Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Members of National Nurses United union members wave Medicare for All signs during a rally in front of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America in Washington, D.C. on Monday, April 29, 2019. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Union Leaders Rebuke Centrist Democrats for Claiming Medicare for All Would Harm Workers

"Medicare for All would put money back into union members' pockets in the form of wages and other benefits. That's why major unions representing millions of workers in the U.S. are in this fight."

Jake Johnson

Leaders of some of America's largest labor unions are speaking out against centrist Democratic presidential candidates who, in an effort to undercut Medicare for All, are pitting unionized workers against millions of uninsured Americans.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), and former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) have each argued in recent days that Medicare for All would undo the hard-won collective bargaining gains of unions by replacing employer-sponsored health insurance with a single-payer program.

"I really resent the 16 million workers who joined together and bargained for better health plans being pitted against millions of Americans struggling to get healthcare coverage."
—Mary Kay Henry, Service Employees International Union

As Common Dreams reported last month, the Biden campaign released an ad featuring a retired union worker named Marcy, who said she "earned" her private insurance and wants to keep it.

Ryan and Delaney echoed the message of Biden's ad during the Democratic presidential debate in Detroit on Wednesday, accusing Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) of throwing union workers under the bus by backing Medicare for All.

"We have all our union friends here tonight," said Ryan. "This plan that's being offered by Senator Warren and Senator Sanders will tell those union members who gave away wages in order to get good healthcare that they're going to lose their healthcare because Washington's going to come in and tell them they got a better plan."

HuffPost labor reporter Dave Jamieson said Service Employees International Union (SEIU) president Mary Kay Henry seemed "genuinely angered" when asked about the argument that Medicare for All would hurt union workers.

"I think it's a false choice," said Henry, "and I really resent the 16 million workers who joined together and bargained for better health plans being pitted against millions of Americans struggling to get healthcare coverage."

Henry was not alone.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, told Vox that she found Ryan's argument "offensive."

"It is real that there is work to do with unions," Nelson said. "People do love their contractural plans. But not every union contract today has exemplary healthcare."

Democratic opponents of Medicare for All neglected to mention the fact that National Nurses United (NNU), America's largest nurses union, is leading the grassroots organizing for single-payer across the country.

NNU tweeted during the Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night that "Medicare for All would put money back into union members' pockets in the form of wages and other benefits."

"That's why major unions representing millions of workers in the U.S. are in this fight," said NNU.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who herself has voiced frustration with fellow Democrats' misleading attacks on Medicare for All, thanked union leaders for "pushing back on these falsehoods" in a tweet on Thursday.

While some prominent unions—most recently the International Association of Fire Fighters, which endorsed Biden for president—have expressed opposition to Medicare for All, more than 20 unions representing over 10 million workers have endorsed Jayapal's Medicare for All legislation, including the American Federation of Teachers, the United Automobile Workers, and the United Mine Workers of America.

"We have an unprecedented labor coalition supporting [Medicare for All]," Jayapal said, "because soaring healthcare costs are directly tied to stagnating wages and hurt workers at the bargaining table."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Warnock Defeats Walker in Georgia, Giving Democrats 51-49 Senate Majority

"Tonight, the people—young, Black, Brown, and working people—expanded the Senate majority, neutralized the power of Joe Manchin, and defeated yet another fascist," the Sunrise Movement cheered.

Brett Wilkins ·


'About Damn Time': NY Jury Finds Trump Organization Guilty on All Counts of Tax Fraud

"Today's guilty verdict against the Trump Organization shows that we will hold individuals and organizations accountable when they violate our laws to line their pockets," said New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Brett Wilkins ·


Oxfam Rebukes EU Over Delayed Deal on Global Minimum Corporate Tax

"This is a loss to ordinary people who are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and a win to the ultra-profitable corporations," said the group's tax expert for the bloc.

Jessica Corbett ·


Global Biodiversity Summit Called 'Make-or-Break Moment' for Wildlife

"The deluded dreams of billionaires aside, there is no Planet B," said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. "We must fix the world we have."

Julia Conley ·


Congressional Progressives, Climate Activists Rally Against Manchin's 'Dirty Deal'

"As if spending $847 billion on the military-industrial complex wasn't bad enough," said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, "now they want to add sacrificing frontline communities for polluter profits to the package?"

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo