Schaitberger, head of the Firefighters union, said firefighters deal with high rates of cancer and post-traumatic stress, and have fought to make sure their health insurance plans have good coverage for those conditions.
"Our health-care plans are absolutely critical," Schaitberger said. "Any thought of having a government-wide, single-payer Medicare for All plan, we would never support."
"Medicare for All is the only solution to guarantee health care for everyone," she said. "People shouldn't have to choose between rent, food, and health care. This violates our values as nurses."
The firefighters have endorsed for president former Vice President
The divide among labor unions mirrors how, more than any other issue, Medicare for All is cleaving the Democratic presidential primary, serving as a demarcation line between a liberal wing pushing for bold structural change and more moderate voices urging pragmatic incremental change. All of the Democratic primary debates so far have featured the fight, and it's almost certain to come up again in the fifth debate on Wednesday night.
Labor unions represent about one in 10 U.S. workers and form a crucial part of the Democratic electorate. The stance individual unions take on Medicare for All depends on various factors, including the type of work its members do, the strength of the union's insurance plan, whether out-of-pocket costs are increasing, and even ideology
Two of the three front-runners, Sanders and
Their more moderate rivals, including Biden, Mayor
Biden pitches his approach -- which would allow people to keep their private insurance while also letting Americans join a government plan if they chose -- before union audiences, who have often made concessions to hold on to quality health care through their employers.
"You've broken your neck to get it," Biden said at a labor convention in
"Health care is nothing but deferred wages,"
He worried that Medicare for All might not live up to campaign promises once it meets the congressional sausage grinder.
Those concerns are particularly prominent among building trades unions, such as those representing plumbers, electricians, and ironworkers, whose members tend to have generous health benefits. But the view isn't universal.
"You might expect unions to oppose it," said
Many do, but Bucci also noted the "solidarity" philosophy guiding much of the labor movement: "Historically, there has been the bigger push toward broader thinking about what's going to happen for all people."
The Nurses union is one of more than a dozen labor organizations to endorse Medicare for All, including the
"And the fight is always around trying to retain what we already have, it's not about improving it," Nelson said.
While union members may have better health insurance than some workers, Medicare for All would help bring solid coverage to family members not always covered, said
Dodd argued that nothing about Medicare for All would prevent a union from negotiating supplemental insurance for specific needs, as in the case of the firefighters. Sanders and Warren both have single-payer plans that require employers to pay back the money they save on health care to employees in other benefits.
"I think it's just fear, and you can't say fear is not valid, but I don't see the reasoning behind it here," Dodd said.
But leaders of Dodd's national union, the
Two leaders of the largest unions,
Weingarten, however, worries the
"Virtually every Democratic candidate wants universal health care as a right, not a privilege, and has proposed things that would [have been] viewed in the Obama administration as really on the left," Weingarten said. "Let's stop killing ourselves about what's pure and not pure."
Overall, a small majority of adults still say they support putting all Americans on a single national health plan, with 51% in favor and 47% opposed, according to an October poll by the
The topic comes up often as the candidates campaign in the early-voting states. When a group of
What if they face higher deductibles? Or more limitations on choice of doctors? They all agreed that every American should have access to good health care, but didn't want to give up the insurance they know and like.
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