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Culinary Workers and Gannett

Medicare for All Debate: Decided by Organized Labor

Unions are weighing in on the healthcare debate as the Democratic primary heads to Nevada

Brian Young's picture
Feb 12, 2020

With the Iowa Caucus debacle and the first in the nation primary in New Hampshire in the books, the Presidential Primary heads to Nevada. The field seems to be split into two factions the more moderate wing, led by South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Senator Amy Kloubacher, and former Vice President Joe Biden, and the progressive wing led by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Perhaps the biggest division between the two groups is over healthcare, should we provide Medicare for All or allow people to stay on their private insurance and offer a public option, or as Buttigieg has called it Medicare for those who want it.

Like the candidates, unions are also split on the issue. Perhaps the most important political force in Nevada, the Culinary Workers Union, has come out against Medicare for All. The union, which has not made an endorsement, is distributing flyers to their 60,000 members informing them that Bernie Sanders's plan would “End Culinary Healthcare” and “Require ‘Medicare for All.” A picture of the flyer can be found in the tweet below.



This is the second flyer the union has distributed opposing Medicare for All. “We have fought for 85 years to protect our healthcare. Why would we let politicians take it away?” You can check out the flyer below



The feelings on the issue are so strong that Sanders faced chants of “Union Healthcare” when he visited the union for a Townhall. UNITE HERE, the international union that the Culinary Workers are affiliated with, aren’t the only ones opposed to Medicare for All. Unions like the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF):

 "The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), our 317,000 members and millions of others with quality, employer-provided healthcare does not support the concept of abandoning those plans for a government-run single-payer plan," Harold Schaitberger, general president of the IAFF, wrote in the letter. "The elimination of employer-based insurance in favor of a Medicare-for-all or government-run single-payer proposal is a bad idea that punishes working families who have secured quality healthcare."

For unions that oppose Sanders's plan, they see it as taking away a major benefit that they provide their members over a non-union workplace.

On the other side are unions like the National Nurses United (NNU), and the CWA. As healthcare costs go up, many unions see Medicare for All as a lifeline that would allow them to take a major cost off of the bargaining table. Sara Nelson, the President of the American Flight Attendants union (AFA-CWA) which is a CWA affiliate had this to say in response to a tweet from Buttigieg saying that the 14 million union workers want his plan of Medicare for All Who Want It:



Nelson has also said in the past, that Medicare for All has strong support among her union rank and file members. CWA International President Chris Shelton said in September of 2019, “CWA long has supported an overhaul of our health care system and a ‘single-payer’ plan that would provide universal coverage. The Medicare for All Act is one opportunity to do just that.”

Those in support of Medicare for All also argue that the point of their plan is that no union or worker should have to fight for good healthcare. They see it as a right, not a privilege that comes from working a good union job.

Exit polls from New Hampshire tell us that 30% of voters listed healthcare as their top issue. Of those voters, 66% said that they supported a single-payer system. Exit polls also asked all voters if they supported Medicare for All and 6 in 10 New Hampshire voters supported it, with 4 in 10 opposing it.

For unions, the Medicare for All issue seems, to be a little bit of a double-edged sword. They have spent years fighting for top “Cadillac” plans, but many on the other side say that no one should have to fight for great healthcare. They see it as a right, not a privilege. Unions, like the UAW members at GM, have spent weeks on strike to prevent cuts to their healthcare. Would they have been forced to strike if there was Medicare for All? Would it be easier to negotiate raises if companies didn’t have to worry about rising health care costs? We won’t know that for sure, but we do know that this policy difference will play out over the next few months as Democrats campaign in strong union states like Nevada, New York, and California.

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