures they’ve collected from people across the country who say we’ve waited long enough for health care reform.
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown said despite determined opposition from the insurance companies that control our health care now, we have an opportunity to build on and improve our health care system:
Special interests and the health insurance industry will not hijack this process. We must have and we will have a strong public option.
Pennsylvania Rep. Allyson Schwartz said we need health care reform that controls costs to recover from today’s economic crisis:
This is such an important issue for all of us. It’s always been a moral responsibility, but it’s increasingly an economic imperative.
Other rally speakers included union leaders President Gerald McEntee of AFSCME and President Larry Cohen of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), members of the House and Senate, actress Edie Falco, former Gov. Howard Dean and leaders of a wide variety of grassroots organizations.
As New York Sen. Chuck Schumer noted, health care that covers everyone and includes a strong public option as a choice for consumers won’t be easy. It’s a fight that has been fought for decades against powerful interests. The strong national support for health care reform, though, is a sign that now is the time. Schumer pointed to the Capitol behind him and said:
We can’t do this alone. We need to do this together. We need all you to hold everybody in that building’s feet to the fire.
More than 2,500 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) delivered a message to their representatives on Capitol Hill yesterday: It’s time to pass the Employee Free Choice Act and real health care reform.
The Capitol Hill lobby day is part of the union’s four-day convention in Washington, D.C., which ends today. Delegates will go back to the Capitol today to join thousands of workers in the mass rally in support of health care reform.
Before heading to meet with lawmakers yesterday, the CWA members heard Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) say the nation cannot have a strong middle class without a strong union movement. Biden said the Obama administration is committed to leveling the playing field for workers and giving them the bargaining power they need to rebuild the middle class.
Why should people have to crawl across broken glass and go through a kind of boot-camp hell in order to join a perfectly legal organization?
So our goal is to restore some measure of balance and fairness to the organizing process.
Both Biden and Harkin echoed the remarks by CWA President Larry Cohen, who said in his opening address Monday that 70 countries have a majority sign-up system for joining unions, but the United States does not. Cohen said the ability to join a union and bargain is crucial to the nation’s standard of living in the future. Click here to see a video of Cohen’s address.
We can’t restore the middle class with tax cuts. We can’t do it with federal jobs or another stimulus-even though some or all of those might be good ideas. But if workers across the U.S. had real bargaining rights, it would translate to bargaining and buying power. It’s about time that we stand up for union contracts and stop worrying about bankers’ contracts. Let the bankers fend for themselves and let’s stand up for each other.
Cohen said the union movement must be unified to carry out its mission of making life better for all.
In tough times like these, there will not be good answers until we create a movement of working families, rebuild our bargaining power through massive organizing, continue to build our political power as we are doing here this week, and unify our labor movement.
The delegates passed a resolution saying that in this time of great opportunity for the union movement:
It has never been more important for the union movement to be united so that we can fully take advantage of these opportunities. Together, we are stronger.
The resolution called for “exploring new ways of working together with the AFL-CIO, Change to Win and the National Education Association (NEA), and new ways of supporting each others’ campaigns. The passage of the resolution was highlighted by the presence of AFT Randi Weingarten and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel for the vote.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis told the convention Tuesday the Labor Department is “back in the enforcement business” after eight years of neglect of worker protections by the Bush administration.
We need more than jobs, we need good jobs-and that means safe jobs,
secure jobs, decent benefits and wages-it means a voice on the job.
Also during the convention, Michael Copps, acting chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, received the Herbert Block Freedom Award from The Newspaper Guild-CWA (TNG-CWA) for his work to force debate and transparency over media consolidation.
As giant media companies pushed for FCC rule changes to let them get even bigger, Copps called for public hearings across the country that gave communities, public interest groups and individuals an opportunity to be heard.
TNG-CWA President Bernie Lunzer said:
While others tried to limit hearings and move quickly, Commissioner Copps made certain all voices were heard. He has set some of the highest standards for democracy in government today, and in doing so, has helped maintain a free and competitive press.
The Freedom Award is named for the late Washington Post editorial cartoonist best known as Herblock, who was a Guild member for 67 years.
Thousands of union members, community activists and health care advocates from across the country will converge on Capitol Hill today to demand that Congress pass health care reform legislation that provides quality health care for all.
Today’s rally and lobby day sponsored by Health Care for America Now! (HCAN) is expected to be the largest-ever health care reform rally. It’s taking place from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Upper Senate Park.
The rally will provide a much-needed voice on Capitol Hill for millions of families that are uninsured, under-insured and fed up with being at the mercy of insurance companies. Participants will call for real change in health care, including a public health insurance option for workers and families who either have private insurance or no coverage at all.
Results of the 2009 Health Care for America Survey (sponsored by the AFL-CIO and Working America) clearly show that America’s working families are suffering under a system that does not protect their health or their financial security. Of the more than 23,000 respondents in the survey, more than half say they can’t get the health care they need at a price they can afford.
AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker says the rally shows the momentum and enthusiasm behind health care reform:
We are closer than ever to getting the health care reform we need. We cannot let the voices of opposition and the naysayers stifle the will of the people in order to maintain a system that only benefits private corporations. We must use this momentum to finally create a health care system that ends the delays and denials and provides health care for everyone.
If you can’t make the rally today, stay tuned here—we’ll be reporting live using Twitter.
Click here for more rally information from HCAN and text “HEALTH” to 94553 to receive updates on fast-moving health care reform activities throughout the summer.