Notes from the field: Why were we talking about health care again?

Dan Heck — Working America Regional Director

This morning, I sat down in my office and saw a letter from Sylvia, a member from Chillicothe. It almost moved me to tears, even though I’ve heard this story countless times. Here’s what she wrote to her Representative, Zack Space:

“I’m a cancer survivor and have been in the process of healing for 10 years. In the middle of the ordeal, my health insurance doubled and we were left with bills we either couldn’t pay or a premium we couldn’t pay. I am a nurse and believe me, I worked long hours to not have any insurance. We as Americans need health care!! I want you to support a public option. However, real reform means not taxing our health care benefits.”

This is a story we’ve seen in countless letters, and heard from countless members. It is extremely widespread. Middle class people who think they have insurance suddenly lose it, or find the rates become unaffordable, when they actually get sick. Any system that does that is broken, and needs to be fixed.

Health care reform isn’t about whether we think corporations or the government are worse. It isn’t about message points and 10 point plans and mountains of policy details. It is about Sylvia, because we’re all in Sylvia’s shoes. Even those of us fortunate enough to be in the middle class are one illness away from financial ruin. Our homes, our kid’s college … they’re all on the line because of a broken system that takes advantage of people when they’re sick, instead of protecting them.

Anyone who bothers to look at the health reform package knows that it will help protect everyone who works for a living. It helps keep special interests honest, and helps focus our hospitals on healing us, instead of just making money. An American Public Insurance option is a necessary part of that, because it will bargain for us and set the standard for others to follow. And if it doesn’t do that, people will choose not to use it.

But ultimately, this health care struggle is a whole lot bigger than any single bill, or any policy. We’re fighting to get the best possible bill for Sylvia, and all of us who are in her shoes.

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Raise a Glass for the Working Class

A couple months ago, Mike Elk wrote a piece about why he had stopped drinking Yuengling beer. Titled “Union Busting Ended My Love Affair With a Beer,” it got some other people thinking about responsible beer drinking. (Responsible beyond obvious stuff like not drinking and driving, that is.)

Working America and the AFL-CIO have joined together to move that discussion forward at Netroots Nation. And, since it’s Netroots Nation, it’s got to be fun as well as educational. That’s why we’re, literally, raising a glass (or a few hundred of them) for the working class.

During Netroots Nation, stop by our booth any time the exhibit hall is open, and take action for working families—sign on to support health care reform or the freedom to join a union, or join Working America (if you’re not already a member). We’ll also have wallet-sized info cards to carry as a reminder of which beers are union-made.

Then, each afternoon, come back to the booth and (if you’re over 21), sample some union beer. We’ll have locally-brewed Iron City, Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat and Classic Amber, and either Miller High Life or Budweiser American Ale. If you’re not an alcohol drinker, you can taste some Sharp’s.

We hope we see you there!

Working America at Netroots Nation

Netroots Nation starts tomorrow! (I’m a little excited.)

In addition to all the incredible panels and town halls I told you about last week, there have been a couple major additions. Like, oh, President Bill Clinton giving the opening keynote. And a panel with Representatives Alan Grayson, Patrick Murphy, and Carol Shea-Porter, talking about “what it’s like once the elections are over and it’s time to turn campaign promises into policy solutions.”

And a reminder that I’ll be on a panel with Nathan Henderson-James of ACORN, James Rucker of Color of Change, and Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films.

Leveraging Strength: Effective Collaboration Between Online and Offline Organizations and Activists
Thursday, August 13th 10:30 AM – 11:45 AM

This session is dedicated to exploring some of the recent collaborations between traditionally online and traditionally offline organizations in pursuit of progressive public policy goals. This session will showcase some examples of collaboration from genesis to victory and offer a set of “lessons learned” for session participants, sparking conversations about the development of new partnerships and the deeper implications for progressive change.

The AFL-CIO blog has info on more panels on workers’ issues.

Reminder: Unemployment LifeLine

Don’t forget—Working America and the AFL-CIO have put together the Unemployment LifeLine, a one-stop resource center for jobless workers. It’s a guide that links workers to the resources in their area, from unemployment offices to veterans’ services to child care. It also offers the opportunity to talk to others and share lessons learned and support.

And every weekday, the Unemployment LifeLine’s “ask an expert” feature is up and running. Community services staffers with decades of experience are there to answer your questions about how to face the challenges of being unemployed. You go to the LifeLine’s forums and ask your question. It won’t take long to get an answer.

Video: Turn around America

Erin Gill breaks it down at the AFL-CIO’s Turn Around America Rally, talking about all the issues that matter most for working families.


Making America work again


This is the core value of Working America, a community affiliate of the AFL-CIO. In every sense of the word.

Working America seeks to put hard-working Americans—often victims of a
system that provides pecuniary rewards for venal CEOs for shipping jobs abroad,
slashing health care plans and blowing up respected firms while pocketing obscene amounts of cash—back to work (and improve conditions for many others), while making this a country work for most Americans once again, as it did from the 1930s-1980s.

As we know, with the Little Prince in power, and his heartless legions willing to sink any bill—whether it is making gazillionaires pay more taxes than their servants or providing health care for kids—this is no easy task. But they are accomplishing nothing short of miracles on a grassroots level. And I had an experience last Friday which proved this.

I went over to my local Working America office, which is located in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio accounts for one third of Working America’s members, as well as its offices (700,000 of 2.1 million members and 5 of 15 offices in states from Oregon to Minnesota). Obviously, as a part of the Rust Belt, we’ve been hit hard by neoconservative, napkin-drawn economic theories (see Laffer, Arthur) that have crippled our manufacturing base. People need to know how they can improve things for themselves and their community.

So I met up with their Central Ohio Canvass Director, Scott Sneddon, who runs a tight and enthusiastic ship. We had lunch after a daily briefing for canvassers, and then I joined two particularly talented ones, Tanesha Powell and Jon Middleton, as we headed to a downscale neighborhood in Northern Columbus.

The results, judging from my past experiences doing canvassing work, were nothing short of amazing. Let me back up for a second and explain the theory behind Working America. It is that people care most about economic issues that affect their lives, but need to be reached where they live and breathe, as most of us who don’t obsess over politics don’t always know all of our rights and the possibilities that lay in front of us.

Therefore, Working America seeks DPMs, or Dues Paying Members, the dues being a-not-so-overwhelming $5 per year, as well as the chance to let all working Americans know how they can positively impact their own economic situation. Whether it is shady trade deals, the health care crisis or keeping up wages, those who are not members of unions often do not know how important their voice can be in righting our economic wrongs.

The key part of what they do is providing a community to those unable to join unions because of corporate shenanigans or because they are retired or out of work. Working America serves as their union. And a powerful one indeed.

In the time I was with my two hosts, they easily signed up two dozen new members (some offering dues up front, others an interest joining and providing information), and this was on only two blocks at 4PM, while many were still at work. Powell and Middleton were a picture of professionalism, with a passion to better these United States. Sneddon could not be more perfectly suited for his job, a guy who had the feel of an inspirational football coach on a mission, yet one who also could right away become your best friend.

With the reptilian Roves of the world running Republican fear campaigns, and the weakening of unions over the years by corporate stooges masquerading as public servants, we need Working America today more than ever. They educate people about the issues. They create a sum greater than its parts. Hell, they produce progressives.

In any case, that was my experience and I felt duty-bound to share it. I am honored to be aligned with such an organization. And can’t wait to see their impact in November 2008 and beyond.

Cliff Schecter is a Senior Fellow at Working America. On May 1 his first book, The Real McCain: Why Conservatives Don’t Trust Him And Why Independents Shouldn’t, will be released by PoliPoint Press.

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Results in: Health Care for America Survey

Over a period of just seven weeks, from Jan. 14 to March 3, a total of 26,419 people took the online 2008 Health Care for America Survey sponsored by the AFL-CIO and Working America. Most are insured and employed. Most are college graduates. More than half are union members.

These are the people, it would seem, most likely to have positive experiences with America’s health care system. Instead, their responses tell a sobering story about the breadth of the problems with health care in America. They say our system has fundamental problems that must be fixed.

The people who took the survey also submitted 7,489 heart-wrenching stories about the effects of this broken health care system on them and their families. You’ll see some of their stories throughout the report.

See the report here. You can also download a PDF version.

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Working America is at your door

Richard Freeman, Harvard University professor and Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics goes in-depth about our history and success at the AFL-CIO website’s Point of View.

The story of Working America is the one of the greatest success in reaching workers outside of collective bargaining since the Knights of Labor in the 1880s. Its primary mode of enlisting members is through community canvassing, where bright young activists go door to door in potentially union-friendly neighborhoods. At the same time, Working America’s strong online program has resulted in 60,000 new members signing up through its website….

Get the full scoop here.

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Working America in-depth at Firedoglake

Richard Freeman, who holds the Herbert Ascherman Chair in economics at Harvard University, serves as faculty director of the Labor and Worklife Program at the Harvard Law School and is senior research fellow in Labour Markets at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance, recently contributed a post about Working America to the popular blog Firedoglake. Here, Freeman talks about how our outreach is making a big difference in boosting the strength of the union movement. Read the post here.


Member mentioned in BusinessWeek

Deborah El, Working America member and 64 year old mother of a disabled daughter struggling with recent unemployment was mentioned in this article in Business Week. See the article at:

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