AFGE Local 2809 President, John Walton, Jr., reports that his local has endorsed HR 676, national single payer, improved Medicare for All legislation sponsored by Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D MI). The local represents approximately 500 members who work at the Social Security Direct Data Operations Center in Wilkes Barre, PA. The members handle national 800 calls from across the country and work to resolve issues and answer questions for the public and others. A recent hiring freeze caused some delays in the processing of forms related to Part D Prescription benefits.
Iris Rakowski, Night Shift Chief Steward, and Martin Vasquez, Sergeant at Arms for the local, spoke with Unions for Single Payer. They report that the membership has seen health care premiums rise and indicated that even a modest increase can create hardship. They note that in spite of the misconception that government workers make a lot of money, their members make $35,000 to $50,000 on average.
As health care premiums have risen, some workers have had to downgrade their health plan from standard to basic. That move increases the co-pays charged when the worker seeks care. And there are deductibles.
The workers choose from a wide variety of plans so there are many different kinds of coverage. Some workers are in narrow networks and have had to travel more than an hour to Allentown or Bethlehem to be able to see the appropriate in-network specialist.
HR 676 was brought to the attention of Local 2809 when Dr. Andy Coates, Past President of Physicians for a National Health Program, addressed the Greater Wilkes Barre Central Labor Council earlier this year. “He provided us with a lot of good information that we weren’t aware of,” said Vasquez. “We are for everybody. Our motto is fair and equitable. We think everyone should be treated with respect–not as a dollar sign.” So they took a stand for HR 676, Expanded and Improved Medicare for All.
The local joined with other unions in a rally on Saturday May 13, 2017 at Kirby Park in Wilkes Barre to fight back against efforts to take away prevailing wage laws, to impose “right to work for less” legislation and other efforts to destroy union rights and to eliminate due process. Local 2809 is fighting to defeat the anti-worker Hice Act on the national level in addition to supporting HR 676.