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Under Pressure From Labor Leaders and Striking Workers, GM Agrees to Fund Health Coverage During Walkout

"Your health care should never be in the hands of greedy corporations who can take it away to punish workers."

Members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) and supporters picket outside of General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in Detroit, Michigan, as they strike on September 22, 2019. (Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Workers' rights supporters celebrated Thursday after General Motors caved to pressure and agreed to continue paying healthcare premiums for thousands of striking workers.

The company moved to fund its employees' benefits after its earlier announcement that United Auto Workers (UAW) would have to fund workers' healthcare during the strike was met with scorn from labor leaders and lawmakers.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, applauded UAW workers for forcing GM to reinstate their coverage.

GM said it would cut off employees' health coverage last week, two days into a strike over stagnant wages. The move was condemned by Medicare for All and labor advocates who said the "intimidation" tactic was "heartless and unconscionable." 

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As Negin Owliaei of the Institute for Policy Studies wrote at Common Dreams on Thursday, GM's move threatening the wellbeing of its workers and their families served to illustrate the need for Medicare for All—under which companies would no longer be able to use employer-sponsored healthcare as a bargaining chip, keeping workers' wages low.

"As GM showed, our current system turns health coverage into leverage for employers," wrote Owliaei. "What could unions fight for if they didn't have to constantly play defense against employers trying to gut their health care?"

"If we already had Medicare for All," she added, "the United Auto Workers could be using their collective power to fight for higher wages and better benefits."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has made his decades-long fight for Medicare for All a central theme of his 2020 presidential campaign, agreed.

"Your health care should never be in the hands of greedy corporations who can take it away to punish workers," Sanders tweeted after GM's announcement on Thursday.

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