In America, No One Should Go Without Health Care

08/30/2007 09:27 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Unions. Yes, we're the folks who brought you the weekend. And we're the folks whose collective bargaining has maintained upward pressure on wages and benefits for all workers -- union members and nonmembers.

We're also the folks who fought for and helped win legislation that has brought out the best in America: civil rights laws, the 40-hour week, Medicare and Social Security, overtime pay, workplace safety, family and medical leave and more.

So it's painful this Labor Day to look around and see America isn't working the way it should. Dissatisfaction is growing with an economy that benefits the wealthy but leaves regular working people behind. One of the greatest economic burdens working families face today is the insane, out-of-control cost of health care. One in four Americans say their family has had a problem paying for medical care during the past year. The cost of health care -- rising far faster than workers' wages or inflation -- is a major factor in housing problems and bankruptcies. In fact, every 30 seconds in the United States someone files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem.

Meanwhile, insurance and drug companies are making stunning profits, health insurance CEOs averaged $8.7 million in 2006 compensation and pharmaceutical company CEOs pulled down an average of $4.4 million.

The rest of us aren't faring so well. The annual premium cost for a family health plan has close to doubled since 2000, from $6,351 to an astonishing $11,480. Soaring health coverage costs are crippling U.S. companies' ability to compete internationally -- health benefits accounted for an estimated $1,300 of the cost of a new car made by the Big Three in 2005, for example. As costs grow higher, fewer employers are providing health coverage for employees--and fewer workers are able to afford their share of the costs or to buy policies on their own. The outrageous price tags on insurance policies are driving increases in the number of people without coverage. The federal government just let us know that another 2.2 million people -- including 600,000 more children -- lost health insurance last year, meaning 47 million of us now cannot afford to get sick.

In the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth, that is just not acceptable. In America, no one should go without health care.

The AFL-CIO is turning Labor Day 2007 into the start of a drive to win quality health care for all in 2009. With 10 million members and nearly 3 million union retirees, we intend to make the 2008 elections a mandate on health care. The union families who made up a quarter of voters last year are going to mobilize as never before to elect a Congress and a president who will enact the kind of real health care reform America needs.

You don't have to look far to see that winning health care for all is going to be tough. President Bush has vowed to veto legislation that would extend health care to millions more children -- now, that's cold! He's protecting insurance interests rather than children's health, saying this could be a dangerous first step toward health care for all. He's right -- getting this legislation passed and overriding a Bush veto is the first step.

This fall and throughout 2008, union members will be mobilizing in their workplaces, in their neighborhoods and in their communities to demand that candidates and elected officials at every level commit to work for working families.

Labor Day 2009 will be a great day.