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Labor Leaders Disappointed by Lack of Working People's Voices at Vermont Healthcare Reform Discussion
BURLINGTON, Vt. - March 18 - Working people's voices were not heard at the Obama Administration's second regional Health Care Summit in Burlington, VT on March 17.
"Despite the fact that several union spokespersons attended the meeting, we were not called upon and unfortunately the voice of workers was shut out of the discussion," said Peter Knowlton, president of the Northeast Region of the United Electrical Workers Union (UE). "When it came to the financial discussion, Gov. Douglas and Gov. Patrick [the two governors moderating the session] only called on wealthy special-interests from the worlds of business and professional circles."
Sandy Eaton, a nurse who attended the forum stated that nurses' voices went unheard as well. "Nurses were well represented, but our voices were not heard -- and the term "nurse" or "hospital worker" was never mentioned in the two hour forum," said Eaton who is a member of the executive board of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
Outside the auditorium where the summit was held, over 250 labor and community members rallied in support of HR 676 and single payer healthcare. "Our system needs fundamental reform," said Dawn Stanger, President of the Vermont Workers Center-Jobs with Justice. Stanger, a UPS employee and member of Teamsters Local 597, was joined by dozens of unionized nurses who worked next door at Fletcher Allen Health Care, the largest hospital in Vermont.
"We need to build a movement to demand change," Stanger told the crowd. The Vermont Workers Center is coordinating a major statewide "Healthcare Is a Human Right" rally on May 1 at the Vermont Statehouse, which will include U. S. Senator Bernie Sanders. The rally will oppose Vermont Governor Douglas' proposed budget cuts to healthcare programs and support state and national single-payer legislation.
"I was really hopeful that these forums would finally give voice to workers concerns," added UE leader Peter Knowlton. "There were many people there who could have reminded them about the serious problems hourly workers face with skyrocketing premiums and dealing with the horrors of co-pays, deductibles, out-of-pocket expenses and the run around all workers face with managed care. If this forum is any indication of future ones, we will need to be much more aggressive to get our voices heard."
Knowlton, Eaton and Stanger were among the several labor leaders at the forum who support HR 676, the "Expanded and Improved Medicare for All" Act. HR 676 was re-introduced this year by Congressman John Conyers. It currently has 66 congressional co-sponsors. Because it eliminates the private insurance industry from profiting from people's misfortunes and, like Medicare, establishes the federal government as the "single payer" of everyone's medical bills, HR 676 can provide healthcare for all with no co-pays or deductibles in a fiscally prudent manner. HR 676 has the endorsement of hundreds of state and local labor federations and local unions as well as many other civic and religious organizations.