News & Events

Union warns lawmakers on health care overhaul

By Associated Press  |  September 1, 2009
The man expected to become the AFL-CIO’s next president said yesterday that lawmakers would pay a political price if they abandon a government-run option in any health care overhaul.

“We need to be a labor movement that stands by our friends, punishes its enemies and challenges those who, well, can’t seem to decide which side they’re on,’’ said Richard Trumka, currently the AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer.

In remarks to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, Trumka singled out lawmakers “who say they are all for health care reform, but refuse to stand up for a public system that puts people before profits.’’

Trumka’s remarks came in a broader speech that outlined his goals for making labor unions more appealing to younger workers and stemming the historic decline of union rolls.

Labor unions have been among the most vocal boosters of President Obama’s health care overhaul. But Trumka and other labor leaders have expressed frustration with signs that Obama and other lawmakers are wavering in their support of a public option that would cover millions who don’t have health insurance.

“I think they need to understand that that you can have a bill that guarantees quality, affordable health care for every American, or you can have a bill the Republicans will vote for,’’ he said. “But you can’t have both.’’

The warning is consistent with comments that Trumka has made in several recent public appearances. Union support for Democrats is often taken for granted, but Trumka has said the nation’s largest labor federation would do more to hold elected officials accountable if they do not back labor’s causes.

Trumka is poised to become the AFL-CIO’s president in mid-September at the organization’s quadrennial convention in Pittsburgh. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday that Obama plans to speak at the convention on Sept. 15.