Why unions should fight for single-payer health care

This is an extension of my last post, or maybe one direction it could have gone but didn’t…

One of the main reasons, oft cited even by those who don’t really support healthcare reform, that we need heathcare reform (even though some of those who say it don’t really mean it) is skyrocketing costs.  We also need it, according to some, because small businesses can’t afford the costs of insuring their employees and feel like they shouldn’t have to.

The union member and officer in me bucks against the claim that employers shouldn’t have to insure employees.  Health insurance was a hard-won battle, and in an era where corporations are earning (and often frittering way, but that’s their fault) huge profits, it’s not workers’ faults if those corporations choose not to invest in their own employees.  I realize it’s different for small businesses.

At my own job, when I got hired, our health benefits package was one of the big selling points (not to me–I’d been uninsured for so long that to have *any* insurance seemed like a luxury).  Our faculty didn’t pay for our insurance at all.  Combined with our (at the time relatively high) salaries, the package our system offered was really hard to turn down.  The 2007–11 contract changed all that; our salaries are coming closer into line with peer systems, and for the first time, we had to start paying a portion of our health insurance premiums.  It was a bummer, but we were convinced that it was high time we shared some of the burden of our own expenses.  And we traded that for some other concessions during negotiations, which I won’t get into here because if you’d be interested in them, you already know what they were :).

But in retrospect, it’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that the labor movement needs to be heavily involved in the fight for single-payer healthcare.  And for several reasons–

1.  Labor cares more about workers than management does, and certainly more than the healthcare industry does.  If anybody is going to conduct this fight out of proper motivation, it’s us.

2.  Labor has a history of winning healthcare fights.

3.  Management uses healthcare as a bargaining chip with which to push labor for concessions.  Give up salary, for example, or we can’t afford your insurance any more.  In academic contexts, we might here something like “If you don’t accept furloughs, we can’t insure you.”  Or, “If you insist on keeping your insurance benefits as they are, we can’t afford to hire more faculty eligible for those benefits.”  Nothing you haven’t heard before if you’ve been involved, no matter how distantly, with these kinds of conversations.

4.  Linking labor with other progressive movements/organizations will reinvigorate labor.  I realize not all labor activists/organizers are progressive, but I’m convinced one of the reasons the labor movement has lost momentum over the last few decades is that its focus has become almost entirely on contracts and negotiations.  When those don’t go well (even when they do), it’s hard to keep memberships interested and, more importantly, mobilized.

On that happy note…

[ADDED later:  If you belong to a union that hasn’t yet signed onto this effort, check out <http://unionsforsinglepayerhr676.org/union_endorsers>.

2 Responses to Why unions should fight for single-payer health care

  1. another PA faculty says:

    It would be a nice start to have the PA public university faculty all on one union instead of the two-tiered system that exists now. FYI: you are on the top tier. Look at the schools at the bottom tier and ask yourself a question: What is the commonality between them? How does that commonality make them different than WCU and the other top-tier unionized PA public universities?

  2. sethkahn says:

    I’m not sure what you mean by “two-tiered.” All faculty in PA public universities are members of APSCUF. The faculty in the state-related universities aren’t, of course, but those aren’t fully state-supported, public universities. The community colleges are in different unions, too.

    Can you clarify the tiers you’re referring to? That would help me think better about the commonalities issue you’re raising.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: