The health care crisis faced by California’s workers has legislators and even some businesses seeking a solution.

Nearly 7 million Californians are uninsured – 80 percent of them from working families. The passage of SB 2, “Health Care for Working Families,” initiated by state Sen. John Burton and signed into law by then-Gov. Gray Davis last year, was a historic victory for labor. That took place, however, before October’s recall vote, in which Davis, a Democrat, was replaced by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Now, with Schwarzenegger’s encouragement, the California Chamber of Commerce has joined with the retailer, restaurant, taxpayer and business property associations in a coalition, Californians against Government Run Healthcare, to overturn the bill. Their paid petitioners collected enough signatures to put an anti-SB 2 initiative on the ballot. Though the measure did not appear on the March primary ballot because a Superior Court judge ruled the petitions had misled voters and violated state election law, that ruling was overturned by the First District Court of Appeals, and the referendum will appear on the November ballot.

The California Labor Federation is making the upholding of SB 2 a major element in its campaign activity this year. The CLF says that the loss of SB 2 “would give businesses in California and across the nation the confidence to continue attacking and repealing health care for working families at bargaining tables across the country.”

If implemented, SB 2 would offer coverage for some 1 to 1.5 million workers and family members over the next two to three years. The employer would pay at least 80 percent of premiums, and possibly 100 percent. Low-wage workers would pay no more than 5 percent of their wages for coverage. The state would also set limits on total co-pays and deductibles. Collective bargaining agreements would be exempt from SB 2.

Single workers now pay an average of $3,000 a year, and workers with families as much as $8,000 – a situation that’s becoming unaffordable for workers and many small businesses. The average employer covered under SB 2 would face increased costs of only 0.2 percent of overall operating costs, while the state of California would save $620 million to $900 million per year in costs paid out.

Another piece of legislation, SB 921, authored by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, would provide a much-needed single-payer program for all Californians. The only other state to have implemented such a measure was Hawaii in 1974. Some 400 organizations have already endorsed the bill now going through the State Assembly Health Committee. Among those opposing both SB 2 and SB 921 are such notable retailers as Wal-Mart and fast-food chains like McDonalds that don’t provide any health coverage for workers.

For more information on SB 2, see, and SB 921, see

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