AFL-CIO (Finally) Endorses Health Care Reform. Will It Matter?

| Thu Mar. 18, 2010 5:37 PM EDT

The AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation, decided to officially endorse the final health care bill today, giving the Democrats another ally in their final scramble for votes. The group had been divided over whether to endorse the final bill due to deep-seated concerns about the excise tax—particularly a last-minute provision that increased the rate of the tax’s increase in 2020.

What finally convinced the group to come on board? The AFL-CIO had successfully lobbied for a delay in implementing the excise bill for non-unionized, as well as unionized workers—which also bought them time to push for further changes. “We have 10 years to change something,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said on a conference call this afternoon. “We intend to go out and say to our members, this is what we've accomplished this is what the bill does, this is not the end of health care reform—we still have room to move and we'll continue to fight.” The group also won a commitment from the White House to pass a separate provision that would require construction contractors with more than five workers to provide insurance, which building trade unions have been pushing for.

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The AFL-CIO has now joined the group of labor heavyweights who’ve thrown their weight behind lobbying for the bill, including the SEIU and AFSCME. Trumka confirmed that the AFL-CIO would “move immediately” to urge its members to lobby every undecided member of Congress to vote for the bill—“making visits, making house calls, letters” across the country to ramp up the pressure.

Trumka held off, however, from saying whether the group would explicitly use primary challenges to sway House votes on the bill—or to punish Democrats who end up voting against it. “We’re not prepared to make any threats right now,” he said, though adding that “nothing is off the table.”

Despite the full endorsement from the group's national leadership, the AFL-CIO will still have to work to rally some of its resistant member unions behind the bill—not to mention the union households who’ve voted down the Democratic agenda in places like Massachusetts. And one wonders whether the AFL-CIO’s last-minute endorsement will have much of an effect on a vote that’s scheduled to happen as soon as this weekend.

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