‘WE MUST HAVE A PUBLIC INSURANCE OPTION’ –insists AFL-CIO President Trumka

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LAST Friday the new AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued a statement on the Senate Healthcare Bill being sponsored by President Obama.

He said: ‘The labour movement has been fighting for healthcare for nearly 100 years and we are not about to stop fighting now, when it really matters.

‘But for this healthcare bill to be worthy of the support of working men and women, substantial changes must be made.

‘The AFL-CIO intends to fight on behalf of all working families to make those changes and win healthcare reform that is deserving of the name.

‘The absolute refusal of Republicans in the Senate to support healthcare reform and the hijacking of the bill by defenders of the insurance industry have brought us a Senate bill that is inadequate: It is too kind to the insurance industry.

‘Genuine healthcare reform must bring down health costs, hold insurance companies accountable, assure that Americans can get the healthcare they need and be financed fairly.

‘That’s why we are championing a public health insurance option: It is the way to break the stranglehold of the insurance industry over consumers that has led to double digit premium increases virtually every year.

‘Employers must pay their fair share.

‘And the benefits of hard-working Americans cannot be taxed to pay for healthcare reform — that’s no way to rein in insurance companies and it’s the wrong way to pay for healthcare reform.

‘Those are the changes for which we will be fighting in the coming days.

‘The Senate bill does some good things: It will provide health insurance to 30 million more Americans and provide subsidies to low income individuals and families.

‘Benefits will have to meet minimum standards and insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions or impose lifetime or unreasonable annual limits.

‘The bill also includes some relief for plans with early retirees as well as delivery system reforms that may lead to lower costs over the long haul.

‘And Senate leaders have made a commitment to close the Medicare prescription drugs donut hole which is so costly to seniors.

‘But because it bends toward the insurance industry, the Senate bill will not check costs in the short term, and its financing asks working people and the country to pay the price, even as benefits are cut.

‘The House of Representatives bill is the model for genuine healthcare reform.

‘Working people cannot accept anything less than real reform.’

Trumka has also spoken out on the White House Plan to Revitalise American Manufacturing.

He said ‘ “Made in America” is a phrase we all want to start hearing again, and yesterday the White House moved in that direction by unveiling a sound and thoughtful plan to help revive America’s manufacturing sector.

‘We are pleased that President Obama is working aggressively to address this issue.

‘We are particularly pleased by the leadership shown by Vice-President Biden in this area, along with his work on behalf of middle-class families.’

‘AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler and IBEW President Ed Hill met with the Vice-President yesterday.

‘President Obama’s plan invests in our country by emphasising job training, rebuilding our infrastructure, levelling the playing field in the area of trade, regulating our financial markets and, importantly, helping displaced workers who continue to struggle in the current economy.

‘The plan recognises that government must play an active role in order to strengthen and restore our manufacturing sector.

‘And it acknowledges that losses on the order of the five million manufacturing jobs lost in the last 10 years and our $840 billion trade deficit cannot be sustained.

‘Major challenges remain. A framework on manufacturing must also address currency manipulation by our trading partners and the skyrocketing costs of healthcare for manufacturers.

‘These issues keep America’s manufacturers at a disadvantage.

‘In addition, we urge the Obama administration to call for strengthening the role of workers as partners in training and workforce development.

‘In order to do this we must restore workers’ freedom to form unions by passing the Employee Free Choice Act.

‘We must also focus on building a workforce for the future by adequately investing in training and education for our young people, many of whom have been hit hardest by this economic crisis.

‘We look forward to working with the Obama Administration and with Ron Bloom, the President’s Senior Counsel for Manufacturing Policy, in order to implement these ideas.

‘Together we can revitalise our manufacturing sector and restore the nation’s middle class.’

Trumka has also welcomed the statement by Congressman Gutierrez concerning his Comprehensive Immigration Reform Proposal.

Trumka said: ‘America’s workers commend Congressman Gutierrez’s hard work and dedication in crafting a comprehensive immigration proposal that promotes workers’ rights.

‘A sensible approach to immigration reform that protects the interests of all workers is long overdue.

‘The current system strips workers of their rights on the job, robs them of wages and endangers their lives with unsafe working conditions.

‘It also penalises law-abiding businesses by forcing them into unfair competition with companies who violate workers’ rights for profit and then use the excuse of immigration status to avoid penalties or prosecution.

‘Earlier this year, the labour movement put forth a comprehensive framework for reform based on five interconnected pieces: an independent commission to assess and manage future flows based on labour market shortages that are determined on the basis of actual need; a secure and effective worker authorisation mechanism; rational operational control of the border; adjustment of status for the current undocumented population; and improvement, not expansion, of temporary worker programmes like the H1-B and H2-B programmes, limited to temporary or seasonal, not permanent, jobs.

‘We commend Congressman Gutierrez’ leadership for including key elements of this framework in his legislation.

‘Effective immigration reform must provide an inclusive and effective path for undocumented immigrants to come forward and regularise their status.

‘This is fundamental to our ability to crack down on employers who use unauthorised workers to drive down wages and benefits.

‘One of the greatest failures of our current employment based immigration system is that it uses arbitrary caps based on political compromises and not the needs of the labour market.

‘Determining the number of workers who come into the US labour market should be done by an independent commission that assesses the needs on an ongoing basis and reflects the considerations of all key stakeholders.

‘The AFL-CIO has a long history of working with Congress to reform – not expand – existing temporary worker programmes, to stop the exploitation of workers and safeguard standards in impacted industries. We look forward to continuing this work to pass comprehensive immigration reform that will protect workers’ rights.’