MONTPELIER, VT - Working Vermont, a coalition of Vermont labor unions, has joined the Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign in an effort to make Vermont the first state in the country to establish the moral commitment that healthcare will be treated as a public good for every resident. Unions participating represent over 30,000 Vermonters include the Vermont State Labor Council AFL-CIO, Vermont NEA, Vermont State Employees Association, Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals - United Professions of Vermont/AFT, United Nurses & Allied Professions, United Electrical Workers and Vermont Building & Construction Trades Council.
"For a long time, union workers were able to negotiate health insurance coverage as a benefit as part of our compensation. But with exploding healthcare costs spiraling out of control, we now believe that the current healthcare system is broken and needs fundamental change. It is time that healthcare be treated as a basic right, as a public good for every Vermont resident. Vermonters are paying almost $5 billion dollars a year for healthcare, and if we actually put all of our healthcare dollars towards actual healthcare, we would have more than enough money to provide high quality, comprehensive care for every one of us," said Jennifer Henry, RN, who is the President of the United Professions of Vermont/AFT.
The Healthcare Is A Human Right campaign, which is coordinated by the Vermont Workers' Center, is a growing grassroots network of Vermonters who have been organizing to build enough support for Vermont to take fundamental steps to fix the broken healthcare system.
"We need to create change at the roots of crisis, which to us means eliminating the treatment of healthcare as a commodity, ending the fee for service practice, and divorcing healthcare from employment. It should not matter who you are, where you work, or how much money you have. If someone in our community needs health services they should be available, just as the fire department and K-12 public education are available to everyone, and we pay for them equitably, " says Amy Lester, a school guidance counselor from Plainfield and local leader of her Vermont NEA chapter.
Several healthcare bills have been introduced and are in current consideration by the Vermont Legislature. The Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign is looking for major strides to be accomplished in 2010. "Action needs to take place this year. We feel there is real urgency to have a fully implemented, universally accessible healthcare system and any implementation plan should find the shortest possible route to this goal," says Jill Charboneau, a postal worker from Middlebury and acting President of the Vermont State Labor Council.
At a press conference held on February 16, leaders announced plans to hold a Healthcare Is A Human Right Rally on Saturday, May 1st in Montpelier. Last year's May 1 Statehouse Healthcare Is A Human Right rally drew over twelve hundred participants and is considered the largest weekday rally in the state capitol's history.
"Having practically every single union in Vermont be for this fundamental shift in healthcare is a huge development," said James Haslam, Director of Vermont Workers' Center. "The state budget crisis is a part of our healthcare crisis, and our soaring healthcare costs are unsustainable. We must begin this shift to make healthcare a public good and have a system which allows us to control costs. We can no longer wait to fix this broken system and it’s tremendous to have Vermont's labor movement mobilizing to make this possible."