Unions march for health care in Philly

PHILADELPHIA – A cold wind and April showers failed to dampen the spirits of Service Employees Local 36 and Healthcare and Hospital Workers Union Local 1199C and their supporters who participated in the Family March for Healthcare Reform here on April 17

Local 36 represents about 4,000 janitors, maintenance workers, window cleaners, building engineers and a number of other professional workers in the Philadelphia area.

The march began with a rally at Blue Cross headquarters. There, Wyatt Closs, a Local 36 leader led the “41 million healthcare clap countdown” to underline the fact that at least 41 million people in the United States are without healthcare. “No one should have to worry about healthcare,” he said, adding that when monopolies like Glaxco Smith Kline and Independent Blue Cross increase the cost of insurance, employers pass them on to their workers in increased co-payments and reduced benefits. “Take healthcare off the bargaining table,” he demanded. “What we need is universal healthcare for the entire country,” he demanded.

Other speakers included Ray Martinez, president of SEIU Local 668, who condemned the federal government for spending billions on war while millions of its own people go without healthcare as well as Evonne Tisdale of the Philadelphia Unemployment Projects and Tim Kerney, representing City Councilman David Cohen, who invited everyone to support a City Council resolution placing the demand for Universal Healthcare on the Philadelphia ballot in the next election.

Henry Nicholas, president of 1199C of the Healthcare and Hospital Workers Union, pointed to the Independence Blue Cross building and said, “That’s where the problem is.” Nicholas said the healthcare delivery system in the United States is “on a respirator in intensive care and needs the federal government to resuscitate it.” Nichols drew applause he called for a clean sweep in the 2004 elections to “throw the rascals out”.

The enthusiastic crowd then marched 6 blocks to the Glaxco Smith Kline offices with banners waving and chanting, “They say take away, we say no way! They say give back, we say fight back!” “1, 2, 3, 4, No one should be the working poor. What do we want? Healthcare! When do we want it? Now!”

As Glaxco Smith Kline workers looked out the windows, Pedro Rodriguez, executive director, of the Action Alliance of Senior Citizens said. “It is the influence of greedy corporations like this that keeps our country from adopting universal healthcare. Rodriguez said 900 Philadelphians go to Canada each year to purchase their medication. “Don’t buy Tums,” he added. “They are manufactured by Glaxco Smith Kline.”

At the final rally Dr. Walter Tsou, Philadelphia’s former Healthcare Commissioner, called for a universal health care system. “Everyone talks about cost, but not about access,” he said, adding that the city spends $37 million on health centers on which the uninsured depend.

Nick Alpers, representing the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals said the health care crisis finds its reflection in the hospitals. “There is no limit on the hours a nurse can work or the number of patients a nurse must care for,” he said, “80 percent of the state’s nurses are not in a union.”

The closing rally ended with an update by Gloria Warring, Local 36, who said the local’s Health and Welfare Fund is in crisis and that an additional contribution is needed from the building owners in order to cover the local’s members and their families after Oct. 2003. “If the owners would agree to an increase of 10 cents per square foot our Health and Welfare Fund can remain solvent,” she said. “If not many children and other family members will lose their healthcare coverage.”

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthlink.net