The nation's largest union group said Thursday that it will not
support the Democratic health-care bill unless "substantial changes"
are made to the current Senate version.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement to reporters that
without a public option for insurance coverage or an employer mandate -
and with a tax on high-end insurance plans that some union members get
- the health care legislation supported by Senate Democrats falls far
short of meeting his group's standards.
"[For] this health care bill to be worthy of the support of working
men and women, substantial changes must be made," said Trumka. "The
AFL-CIO intends to fight on behalf of all working families to make
those changes and win health care reform that is deserving of the
The remarks are a strong indication that the coalition of
pro-health-care-reform groups has begun to fray. Earlier in the day,
Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern penned
a letter to his fellow union members in which he called out President
Barack Obama for abandoning his own principles of reform.
"President Obama must remember his own words from the campaign. His
call of 'Yes We Can' was not just to us, not just to the millions of
people who voted for him, but to himself. We all stood shoulder to
shoulder with the President during his hard fought campaign. And, we
will continue to stand with him but he must fight for the reform we all
know is possible," Stern wrote.
"Our challenge to you, to the President, to the Senate and to the
House of Representatives is to fight," Stern continued. "Now, more than
ever, all of us must stand up, remember what health insurance reform is
all about, and fight like hell to deliver real and meaningful reform to
the American people."
Stern, like Trumka, called for Democrats to make changes to the
legislation as the process moves forward. And his rebuke of Obama - a
staunch personal ally - was a telling sign of the growing frustration
within the labor movement.
Both labor leaders were particularly incensed over the concessions
made by the Senate's Democratic leadership to Sen. Joseph Lieberman
(I-Conn.), the 60th member of their caucus. "The public option is
declared impossible. Americans cannot purchase Medicare at an earlier
age. The health insurance reform effort we have needed for a century is
at risk," Stern wrote.
Officials at both unions met late into the night on Wednesday in
emergency sessions to discuss the Senate bill. Aides say the
conversations were lengthy and, at times, emotional. The labor
community, while privately angry with the White House and Democrats in
Congress, still needs the support of these lawmakers on other
legislative priorities. Meanwhile, having poured millions into
advertisement and man-hours in order to get health care passed, they
have watched in horror as the principles they worked for were abandoned
in a matter of days.
Officials are also aware of how much would be lost by simply
scrapping the bill altogether. Stern noted that under the Senate's bill
30 million additional people would be covered, pre-existing conditions
would no longer be an excuse to deny coverage, and people who get sick
would no longer lose their insurance. Trumka, likewise, pointed to
"good things" in the Senate bill, including the fact that "insurance
companies will no longer be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing
conditions or impose lifetime or unreasonable annual limits."