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Blue Dogs Bite, Unions Bite Back

Photo credit: SMWIA  

Today, it’s my honor to turn this space to Sheet Metal Workers (SMWIA) General President Mike Sullivan, leader of one of the first unions to publicly state the union is pulling all support from the Blue Dogs because of their efforts to kill real health care reform.

Remember last November? I still do.

I remember the pride I felt watching President-elect Obama and his family standing on that stage in Chicago, bolstered by the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans and the promise of change finally coming to our nation.

Months later, the promise of that new day is in jeopardy. Not only because of the do-nothing Republican opposition, but because of some of our own.

Instead of real health care reform, a small group of conservative Democrats in the House and Senate are working with Republicans in a bid to tax the same health benefits union members made countless concessions for, while dropping the public option that would lower the skyrocketing health care costs that are keeping many working people up late at night.

Every major poll indicates overwhelming support for a public option and intense opposition to a health benefits tax that would force working Americans to subsidize irresponsible employers like Wal-Mart who underinsure their employees. I know that everywhere I travel, I am met with outrage and anger by union members and unrepresented workers who trusted the Democrats to stand beside the president and pass real reform.

Despite this anger, senators like Max Baucus and Kent Conrad continue to reject a public option and have consistently called for a health benefits tax on 160 million working Americans.

We in the labor movement have always stood with the Democratic Party through the highs and its lows. We have donated to the more conservative Democrats, promised that they would stand with us when the time came. We did more than uphold our part of the bargain. We worked day in and day out to help deliver the Democratic majorities in the House and in the Senate. In fact, the Center for Public Integrity reports that the majority of contributions made to the so-called "Blue Dog" Democrats come from the same working men and women of the labor movement they now try to ignore, not the health insurance industry or Big Business.

Those same working people have not just donated financially through their unions. For a long time, they have been called upon and delivered in performing the grunt work on many of these political campaigns. They have time and time again manned the phone banks, walked precincts, manned get-out-the-vote (GOTV) programs and distributed leaflets for all Democratic candidates across the country.

We have been promised that when push came to shove, the Blue Dogs would join their fellow Democrats and stand by working people.

Push has come to shove. And from the way things now stand, union members feel deceived.

Due to this, my union, the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA), has decided to suspend all financial and intangible campaign activity in support of every political candidate until real health care reform is passed.

We are using those funds to instead launch a preliminary round of ads that are now playing in Iowa, Montana, North Dakota and Arkansas targeting Republican Chuck Grassley and the other senators holding up reform. We are also using those funds to inform and mobilize our union’s membership in our fight for real health care reform.

We are not the only ones in the labor movement who are feeling the disappointment. Other unions are assisting us in our efforts and even more are considering a similar moratorium on donations.

And in case these senators and their colleagues in the House are still not listening, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka also is warning them about what is in store. He recently appeared at our General Convention in Las Vegas and further elaborated on his remarks at Netroots Nation, and amplified here in a Huffington Post article, where he stated that "We’ll look at everyone of their votes."

If they’re against the Employee Free Choice Act, if they’re against health care…I think it’ll be tough for them to get support from working people.

If we do not act today, America’s families will pay $24,291 in insurance costs by 2016. That is an additional $11,611 in payments that go to America’s health insurance companies rather than into people’s pockets.

I think the American people can find quite a few more useful things to do with that money besides padding the wallets of the American health insurance industry.

Perhaps cleaning up after the wreck of the past eight years might be a start.

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Tula Connell

Tula Connell