For those unfamilar with the Golden Gate Bridge, facts most pertinent
to walkers are: 1) It is 8,981 feet, or about 1.5 miles long, including
the access. 2) The sidewalks are 10.5 feet wide, allowing people
to walk side-by- side, which nervous people may want to do, as the
bridge is 220 feet above the ocean at high tide and sways somewhat
in the ever-present wind. 3) Due to Homeland Security rules, it
is no longer possible to walk across the bridge, although you can
bicycle. The "Bridging the Gap for Healthcare" walk was
allowed as a special circumstance, and there were police officers
on watch at each end of the bridge.
For those unfamiliar with the Healthcare Gap, facts most pertinent
to the concerned are 1) There are nearly 44 million persons in the
U.S. without healthcare. 2) Of the 44 million, 8.5 million are kids.
3) 8 out of 10 of those without healthcare come from working families.
4) The number of Californians without healthcare is 6,398,000 (in
Elaine Blankenship (telemetry tech and SEIU Local 250 Chief Shop
Steward at Woodland Hospital) was in San Francisco for the SEIU
Local 250 Leadership Conference and the SEIU National Convention.
Union members from both these events participated in the march across
the Golden Gate Bridge.
In this year when most unions' biggest contract issue is healthcare,
union members know that access to healthcare for all is extremely
important. In discussing the healthcare gap, Elaine remembered back
to the first contract SEIU Local 250 negotiated with Mercy Hospitals
Sacramento/Woodland in 2002.
One of the major goals for the first contract was paid health care
for dependents. As a member of the bargaining committee, Elaine
recounted the story of a coworker's daughter, a nursing assistant,
who was forced to put her child in the Healthy Families program
because her workplace did not provide health insurance for the children
of employees. This story, multiplied by many similar stories from
other CHW employees, strengthened the bargaining committee's determination
to fight for paid dependent healthcare, a benefit we now have.
Zeher is a field rep for Local 2, Hotel Employees and Restaurant
Employees Union (HERE). HERE merged with UNITE (Union of Needle
trades, Industrial and Textile Employees) in February of 2004, and
now represents 400,000 active members in North America.
The "Bridge the Gap for Healthcare" march is a demonstration
of widespread concern that is intended to make healthcare a priority
issue in the 2004 Presidential campaign. The large number of marching
union members appears to indicate an increased willingness to participate
in political actions beyond the immediate workplace.
Questions of how to get union members motivated to take political
action came up in an informative conversation with Sam that lasted
from one side of the Golden Gate to the other. Witnessing occasions
when the Union has the clear moral high ground are instructive for
union members:: "During a contract campaign, a manager was
questioning employees about why they should be given health care
benefits. I asked "Do YOU have healthcare benefits? and he
had to say that he did, leading to the obvious question of "If
you have them, why shouldn't we?!!".
Sharon Martinez, SEIU Local 250 shop steward in Cardiopulmonary
at Mercy General in Sacramento, helped make the "Bridge the
Gap for Healthcare" march a success by handing out water bottles
to thirsty bridgewalkers.
Asked why she was participating in this event, Sharon described
the healthcare issues faced by unions everywhere. Turning to healthcare
issues in her own workplace, Sharon said "In our first contract,
we won paid dependent healthcare. Now we need retiree medical care,
and we won the right to reopen our contract in two years to bargain
Those of us in unions have the ability to bargain for health care
benefits, but workers who are not in unions must rely on state and
national legislation such as SB 2, the California law that requires
employers of a certain size to provide health care to employees.
(Note: An attempt to repeal SB 2 is on the November ballot. Persons
interested in expanding healthcare access should defeat this initiative.
Until we have universal healthcare, we need SB2!)
Owens and Susan Elliot (SEIU Local 1199) are healthcare workers
at nursing homes in Ohio. They came here as delegate and alternate
to the SEIU National convention, and attended the Bridge the Gap
for Healthcare rally at Crissy Field.
Vivian and Susan are no strangers to political action. They were
active in getting the safety needle law passed in Ohio and are on
the executive board of their union. Hearing their account of lobbying
the Ohio Statehouse for safety needle legislation, I remembered
a similar campaign in California, and appreciated the political
action from unions that it takes to make health and safety regulations
When asked why they were attending the rally, Vivian said: "We're
gathering to let politicians know that a majority of people want
health care for all and are willing to fight to get it."
SEIU President Andy Stern leading the way across the the Golden
Gate Bridge and across the healthcare gap. SEIU represents 1.6 million
members, approximately 845,100 of which are healthcare workers,
including 110,000 nurses and 20,000 doctors.
Andy Stern's committment to high quality affordable healthcare
led him two years ago to create SEIU's "Americans for Healthcare"
project. The AHC project is "a grassroots network of working
families, small business owners, seniors, healthcare workers, community
leaders, and policy makers determined to pass legislation to increase
access to affordable care and make healthcare a political priority."
(from Andrew Stern's SEIU bio).
Sal Roselli, President of SEIU Local 250 healthcare workers' union
marched beside Andy Stern across the bridge.
both sides of the bridge, the Golden Gate was filled with marchers
determined to bridge the healthcare gap. The "Bridge the Gap"
healthcare march was sponsored by SEIU, Jobs with Justice, Rock the
Vote, and MoveOn.org. Other participants included Physicians for a
DemocraticMajority (www.demdocs.org), the Campaign for Mental Health,
and Mobilizing America's Youth ("We are the generation we've
been waiting for!" says their shirt). SEIU Locals 250 and 399
(healthcare workers),1000 (State workers), 1877 (janitors), 660 (LA
county), 81 (Roofers, Waterproofers and allied trades), and UFCW (food
and commercial workers) were among represented unions.
Yagan has been a Home Health worker for eleven years in Yolo county
and is a shop steward for SEIU Local 250. After a long struggle, the
home health workers got a contract with medical and dental benefits,
a first for them. When asked why she had joined the BridgeWalk, Micaela
said: "We need to get healthcare benefits for everyone!"
Betty Lewis is a member of SEIU Local 399, the healthcare workers'
union in Southern California. In June of this year, Local 250, Local
399, and Local 121 (RN's) bargained our first statewide contract,
and as a member of Local 250, I wondered what people in Local 399
thought of it.
"All in all, it was a good contract," she said. "I
was hoping for retiree medical benefits, but I realize that bargaining
means give and take, and overall, I'm very satisfied."
Betty has the unfortunate distinction of working at Mercy Westside
Hospital in Taft, so though she may be the beneficiary of a good
contract, the hospital is being sold or closed (unless a lawsuit
is successful in preventing it). If the hospital is sold, the "Change
of Ownership" provision in the new contract may get a chance
for a test drive.
The sale/closure of the Taft hospital illustrates a dilemma in
the hospital industry: If hospitals in rural areas such as Taft
are unprofitable, should they be closed, even if it means residents
must make, in this case, a 45 minute drive to Bakersfield for care?
A concern for healthcare would probably recommend remaining open
in Taft, but it appears that financial considerations dictate otherwise.
The third solution, some form of universal health care with a different
financial base might be the best answer. Good luck, Betty!
Kvitky is an accelerator operator at Stanford University and a member
of SEIU Local 715. We encountered Zev at a Juneteenth musical event
taking place after (and unrelated to) the "Bridge the Gap for
Health Care" march. The volume of music required intent listening
for what was a very interesting conversation with the first accelerator
operator/Union member we've met.
After a positive discussion of the new SEIU statewide Local 250/399/121
contract (his girlfriend was on the bargaining committee in the
healthcare workers' union), Zev described a unique aspect of his
Local 715's contract-bargaining assignment: Because Local 715's
healthcare benefits are applied to other Stanford University employees,
such as professors, the healthcare benefits have to be agreeable
to a range of persons outside of Local 715.This has resulted in
a selection of healthcare plans in which Kaiser is the minimum benefit