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When Your Gall Bladder Gets Sent to India, Have You Had Enough?

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Guest Blogged By Tula Connell

Carl Garrett, a paper mill technician in Canton, N.C., needed gall bladder and shoulder surgery. So his employer, Blue Ridge Paper Products, came up with an increasingly less- than-novel solution: Send him overseas for surgery.

India, in this case.

Garrett volunteered to go. But let’s face it, how much of an option did he have? Let’s see: Agree with your employer and take your chances overseas, or risk paying out-of-pocket costs for the entire surgery in the United States? Duh.

But Garrett has a union, and the union didn’t stand for what the media and others have euphemistically dubbed “medical tourism.” The USW International Union (USW) persisted until management backed off the plan. The USW and Blue Ridge will work together to find an alternative within the United States.

Paul Krugman has done great work demonstrating that the U.S. health care system is so broken, our nation spends far more than other western industrialized countries on health care while far fewer of its citizens have the health care they need. Sen. Bill Frist got egg on his face last week for inadvertently acknowledging the disastrous state of the U.S. health care when he said it’s worse than the care prisoners get at Guantanamo: GITMO prisoners get "24/7 medical care—better than many Americans."

Exporting our jobs. Exporting our bodies for health care. All of us face these attacks on our health care, jobs, retirement and more, yet too few of us are represented by unions. But unions make a difference not only on the job, but in shaping the direction of the nation. Which is why the Bush administration has made destroying unions a priority.

And an impending decision by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) could alter the definition of supervisor and potentially take away the right to join unions from up to 8 million nurses, building trades workers, newspaper and television employees and others. Jordan Barab has discussed the issue in detail here.

We can’t elect NLRB members. But we can elect, and un-elect, the politicians who make those appointments. And the union movement is making a massive effort to fight Bush’s onslaught because like all progressives, we’ve had enough.

Here’s some of what the union movement is doing now.

Working America, the 1.5 million-member AFL-CIO community affiliate, is mobilizing its rapidly growing membership to make a difference in the 2006 elections. Working America was created in fall 2003 to marshal the power of workers who don’t have a union on the job. Since June 2006, Working America’s more than 250 locally-recruited canvassers have reached out to nearly 200,000 working people each month around economic issues. Two of three people contacted in the door-to-door canvassing join Working America.

The majority of Working America members (70 percent) identify themselves as moderates or conservatives, one-third are “born again” Christians and one-third are National Rifle Association supporters. While many may have responded to divisive wedge social issues in the past, they are very concerned about the economics of their jobs and lives—health care and jobs top their list of concerns. In 2004, Working America members voted 68 percent for John Kerry for president, compared to 30 percent who voted for President George W. Bush. In fact:

  • Last year, 70,000 Working America members mailed handwritten letters to elected officials. Online, Working America members have sent more than 500,000 e-mails and fax messages to elected officials on issues such as Social Security, minimum wage and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)

  • In Ohio’s CD 6 primary in May, a last-minute push by Working America’s 78 canvassers helped propel a write-in victory for Democratic State Sen. Charlie Wilson—and Wilson’s write-in votes surpassed Rep. Ted Strickland’s (D) votes for the same seat in 2002.

  • In Pennsylvania’s SD 19 this spring, Working America recruited 7,500 new members in two weeks—tripling the labor program’s reach and electing a Democrat in that district for the first time in 100 years.

  • More than 400,000 Working America members live in CDs with the 20 of the highest priority House races.

Getting swing and conservative voters to cast ballots benefiting their pocketbooks is just one part of the union movement’s mobilization this fall. The AFL-CIO union movement ramped up its get-out-the-vote efforts among union members—and even before Labor Day:

  • Placed more than 1.3 million calls to union members and their households.

  • Sent more than 1.1 million pieces of mail to our members and members’ households.

  • Printed more than 2.6 million Labor 2006 customized issues fliers for walks and worksite leafleting.

  • Developed 264 different resource materials for activists’ use through the online “Working Families Toolkit.”

  • Recruited more than 20,000 new activists through mail, phone, online and legislative actions.

We all know women are among the key voters in this election, as they have been in the past several elections. And we’re trying to make sure they vote for their pocketbook issues as well. After all, more women than men live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics and in a recent AFL-CIO Ask a Working Woman survey, an incredible 97 percent of the more than 26,000 respondents said affordable health care tops their concerns, a figure that crosses age and race lines.

So we’ve set Oct. 10 as the day when women across the nation can begin to take back the 2006 election campaign dialogue for working women and their families. That day,  working women across the nation will gather for hundreds of “Stirring the Pot” events—dinners and other small gatherings—where they will talk about how to get more women to make a difference and vote, as well as write letters and postcards to other women to remind them to make their voices heard by voting. Union members who sign up to host these events receive a guide to help get the discussion going and keep it on track around the issues most important to the lives of working women.

Issues like Social Security, which the Bush crowd is gunning for as soon as the elections are over.

We’ve had enough. And we’re doing something about it.

 Tula Connell  blogs  at AFL-CIO Now

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