08/30/2017

AFT leaders join healthcare 'Drive for Our Lives'

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The AFT's national back-to-school campaign stopped Aug. 29 in Binghamton, N.Y., where members of the New York State United Teachers and the New York State Public Employees Federation met a bus that has traveled all over the country this year advocating for healthcare.

The "Drive for Our Lives" bus tour has stopped in more than 50 cities, traveling 15,000 miles to congressional districts and seeking out members of Congress who voted to take away the Affordable Care Act from millions of Americans. The tour's message: Let's fix healthcare, not abandon it. You can find the tour on Twitter at #ProtectOurCare.

AFT President Randi Weingarten, along with members of NYSUT and PEF, greeted the bus in the afternoon. Joined in turn by healthcare providers, faith leaders and ordinary people with healthcare stories to tell, Weingarten addressed the crowd. Instead of trying to undermine America's healthcare, she said, the GOP should work with the growing number of legislators from both parties who want to fix the law. It's our job as union members, she said, to keep pressure on lawmakers until every American has access to high-quality, affordable healthcare.

Weingarten speaking at Drive for Our Lives bus stop

Without healthcare insurance, Weingarten said, her family faced bankruptcy because of her mother's cancer.

"Even here in New York, Republicans have been trying to strip away healthcare to give tax breaks to the rich," she said. "We still have to make sure people aren't one illness away from bankruptcy."

Americans are right to remain concerned about the Republican healthcare proposal, which would cut $50 billion in federal Medicaid contributions to New York state alone over the next decade. It would put more than 2.2 million New Yorkers at risk of losing coverage—that's more than 11 percent of the state's population. And it would slash $136 million that New York schools receive each year through Medicaid, which covers services to students with disabilities. There's a reason that every major nursing, physician, public health and hospital group has opposed the GOP plan.

Later, Weingarten met with members of PEF and NYSUT, which are fighting a statewide referendum this fall on whether New York should hold a constitutional convention. Big-money special interests and lobbyists support the referendum because it would give them a chance to rewrite the state constitution for their own benefit in areas like education and natural resources. The unions are opposing this boondoggle, which is estimated to cost taxpayers $300 million.

Weingarten left south-central New York to continue her next leg of the AFT back-to-school campaign in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Lorretta Johnson at Boston Drive for Our Lives bus stop

Meanwhile, AFT Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson met the Drive for Our Lives bus in Boston on Aug. 30. She thanked Mayor Marty Walsh and U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) for their participation as well as everyone who has resisted attacks on our healthcare system.

"No parent should have to choose between their own care and the health of their children," she said.

[Annette Licitra]