Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Health care reform: Labor leaders barking, but will they ever bite?

Labor leaders have been back and forth on different portions of the health care bill, but in the last day, SEIU President Andy Stern and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka have both come out with a “We’re just so disappointed” statement against the current version of the Senate health care bill. Don’t confuse this with labor leaders actually taking a stand. It remains to be seen whether they will NOT support the bill.

In light of yesterdays reading and quick dismissal of a public option amendment, and a variety of other concessions aimed a Sen. Lieberman and Sen. Nelson, leaders of both groups met last night to discuss the Senate bill, in an apparantly emotional and heated conversation.

At 7:30 am this morning, Andy Stern put his feelings this way:

“I am writing to you today because I believe this is the moment when we must stand as one and say enough. […] But at the very moment that we saw real and meaningful changes within our grasp, one Senator came forward to say “no we can’t.” He can’t let the Senate have an up-or-down vote on health insurance reform. And the result of this Senator saying “we can’t?” The public option is declared impossible. Americans cannot purchase Medicare at an earlier age. The health insurance reform effort we have needed for a century is at risk.”

“SEIU does not accept that this monumental effort – that this reform that is so necessary to the health and wellbeing of our economy, our families and our future – can be over without a fight. A fight to make it work for you and your families.”

The CBS News blog reports the following about a statement by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka released this afternoon:

“Meanwhile, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released a statement this afternoon following a meeting yesterday of their union. “The labor movement has been fighting for health care for nearly 100 years and we are not about to stop fighting now, when it really matters,” Trumka said. Taking a somewhat more aggressive tone than Stern, Trumka called the bill “inadequate.” “For this health care bill to be worthy of the support of working men and women, substantial changes must be made,” he said. Trumka said the AFL-CIO is still fighting for a government-run insurance plan, or “public option,” employer contributions and the removal of the “Cadillac” benefits tax.”

Despite the grumbling and grandstanding, neither union conglomerate has pulled support for the bill.  Why? Because the bill still helps out these unions. They still have something to gain from current legislation as is. And they have a lot to gain if the bill passes as is–even with the “crucial” things that the unions have demanded missing entirely.

When the Senate bill passes unaltered, the unions can use it against the Democrats.  They can kindly let the Democrats know that the Democrats still owe the unions back for their hard work and support.  For America’s union leaders, the worst thing in the world will be the day the Democrats think they’ve done enough for the labor movement. Because who then can labor turn to? Think of the worst codependent relationship you can imagine.

So the labor union leaders will keep barking. And never bite.

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