Service Union Offering Endorsement For Health Care Plan

May 30, 2003 ( - The president of the 1.5-million member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has put his union's US presidential endorsement on the table for the taking with one caveat: candidates must devise, and identify funds for a plan to provide health insurance for all Americans.

Andrew Stern’s proclamation carries huge implications.   Aside from its own members, SEIU is also the largest component of the AFL-CIO, which requires agreement among affiliate unions representing two-thirds of the 13 million rank-and-file members to give a formal presidential endorsement.   Only two candidates have ever secured such an endorsement: Walter Mondale in 1984 and Al Gore in 2000, according to an Associated Press report.

>To show how serious he is, Stern’s union has posted ads in airports in New Hampshire and Iowa that read, “Running for president? Don’t forget health care.” Additionally, members will start “shadowing” candidates campaigning in those states, making sure they get asked about health care at every public event.

Lining Up

>So far, four of the nine Democratic hopefuls have tried to meet that challenge, with SEIU members featured prominently as some of the candidates announced their proposals:

  • Dick Gephardt
  • Howard Dean
  • John Kerry
  • Dennis Kucinich

>While industrial and trades unions have been enthusiastic about Gephardt, who opposes free trade policies that have helped shrink their memberships, the growing service sector unions, led by SEIU and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees ( AFSCME), have been more coy about their interests. Both say no candidate has emerged as a favorite, although both groups give credit to Gephardt for being first with an ambitious health care plan.

“He was first one out with something very bold, very comprehensive. He set the mark,” Stern said. “I feel like he’s re-inflated his candidacy.”

>Gephardt’s plan would cost $247 billion and would give a refundable tax credit to companies, requiring them to offer health insurance (See   Gephardt Throws Down Healthcare Gauntlet).  Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s $88-billion package would broaden coverage by expanding existing government programs (See  Dean Proposes His Version of Universal Health Care ).

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry’s $80-billion plan also would expand existing programs to extend coverage, and Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich wants to create a government-run, single-payer program.