Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

State News

August 1, 2009

Health care on agenda for W.Va. labor rally

CHARLESTON (AP) — After conservatives have drummed up opposition across West Virginia to proposals of the Obama administration, labor leaders and Democratic politicians are rallying for policies they say are crucial to bettering the country’s economy.

Chief among those issues is health care, with the state AFL-CIO in particular pushing hard for a so-called “public option” that would enable virtually all Americans to have health insurance coverage.

That puts them at odds with conservatives in West Virginia, who recently rallied against such a public option, and who are discussing the possibility of more demonstrations when Congress takes its August break.

National AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rich Trumka, United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts, Gov. Joe Manchin and U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall are among those scheduled to attend the rally at the state Capitol on Sunday.

The rally is designed to stir up support for a bill in Congress called the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to join unions and create stiff penalties for employers that illegally seek to bar them from doing so. The rally will also touch on global trade, with unions wanting stronger guarantees from the country’s trade partner regarding human rights and the environment.

But health care reform has come to the forefront of organizers’ agenda.

“It’s time we said, Don’t slow down. We need health care reform now,” said state AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Larry Matheney.

In particular, Matheney said a public health plan is an essential ingredient of meaningful reform, arguing that it will make private health insurers change their practices to be more attractive to consumers. The health care reform legislation that narrowly passed a key congressional committee Friday night includes a public option.

“A public plan is the way to increase competition, and lack of competition is the real problem,” Matheney said.

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