District 6 Response
To Recession: Stronger
Union, Health Care for All
|Above, left, Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bruce Klipple; center,
Donna Cramer and Sue Smock, Local 506; top right, Dr. Jonathon Ross. Below left, District 6 Pres. John Lambiase; right, Local
697 Pres. Sue Falk.
Recession hangs heavy over the region encompassed by UE District Six, with the severity of a storm blown in from Lake Erie. Plagued by
layoffs, bedeviled by mismanagement, UE locals in western Pennsylvania, western New York and West Virginia resolved to seek solutions
through a stronger union and real health care reform at a meeting of the District Six Council here June 22-23.
District Six Pres. John Lambiase located the steps to a strengthened union in current organizing activity, resolution of
longstanding, tough collective bargaining disputes, and internal education based on the results of the survey initiated at the previous
council meeting. The survey, which had broad participation, addressed the strengths and weaknesses of the day-to-day functions of UE
locals in the district.
Delegates gave enthusiastic backing to a resolution "Health Care for All" to be sent to the UE Convention in September, and
the concept of a Pennsylvania-wide single-payer health plan. John Thompson, district political action co-chair, pointed out that
disputes over health insurance are a major issue in negotiations. "We can play a role in developing a grassroots plan to develop
single-payer health care," said Thompson, Local 690 vice president.
The benefits of the single-payer approach have to be demonstrated on the state level, suggested Dr. Jonathon Ross, a past
national chairperson of Physicians for a National Health Plan. The Toledo internist pointed out that there are already strong campaigns
for state single-payer plans in nine states, including California, Massachusetts, Ohio and Vermont.
The United States ended up with employment-based health care system largely by historical accident, a development that left the poor,
elderly and unorganized without coverage, Dr. Ross observed. The creation of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s was an important step
forward, but cutbacks have left these "excellent models" underfinanced. "In my own office I see cases of seniors who have
put off care because of not enough money," he said.
Today the U.S. is the only western industrial democracy without a publicly financed national health care plan, Dr. Ross pointed out.
Our private, for-profit system is riddled with waste and inefficiency — and ever-escalating costs. "People with insurance end up
paying more for those without insurance and their worsened health problems," he said.
"Studies show only single payer can cover everyone with less cost," Dr. Ross counseled.
The way forward is to organize state movements for single payer, and "that won’t happen without the labor movement," the
In his address to the council, UE Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bruce Klipple identified national health care as one of the three major
challenges facing working people. "We need to talk about this loud and clear," he declared. "It is an absolute disgrace
that there is no health care plan. The U.S. spent $1.4 trillion on health care — we could have the Cadillac of health insurance. Health
care has to be at the forefront. Labor has to do it, and we will not give up!"
Klipple saw the assault on civil liberties, particularly the USA Patriot Act, as major challenge to labor. Under the new law, federal
security authorities "have access to finding out all about you, for no reason," he said. "You can get rated as a ‘terrorist’
for crossing picket lines or engaging in serious political action."
CHALLENGE OF RECESSION
The top challenge, Klipple said, is the recession. "It’s getting close to depression," he commented. "The recession
continues to deepen and there won’t be an end to it any time soon," unlike the experience in the last two decades. A hallmark of
this recession is the stunning increase in worker productivity, the highest since 1983. "Corporate America has to admit that
companies are doing more with fewer workers," he said.
The Bush Administration’s response to the recession is to push for "fast-tack" negotiating authority, to ease through the
legislative process more job-destroying trade deals, the UE leader observed. He praised UE members for their outpouring of e-mails,
letters and phone calls in opposition to fast track.
Shop reports gave evidence of the severity of the recession, compounded in many instances by mismanagement. General Electric workers,
members of Locals 506 and 618, commented on their fight to restrict the loss of jobs. Slow work, and, in some cases, layoffs, appeared in
the reports of several other locals.
KEEP AMTRAK ROLLING
The survival of Amtrak is important to the many UE members who produce equipment for the railroad industry and to the nation as a
whole, said District Political Action Co-Chairs Donna Cramer and John Thompson. "Not only will some of our members suffer at
the end of the month if Amtrak closes but so will thousands of others," said Cramer, a Local 506 member. "We need you to call
your representatives and let them know that we need to keep these people working."
Co-Chair Thompson also urged delegates to contact their Members of Congress in opposition to fast track. He pointed out that the
measure could still be stopped in conference; "We could defeat it with our phone calls."
The council agreed with Thompson’s proposal that a committee prepare a candidate survey. Delegates also endorsed four resolutions for
submission to the UE national convention: "Defend Public Education," "Stop FTAA (the Free Trade Area of the
Americas)," "Close the School of the Americas" and "Stop U.S. Involvement in Colombia’s Civil War." Prior to
approval of the resolutions, delegates formed work groups to discuss the resolutions and then explain to the reassembled council why they
are important to labor.