John August is the Executive Director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. He has been an organizer for more than 30 years, representing social workers, bus drivers, airline mechanics and flight attendants, school employees, printers, and virtually every type of worker in hospitals as well as nursing homes and home care. Before joining the Union Coalition, John held several positions with Service Employees International Union, most recently serving as the deputy director of SEIU's Health Systems division.
Forty-five years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain in Memphis, Tenn., we are seeing the resurgence of a movement for economic justice.
Dr. King was in Memphis in April 1968 to support of one of the most significant labor and civil rights struggles of the time: Some 1,300 Memphis sanitation workers went on strike, with picket signs that read, “I am a Man.” The whole world was forced to pay attention to a peaceful yet determined demand that being human means being treated equally, regardless of race or ethnicity. The sanitation workers demanded to be able to make a living wage and be treated with respect at work. Sadly, hatred and resistance to change cost Dr. King his life. His leadership and martyrdom inspired and continue to inspire so many to stand up for racial and economic justice.
Important and good news: The pathway to provide health care for all of our people has survived. Since the Civil War, many attempts to extend health care for all have failed. As of today, June 28, 2012, the path has mostly been cleared.
Of course, the law is not an extension of Medicare for all, nor does it guarantee health care for all tomorrow. It certainly does not guarantee health care for all that is equitable, affordable and of the highest quality. Those struggles are still before us.
But, advocates for high-quality health care for all have been given a huge boost to build on the platform of the Affordable Care Act, which survived the political gridlock in Washington, D.C. Chief Justice John Roberts was the “swing vote” in the 5-4 decision that upheld the law.
Whoever thinks that labor unions are stuck in the past clearly isn’t following the trajectory of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. Our Coalition, which represents close to 100,000 workers at Kaiser Permanente medical centers, launched a new campaign this week that targets not a health care employer but a different type of foe: obesity and chronic disease. On Friday morning, more than 500 Coalition union members hit the streets of Hollywood with the message that we plan to use union organizing techniques to take aim at the causes of chronic disease. Our members talked to tourists, gave free blood pressure screenings at a senior center, held up signs that read “Health is a Union Issue,” and even danced to a Beyonce “Move Your Body” video in front of Hollywood’s famed Chinese Theater.
, with nearly 100,000 unionized frontline workers and our management and physician counterparts, is that we are engaged in making a tangible contribution to the fiscal crisis in health care. The skyrocketing cost of health care is one of the forces driving deficits in the nation.
If 17 percent of GDP is spent on health care, that is $2.5 trillion. If 80 percent of those dollars are spent on chronic and preventable conditions that means that there is $2 trillion where health care spending could be substantially reduced. If that 80 percent of health care spending was reduced by just 10 percent, $200 billion would be taken out of the cost of health care. We are showing a path for improved services and ways to contain cost. That’s exactly what people are asking for!