California Nurses Bristle at AFL-CIO's Support of Illinois Health Plan

John Sweeney meet Rose Ann DeMoro.

Last week, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney put his stamp of approval on an employer-based health insurance reform plan put forward by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

This week, California Nurses Association executive director Rose Ann DeMoro said that the Illinois plan was a plan that helped insurance companies, not workers.

DeMoro sits on the executive council of the AFL-CIO.

DeMoro and the nurses support a single payer, Canadian-style health care system.

"It's unfortunate that the Illinois plan by Governor Blagojevich has gotten the support of any union that is part of America's healthcare agenda coalition since it does little to solve the healthcare crisis in Cook County and in Illinois that union members face," DeMoro wrote to the AFL this week. "No money is provided to help the county, which is the primary provider to millions of low-income people. Instead, the insurance companies get more customers, expanded revenues, modest requirements for transparency, and new claims forms and external review for denied claims."

In an interview with Corporate Crime Reporter, California Nurses Association public policy director Michael Lighty said the Illinois plan "keeps the health insurance industry at the apex of power and diverts the momentum for single payer."

"But the fact that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney endorsed that and some of the other international presidents endorsed it does not mean that they also do not support single payer," Lighty said. "The single payer movement in the labor movement is very much a bottom up effort. There are 300 locals that support it. There are now 26 state AFL-CIO labor federations and 70 central labor councils that support single payer. The Illinois state reforms keep the health insurance industry at the apex of power and divert the momentum for single payer. At the same time, there are going to be certain political calculations that are going to be made. And while we disagree with them, we don't believe that that prevents us from organizing with these other single payer supporters within the labor movement."

Lighty said that plans put forth by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Governor Mitt Romney, and Senator Hillary Clinton are pretty much the same.

"They all take the current system and try to make it meet our current human health care needs," Lighty said. "We think that is wrong. You can't do that. Private insurance by definition makes money by denial of care. And you can't meet the needs of people through that approach. That's why we support single payer. Everybody in, nobody out."

The AFL-CIO's health care initiative is being headed by Heather Booth. Booth sat on Hillary Clinton's health care task force in the 1990s and worked to keep single payer grassroots supporters in line behind Clinton's managed competition plan.

Lighty stepped gingerly when asked about Booth's impact on organizing for single payer.

"She has been going around doing some of the educational presentations to union members," he said. "We have developed a good relationship with her. We wish she was a die hard single payer person. She certainly supports single payer. It's just our task to move that effort from the grassroots. She is definitely someone we can work with."

Lighty says he has a copy of Booth's single payer powerpoint presentation, but hasn't seen her deliver it.

Does it support single payer?

"Certainly, the critique leads to single payer," he says.

Lighty says the California Nurses Association has recently hired Bob Wages, a former president of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, to help organize the drive for single payer in California and around the country.

A single payer bill passed the California legislature last year but was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

Lighty said single payer needs four votes in the California Senate and six to eight votes in the Assembly to override the Governor's veto.

Lighty was also highly critical of a compromise bill hatched by Governor Schwarzenegger and California House Speaker Fabian Nunez that is currently moving in the state legislature.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter.

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