Labor and Medicare for All, Part I
Mark Dudzic, National Coordinator of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare, talks about his experiences as a union president that led him to become a Medicare for All activist. He answers our questions about the conflicts in the labor movement over Medicare for All that played out in the presidential primary, the Supreme Court decision in Janus vs AFSCME, COVID-19 and the Democrat’s COBRA proposal, and more.
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On the pod today, is our special guest Mark Dudzic, National Coordinator of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare!
Mark got into this movement originally as the president of an Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers union local in New Jersey, which struggled more and more to bargain healthcare benefits for workers. After learning about Medicare for All, the union embraced taking healthcare off the bargaining table as a core issue.
Today, Mark sees Medicare for All as THE central issue for building a just world for working people.
Stepping back just before coronavirus struck, M4A was the #1 issue in the Democratic presidential primaries. One of the most common attacks coming from Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobochar was that M4A would “take away” unions’ workplace insurance. Mark was stunned by the explicit celebration of our crazy system linking healthcare to employment – which means you can lose your healthcare when you lose your job, or if you go on strike, or if you get sick. (He wrote up his response in an article titled “Employment-Based Health Care Is an Anchor around the Neck of the U.S. Working Class.”) He suspects this messaging was developed by cynical PR experts playing on peoples’ fear of losing the access to healthcare they have. Similar messaging is being targeted at seniors: raising the fear that if everyone has Medicare, seniors’ Medicare will be taken away or undermined.
The good news? Mark argues this fear-mongering against Medicare for All simply did not work this primary election cycle. In every state Democratic voters favored M4A, regardless of who they voted for – even in the face of attacks from many of the leading Presidential candidates.
What does it look like for union and non-union workers in other countries that have a Medicare for All type system? Mark says we are the only country where workers essentially have to beg their employer for healthcare coverage, and it significantly undermines their power and leverage over key workers’ rights – we are also the only country without guaranteed paid leave, guaranteed due process on the job, etc. Workers waste so much of their bargaining power on healthcare here, it has a tremendous impact on other working conditions.
What about the Las Vegas Culinary Union, which on the eve of the Nevada primaries took a run at Bernie Sanders’s support for Medicare for All, implying it would “take away” their union health benefits? Mark says this was a watershed movement for organized labor. The Culinary Union is a really good union – through decades of struggle, they’ve succeeded in lifting a primarily immigrant, low-wage group of workers into the middle class. In part because of this history of activism though, Culinary Union members rejected anti-M4A messaging from their leadership, and by all evidence voted overwhelmingly for Bernie Sanders, and in support of M4A. This was a real wake-up call for union leaders around the country.
Now our favorite topic: coronavirus! The current pandemic has the potential to completely transform the conversation around Medicare for All with workers and unions. Mark notes that we have really seen here a collapse of the employment-based healthcare system. 27 million workers have likely lost their health insurance, and they’re going to remember this moment even when they return to work, whenever that happens.
So how do we explain the Democratic leadership’s weak-kneed response in their proposed CARES 2 legislation, which would massively subsidize the private, employment-based insurance system, covering very few impacted workers? Mark says we simply got out-maneuvered there, and a plan designed by the insurance industry was put forward that does more to subsidize their profit margins than it does to save lives.
We’ll have Mark back on the next podcast to jump more into the history of the labor movement and the fight for Medicare for All, to put our struggles today into perspective!
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