Monday, September 07, 2009

Labor Day gratitude

I've been writing a lot lately about health care reform -- but I haven't told my own health care story as current campaign organizing orthodoxy demands. It's a happy story. You see, thanks to the confluence of two popular movements -- labor and gay rights, both made up of workers though that is sometimes forgotten -- as of this September 1, I have the cheapest and most broadly inclusive health insurance coverage I've had since I launched out as an independent contractor in 1999.

In 1989, I worked on the political campaign to defend San Francisco's shiny new domestic partnership law from a referendum funded by Republicans and the Catholic Church. Reaction won; LGBT people and friends lost. That law didn't even aspire to any such pipedream as extending health benefits to partners -- we just wanted to be sure partners could visit their dying loved ones in hospitals! Domestic partnerships came back to the ballot (put on as an initiative by LGBT folks) the next year and passed. In San Francisco, it only took a little more education to move the measure, though the reactionaries did make us fight a ballot repeal the following year. Other jurisdictions began to recognize the longterm but unmarried partnerships of LGBT folks and sometimes heterosexuals as well. In 1999, California passed a state domestic partnership registry.

But it took the clout of the labor movement to enable domestic partners to share their health benefits. At first, employers excused themselves by saying they couldn't get insurers to write such policies. LGBT activists in the 90s publicized lists of good corporations that recognized our couples. But eventually public employee unions took the lead, using combined political and labor pressure to win benefit extensions for their domestic partner members. And once insurers began writing policies for cities and states that recognized partnerships, corporate excuses no longer held up.

That's not to say the battle is won. Some state laws against gay marriage, such as the one in Michigan, outlaw extending benefits to same sex partners. And thanks to discrepancies between state laws, and the federal statute against same sex marriage, people can lose their health insurance when they move between states. An acquaintance, Rob Ryan, felt he needed to move to the country to overcome the lingering terrors of escaping the World Trade Center on 9/11. In New Jersey, his domestic partner had been able to include him on his health insurance. But on relocation to Idaho, his partner's employer, Konica Minolta, cut off Rob's health insurance since they couldn't be recognized as partners under that state's restrictive laws. This stuff happens daily.

Meanwhile, here in San Francisco, I have just begun to have remarkably cheap health insurance because my partner has a good union at her job. It's not even what many would consider a very good job: she's a part-time faculty member at a private university, hired on semester contracts. But adjunct teachers there are covered by a contract won by an affiliate of the California Faculty Association that establishes a seniority system for the part-timers -- and extends to many of them partially university-paid health insurance with partner benefits. So for the first time in our 30 years together, I'm on her health insurance.

I haven't had such good rates in years ... thanks to LGBT activists and a union. Everyone should have access to affordable healthcare. As the worker's sign at the head of this post says: "Health care should not be the privilege of a few, but a right for everyone."

1 comment:

Darlene said...

It has been a long tough slough to just make an inroad into decency and fairness for everyone, but it is still just a beginning. As long as prejudice rears it's ugly head the fight takes one step backward, but two steps forward.

I think it may take several life times to eventually rid this country of the ignorance that holds us back.

I'm happy for you that you have decent health care, Jan, and hope you are able to keep it. I am trying not to feel despair for getting it for everyone. Tomorrow night will tell the tale. Will Obama put his political money where his mouth is and get tough?

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