Where does the VTNEA stand on single-payer healthcare — for its own members?

by Angela Chagnon

Rumors have been swirling recently about whether the VT NEA is working behind the scenes to exempt itself from Governor Shumlin’s proposed single-payer healthcare program (H.202).

Darren Allen, Communications Director of the Vermont NEA, was asked Thursday if the rumor was true. “I can assure you if it were indeed true, I haven’t heard of it,” said Allen. “We’re scouring the bill, looking at what its ramifications will be.”

But, Allen’s latest response is far less enthusiastic than the union has been in the past. In fact, the Vermont NEA has been a vocal proponent of universal healthcare legislation. On December 5, 2009, the Board of Directors of the Vermont-National Education Association voted unanimously to endorse “Healthcare is a Human Right” campaign.

“Healthcare is a the most basic of human rights and it is time for our state to make this moral commitment to every single one of us. The private insurance industry has hijacked any prospects of really addressing the roots of the crisis on the federal level, but here in Vermont we can lead the way, ” said Amy Lester, a guidance counselor in Barre, a Vermont NEA member and leader of the Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign.

A blog on the Worker’s Center website, written by Peg Franzen, talks about a meeting with then Governor-Elect Shumlin in December of last year. After meeting with Shumlin, representatives met with various other organizations, many of them unions including the VT NEA. Franzen writes:

“While some voiced their concern especially around what might happen to our public programs, we all agreed this is a historic time for Vermont and we all have to work as hard as we can to make good on this opportunity.”

Franzen’s remarks seem to show that some union members may be worried about Governor Shumlin’s proposal. Perhaps they’re worried about losing their cadillac insurance plans?

A video from vtdigger.org shows VT NEA President Martha Allen making remarks at a “Healthcare is a Human Right” rally in January 2010. “We support in our VT NEA resolutions the adoption of a universal healthcare plan for all residents of Vermont,” Allen proclaimed. Her speech starts at 7:28. (The resolution she speaks of can be found on page 69 or the VT NEA resolutions, found here.)

Speaking with True North Reports, Darren Allen said that the VT NEA’s stance will be “plainly obvious” once the bill’s ramifications are understood. “We won’t hide our position on the bill,” he asserted. “We are supportive of eventually decoupling healthcare from employment and universal access.”

The VT NEA’s support in the past has been effusive. Now we’ll have to wait to see what they really think.