By SUSAN JONES
Presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand made Oakland the first stop on her “Trump Broken Promises Tour” on July 11.
The roundtable discussion at the Hilton Garden Inn was billed as a time for the Democratic senator from New York to talk about escalating drug prices. But the health care workers invited to talk to Gillibrand focused more on the high cost of health care in general and the need for health care workers to unionize.
The intimate gathering — moderated by Jeffrey Shook, associate professor in the School of Social Work — featured six workers, several from UPMC Presbyterian, telling stories of overwhelming debts they’ve incurred through health issues.
Gillibrand said she would advocate for Medicare for all, where each employee would pay 4 to 5 percent of their income and have the employer match to have full access to health services.
After one of the panelists said she had to go to the emergency room because she didn’t have the time or money to go to a primary care physician after working a six-day week, Gillibrand said these are struggles people are facing all over the country.
“I believe workers need a greater voice in this economy and they feel deeply left behind,” she said. “I think that’s a lot of the reason that President Trump won. What we now know is that he lied to everyone. He lied to Pennsylvania. He lied to our communities. He lied to our families. He never intended on making health care a right, not a privilege.”
She said health care has become worse and more expensive under President Trump. “And all the reforms and progress that President Obama made, he’s undermined.”
Four of the panelists who worked at UPMC said they felt they had no voice to complain about understaffing and other problems.
Gillibrand promised to fight for workers and against right-to-work legislation. She said she would be very aggressive in passing “card check” legislation that allows unions to form if a majority of employees sign “cards” saying they wish to be represented by the union.
“I think it’s really important that it should be easy to collectively bargain and easy to join a union,” she said.
She also said she’d fight against any bad trade deals that send jobs overseas, including rescinding tax breaks for companies that transfer jobs out of the U.S. and fining the companies.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-648-4294.