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A Year of Grassroots Visits, Over 4 million Calls Lead to Historic Win
See President Trumka with Liz Stender and Judy Cato at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Kep2JAZaec
Washington, DC – After more than a year of calls, letters, congressional visits, rallies and town halls, Americans today won what AFL-CIO Pres. Richard Trumka called "a momentous step toward comprehensive health care reform" when the House of Representatives voted for landmark health care legislation. The legislation, Trumka said, will finally put the country on a path toward quality, affordable health care for all Americans and long-term health security. Overcoming a $100-million opposition campaign by the insurance industry, the legislation stops insurance companies from denying health care due to consumers' pre-existing health conditions and dropping coverage for people who get sick. It stops the relentless rise in health care costs and expands coverage for 32 million Americans. The legislation makes prescription drugs more affordable for seniors and helps small businesses struggling with skyrocketing costs. It is projected to reduce the federal budget deficit by $1.3 trillion over the next two decades.
A package of corrections approved tonight by the House of Representatives to improve a bill passed in December by the Senate must still go back to the Senate for final approval. The House also voted to approve the earlier Senate bill.
"Today there is light at the end of a dark tunnel for so many in our country who have worked hard to support their families, but still cannot afford the health care they deserve," said Trumka. "Small businesses, part time employees, those working two and three jobs to get by and seniors can finally find security in the fact that we will soon have comprehensive health care."
Over the past year working families worked for reform at the grassroots by making over 4 million phone calls to lawmakers, while leaders came to Washington and visited members repeatedly, making more than 10,000 calls and visits. In addition, Working America, the AFL-CIO community affiliate, talked to more than 210,000 people at their front doors, generating 30,000 signatures for health care petitions, 31,000 phone calls to Congress, 40,000 e-mails and 75,000 letters urging lawmakers to pass reform.
The contacts by activists and leaders not only helped win approval of health care reform, they improved the bill. Pressure from working families resulted in the elimination of 85 percent of a tax on health care benefits that would have slammed working families, non-union as well as union, whose premiums are high because of factors they don't control. Instead, the bill substitutes a progressive tax on the wealthiest Americans, requiring that Medicare contributions be paid on unearned income. Working families' activism also helped make sure employers pay a fairer share of health costs for their employees.
"I am proud of the role the labor movement and all working families have played in this historic victory," Trumka said. "We urge the Senate to speedily pass this legislation and get it to the President's desk to be signed."
In the days leading up to the House vote, union leaders barnstormed Capitol Hill and members' district offices urging wavering lawmakers to back reform. This effort helped turn Democrats from Undecided or No to Yes in 75% of the districts targeted. AFL-CIO President Trumka personally called dozens of House members on Friday and spent the weekend meeting with House members to firm up votes in favor of the bill. Trumka was joined on Capitol Hill on Sunday by two of the millions of working people for whom passage of the health care bill is crucial.
Liz Stender, a member of Working America, said she will be able to get health care for herself and her baby daughter. Judy Cato described how the legislation will allow her and other Medicare beneficiaries to get mammograms and other preventive screenings without co-payments.
In Fresno, California Friday, union members rallied outside Rep. Jim Costa's (D) office. Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, flew to Washington to meet with fence-sitting California lawmakers, and Costa announced he would vote in favor of health care reform.
Union activists put lawmakers they helped elect on notice that a vote against health care reform would not be supported by working families. In Pennsylvania Friday, Rep. Jason Altmire (D), who courted and won union support for his election, announced he was voting against the bill, and yesterday, several dozen United Steelworkers and retirees staged a sit-in at his Aliquippa office.
Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y), who narrowly won his last election with the support of union families, announced Thursday he would vote against the bill; on Friday, New York State AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes and 20 other New York labor leaders sent Arcuri a letter saying his health care vote will have consequences: "Our members look for elected officials who have the courage to stand up to lies, distortions and political scare tactics." Mass. AFL-CIO President Robert Haynes and more than two dozen Bay State union leaders urged Rep. Stephen Lynch (D) to reconsider his announced "No" vote; they wrote: "Congressman, we will not be able to explain to the working women and men of our union why you voted against their interests."