Working America urges Coleman to address health care crisis


Fixing America’s health care system is going to take more than a band-aid. That’s the message more than 23,000 members of Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, delivered to Sen. Norm Coleman on Tuesday.

Dozens of Working America members, supporters and leaders marched down University Avenue to Coleman’s St. Paul office, carrying with them an enormous, bandage-shaped petition signed by more than 23,000 Minnesotans. The petition calls for high-quality health care accessible to everyone in the U.S.

The signatures, according to Working America’s David Wehde, came from “single mothers, seniors, college students, manufacturing and service workers and everyone in between.”

“People want to get involved,” Wehde said at a rally outside Coleman’s office. “Health care costs are battering working families. People want to help solve the health care crisis and hold politicians accountable.”

After the rally Wehde left a letter addressed to Coleman, who was out of town, with the senator’s staffers. The letter urged Coleman to “listen to the thousands of our members in Minnesota – your constituents – who have taken action on this issue, and fight for working families on health care.”

A statewide crisis
Working America canvassers, who have signed up more than 106,000 members in Minnesota, had little trouble convincing people to sign the petition against a “bandage solution” to the health care crisis.

An estimated 374,000 Minnesotans lack health insurance, according to the Minnesota Center for Health Statistics. What’s more, more than 71 percent of the state’s uninsured lack coverage despite holding down jobs.

Statistics also indicate that the state’s health care crisis is worsening. Between 2001 and 2007, the number of uninsured Minnesotans grew at a rate of 18 percent, and according to a Families USA report, three or more working-age Minnesotans die each week due to lack of health insurance.

As they knock on working families’ doors to recruit new members throughout the state, Working America canvassers see the faces behind the dire health care statistics every day.

The organization, Wehde said, signs up people who are “afraid of not having the care they need if someone in their family gets sick, are being squeezed by skyrocketing costs and are worried about holding onto the coverage they do have.”

Where’s Norm?
Although the health care crisis is worsening for Minnesota’s working families, Coleman seems more concerned about protecting his corporate donors, speakers at the July 22 rally said.

Coleman has accepted almost $1 million from health care interests, including HMOs and pharmaceutical companies. In exchange, he has voted against tax breaks for small businesses that provide health care for employees. Coleman also has opposed efforts to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs.

Steve Hunter, secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, called on Coleman to change his ways and put working families first.

“Sen. Coleman isn’t standing with working families,” Hunter said. “He’s standing on their throats.”

Chelsey Evans, canvass director for Working America in Rochester, said a big reason the organization, with 2 million members nationwide, is growing so quickly is that working families want politicians to listen to their concerns – not the concerns of special interests.

“Take note, Norm Coleman,” Evans said. “Your constituents are your special interests.”

Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation. Visit the federation’s website,

For more information
• For more information on Working America, a powerful voice for working people who do not have the benefit of a union on the job, go to