by Angela Chagnon
On day one of the 2011 legislative session, a full day before Governor Elect Peter Shumlin would even be sworn into office, activists led by the Vermont Workers’ Center filled (and overflowed) the Cedar Creek Room of the State House demanding a Single Payer Health system.
The event’s emcee, Mari Cordes, serves a president of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Heath Professionals, which, according to Cordes, is the third largest union in Vermont with about 3500 members. The union is partnering with the Vermont Workers’ Center to, “establish that health care is a human right.” Cordes said in her opening remarks, “We believe that we need a healthcare system that provides everybody access to health care that they need, that we have a system that excludes nobody. We are ready to move forward NOW toward leading the nation and having a universal health care system in Vermont.”
According to its own website, the Workers’ Center, founded in 1996, affiliated in 2001 with the national organization, Jobs With Justice whose mission is to improve working people’s standard of living, fight for job security, and protect workers’ right to organize.
In 2005 they affiliated with the national/international organization Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, which says in its mission statement, “We work across issues and regions to develop agendas by and for working-class people, poor people, indigenous people and communities of color that can help lead to a good life for all. And in doing so, GGJ is helping to support a renaissance of U.S. social movements, led by mass-based, economically independent organizations with a global perspective and key international relationships.”
Guest speakers at the rally (and signers of the groups petition) included House Speaker Shap Smith, Senate President Pro Tem, John Campbell (Sen. Bill Carris spoke on Campbell’s behalf), and the chairs of both health care committees, Sen. Claire Ayer and Rep. Mark Larson.
In his remarks before the group, Speaker Smith said, “It’s wonderful the work you’ve done in the campaign. And, we are looking forward and are committed to taking up the Hsiao report and making sure that it incorporates the principles that are set forth in S.88 THIS YEAR. (Applause.) Rep. Larson also reiterated the commitment by House Senate and administration leaders to “try to get something real done this year.”
Enacting a single payer health care system was a core promise of Governor-Elect Peter Shumlin during his campaign.
Peg Franzen, founder of the the Vermont Workers’ Center, warned single-payer advocates that “the other side” would use “misinformation and fear tactics” to prevent universal healthcare from being implemented in Vermont.
None of the speakers at the event took questions from the press. When finished, they moved on to another rally at the Pavillion building chanting, “Power to the people!”
When asked how a single-payer healthcare might be funded, Rep. Carolyn Branagan (R-Georgia), a member of the Ways and Means committee, answered, “I have no clue how we’ll pay for healthcare.” She continued, “There’s no money. There’s no unclaimed money out there. I have no idea how we’re going to pay for it.”
When the legislature looked at implementing a single payer system in 2005, the cost was estimated at $2 billion, which would have been raised through a 28 percent payroll tax.