For USW member Kitty Loepker, health care fight is personal
September 21, 2009
My name is Kathleen Loepker, and I'm a member of United Steelworkers Local 1899 in Granite City, Illinois. I would like to introduce you to my brother, Dale Robert Loepker. Dale was allowed to die on Sept. 28, 2004, because he was neglected at two hospitals because he didn’t have health care insurance.
On Thursday, Sept. 16, when Dale woke, his hands and feet were extremely white. He went to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Breese, Ill. When he arrived his blood pressure dropped drastically. They airlifted him to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Belleville, Ill. There they determined that he had a blood infection. They put him on a strong antibiotic. That night at 2:30 a.m., my mom was called and told that Dale’s condition had changed. She rushed to the hospital to find them trying to revive Dale and place him on a ventilator. They were successful. They believed he had allergic reaction to the antibiotic and his wind pipe swelled shut.
Dale was in the Intensive Care Unit from Friday morning until Monday afternoon. On Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 21, they sent Dale home even though he was still complaining of feeling very ill and having severe stomach pain. They basically did what they are required to do and that is to stabilize the patient and send him home.
Two days later on Thurs., Sept. 23, Dale returned to St. Joseph’s Hospital, complaining of severe stomach pain. They took a blood test and found he was low on potassium and calcium and sent him home with a prescription.
The next day, Friday, I saw Dale, and he held my hand and said, “Kitty, I’m dying, please take me to Rush hospital in Chicago, where they will take care of me.” I told him he wasn’t dying, he just had an infection and he needed to take his antibiotics and he would get better.
I was in contact with him over the weekend. On Monday, Sept. 27, my Mom and I saw him and he was still feeling very ill.
Tuesday morning Dale did not wake. Dale died! He was my youngest sibling. He was only 40 years young. The autopsy revealed that Dale died of diverticulitis. This is when one's intestines get infected and pouches form. If they go untreated, they burst and one is poisoned to death. Dale was poisoned to death because he didn’t have health care insurance.
Kitty Loepker has been a leader in the Rapid Response program for the USW Local Unions at Granite City Steel since it's inception in 1995. She has also worked tirelessly for health care, fighting for universal care for all, especially after the death of her brother.
President Obama: Health insurance reform will help union members at bargaining table
September 16, 2009
At the AFL-CIO convention on Sept. 15, 2009, President Obama spoke directly to union members about health insurance reform, reminding them that as long as rising health care costs go unaddressed, workers lose out at the bargaining table. Here's a video and text of his speech in case you missed it:
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, AFL-CIO. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Please, everybody have a seat. Thank you. Thank you, guys. Thank you very much, everybody. All right, you guys are making me blush. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Obama! Obama! Obama! (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much, everybody. You know, I tell you what, the White House is pretty nice, but there's nothing like being back in the House of Labor. (Applause.) Let me begin by recognizing a man who came to Washington to fight for the working men and women of Pennsylvania and who has a distinguished record of doing just that, Arlen Specter. (Applause.)
I want to give my thanks and the thanks of our nation to one of the great labor leaders of our time, a man whose entire life has been devoted to working people, who brought new life to a movement, who worked tirelessly on behalf of organized workers, and who will be stepping down tomorrow, your President, John Sweeney. (Applause.) John, I know that Maureen is looking forward to seeing a little more of you, and your granddaughter Kennedy is about to get a whole lot more spoiled by her grandpa. But we are so proud of the work that you've done, and grateful for your lifetime of service.
I know it's bad luck to congratulate somebody before they are officially elected, but I'm going to go ahead and take my chances and congratulate the man who will pick up John's mantle, the son and grandson of Pennsylvania coal miners, a man who worked his way through college to lead the United Mine Workers, my friend, a fiery advocate for America's ideals, Rich Trumka. (Applause.) I also want to congratulate the officers coming in with Rich: Arlene, who will be continuing her service; and Liz, who will be making history as the first woman elected secretary-treasurer. I am looking forward to working with every single one of you. (Applause.)
Now, being here with all of you is a reminder of what we're trying to do in Washington and why I'm there in the first place -- because one of the fundamental reasons I ran for President was to stand up for hardworking families; to ease the struggles, to lift the hopes, and make possible the dreams of middle-class Americans.
Your stories are what drive me each and every day in the White House. Stories I read about in letters, or I hear about in town hall meetings, or somebody grabs me in a rope line and starts telling me something, stories I remember from the campaign trail. Stories like one told by Steve Skvara, a proud member of the United Steelworkers in Indiana. Steve spent 34 years at LTV Steel, until a car accident left him with a disability and forced him to retire. When the company went broke a couple years later, Steve lost his pension, and his family lost their health care.
So rising to ask a question at the CFL -- the AFL-CIO debate during the campaign, Steve said -- and I'm quoting him now -- "Every day of my life, I sit at the kitchen table across from the woman who devoted 36 years of her life to my family, and I can't afford to pay for her health care." And as he said it, he got choked up, and his voice started to crack.
Brothers and sisters, this isn't just about Steve -- this is about all of us. Because when hardworking Americans like Steve succeed -- that's when organized labor succeeds. And when organized labor succeeds -- that's when our middle class succeeds. And when our middle class succeeds -- that's when the United States of America succeeds. That's what we're fighting for. (Applause.)
For over half a century, the success of America has been built on the success of our middle class. It was the creation of the middle class that lifted this nation up in the wake of a Great Depression. It was the expansion of the middle class that opened the doors of opportunity to millions more. It was a strong middle class that powered American industries and propelled America's economy and made the 20th century the American century.
And the fundamental test of this century, of our time, is whether we will heed this lesson; whether we will let America become a nation of the very rich and the very poor, of the haves and the have-nots; or whether we will remain true to the promise of this country and build a future where the success of all of us is built on the success of each of us. (Applause.)
That's the future I want to build. That's the future the AFL-CIO wants to build. That's the future the American people want to build. That's the future that I've been working to build from the moment I took office. (Applause.)
Now, we've been hearing a lot of stuff from folks who aren't that friendly to me -- (laughter) -- or the union movement. So let's just take a stroll down memory lane. See, so let's just remember where we were when I took the oath of office a little over eight months ago.
At the time, folks were fearing the complete collapse of our entire financial system. Our economy was shedding about 700,000 jobs a month. Our credit markets were frozen, folks couldn't get a home loan, they couldn't get a car loan, they couldn't get a student loan if they needed it. What was a deep recession threatened to become a Great Depression. You remember that, right?
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. That's why we acted boldly and swiftly to pass an unprecedented economic Recovery Act. A plan that didn't include any of the usual Washington earmarks or pork-barrel spending, but what it did include was a guarantee to uphold Davis-Bacon and pay prevailing wages. (Applause.)
Because of the Recovery Act, we're keeping a promise I made to give all of you -- 95 percent of working Americans -- a tax cut -- a tax cut that will benefit nearly 5 million families in Pennsylvania. We increased and extended unemployment insurance to 12 million Americans -- including hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians. We made sure that they could get health insurance if they were looking for a job, because COBRA was too expensive; reduced the cost of it by 65 percent. So a lot of families out there were able to hang onto their health care even during the downturn.
We're putting Americans to work across this country rebuilding crumbling roads and bridges and waterways with the largest investment in our infrastructure since Eisenhower created the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s. (Applause.) All in all, many middle-class families will see their incomes go up by about $3,000 because of the Recovery Act, helping them get back much of what they've lost due to this recession.
So I know times are still tough for working people. I know too many people are still looking for work or worried they'll be the next ones let go. But the Recovery Act is making a difference. We've stopped our economic freefall. That's something everybody can agree on.
But here's the problem. Even before this last financial crisis, the economy had problems. Just last week, a Census report came out showing that in 2008, before the downturn, family income fell to its lowest point in over a decade, and more families slid into poverty. Folks at the top 1 percent did pretty good. Everybody else saw their wages and income flat. That's unacceptable. And I refuse to let America go back to the culture of irresponsibility and greed that made it possible -- (applause) -- back to an economy with soaring CEO salaries and shrinking middle class incomes; back to the days when banks made reckless decisions that hurt Wall Street and Main Street alike. (Applause.) We're not going to go back to those days. It would be bad for unions, bad for the middle class, and bad for the United States of America. We're not turning back. We're moving forward. (Applause.)
We're not turning back. We're moving forward. And that's why we need to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity by creating the jobs of the future; by reforming our health care system; by laying down tough rules of the road to protect consumers from abuse, let the markets function fairly and freely, and ensure that we never experience another crisis like this again.
That's how we'll build an economy that works for working Americans. That's how we'll help our children climb higher than we did. That's how we'll grow our great American middle class.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I love you!
THE PRESIDENT: I love you too, sister. (Laughter and applause.) Although it sounds like you've been hollering too much; your throat was all -- (laughter.)
We're going to grow our middle class with policies that benefit you, the American worker. And as John Sweeney noted, I've set up a Middle Class Task Force to do just that, run by my outstanding Vice President, that scrappy kid from Scranton, Pennsylvania, Joe Biden. (Applause.)
We'll grow our middle class by building a stronger labor movement. That's why I named Hilda Solis, daughter of a union member, as our new Labor Secretary. (Applause.) Hilda and I know that whether we're in economic -- good economic times or bad economic times, labor is not the problem -- labor is part of the solution. (Applause.)
That's why we've begun reversing and replacing old anti-labor executive orders, policies with ones that protect your benefits, and protect your safety, and protect your rights to organize and collectively bargain. (Applause.) That's why the very first bill I signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Act to uphold the basic principle of equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) And that's why I stand behind the Employee Free Choice Act -- (applause) -- because if a majority of workers want a union, they should get a union. (Applause.)
We'll grow -- we'll grow our middle class by creating jobs for Americans who want one -- not just any jobs, but jobs with good wages and good benefits. Jobs that give a person the satisfaction of knowing they'll meet their responsibilities to their families. Jobs that aren't just a source of income, but a source of pride and self-respect. Every American deserves that much.
Earlier today, I visited a GM plant in Youngstown, Ohio, that is -- (applause) -- Youngstown, here in the house. This plant is rehiring about a thousand workers to make the cars of tomorrow. That's a sign of life in our auto industry, and I'm pleased to see it. (Applause.) But you know what? I don't want to just see jobs returning to our auto industry, I want to see them being created across this country in every industry. That's why we're investing in a clean energy economy that will free America from the grip of foreign oil and create millions of new green jobs that can't be outsourced. That's why I've named a new point person to jumpstart American manufacturing so that we can make "Made in America" not just a slogan, we want to make it a reality. (Applause.)
We'll grow our middle class by doing a better job educating our sons and daughters. It was the GI Bill that helped strengthen the middle class in the 20th century, and our generation deserves the same kind of commitment. And that's why we've begun improving standards, holding ourselves more accountable, making college and advanced training more affordable, and offering students a complete and competitive education, from the cradle to the classroom, from college through a career. That's how we'll prepare every child in America -- not just some children, but every child in America to out-compete any worker in the world. (Applause.)
And, yes, we'll grow our middle class by finally providing quality, affordable health insurance in this country. Health care can't wait. (Applause.) It can't wait. Few have fought -- few have fought for this cause harder, few have championed it longer than you, our brothers and sisters in organized labor. You're making phone calls, knocking on doors, showing up at rallies -- because you know why this is so important. You know this isn't just about the millions of Americans who don't have health insurance, it's about the hundreds of millions more who do; Americans who worry that they'll lose their insurance if they lose their job; who fear their coverage will be denied because of a preexisting condition; who know that one accident or illness could mean financial ruin.
In fact, a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation was released today showing that family premiums rose more than 130 percent over the last 10 years -- three times faster than wages. They now average over $13,000 a year, the highest amount on record, which is why when you go in to negotiate, you can't even think about negotiating for a salary -- a wage increase because the whole negotiation is about trying to keep the benefits you already have. (Applause.)
That's not just the fault of the employer, it's the fault of a broken health care system that's sucking up all the money. When are we going to stop it? (Applause.) When are we going to say enough is enough? How many more workers have to lose their coverage? How many more families have to go into the red for a sick loved one? (Applause.) How much longer are we going to have to wait? It can't wait. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: We can't wait! We can't wait! We can't wait!
THE PRESIDENT: We can't wait. My friends, we have talked -- we have talked this issue to death, year after year, decade after decade. That's why I said last week before a joint session of Congress, I said, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the time for action. Now is the time to deliver on health insurance reform. (Applause.)
The plan I announced will offer more security and more stability to Americans who have insurance. It will offer insurance to Americans who don't. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government.
If you already have health insurance through your job -- and because many of you are members of unions, you do -- nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change your coverage or your doctor. Let me repeat: Nothing in this plan will require you to change your coverage or your doctor.
What this plan will do is make your insurance work better for you. It'll be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a preexisting condition. (Applause.) It will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick, or water it down when you need it the most. (Applause.) They won't be able to place some arbitrary cap on how much coverage you can receive in a given year or a given lifetime. (Applause.) We'll place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses -- because in the United States of America, nobody should go broke just because they got sick. (Applause.)
Insurance companies will be required to cover, at no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care like mammograms and colonoscopies -- because there's no reason we shouldn't be catching diseases like breast cancer or colon cancer before they get worse. It makes sense, it saves money, and it will save lives.
So that's what we're offering to people who already have health insurance -- more stability and security. For the tens of millions of Americans who don't have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer them -- offer you affordable choice. We'll do this with a new insurance exchange -- a marketplace where individuals and small businesses, they can shop for affordable health insurance plans that works for them.
And because there will be one big group, these uninsured Americans, they have leverage and they can drive down the cost of care and get a better deal than they're getting right now. That's how large companies and government employees get affordable insurance. It's how everybody in Congress -- including those who are always critical of government -- get their insurance. (Applause.) It's time to give every opportunity to Americans that members of Congress give to themselves. (Applause.)
I've also said that one of the options in this exchange should be a public option. (Applause.) Now, let me be clear. Let me be clear, because there's been a lot of misinformation out here about this. This would just be an option. Nobody would be forced to choose it. No one with insurance would be affected. But what it would do is offer Americans more choices, and promote real competition, and put pressure on private insurers to make their policies affordable and treat their customers better. (Applause.)
Now, when you're talking with some of your friends and neighbors, they might say, well, that all sounds pretty good, but how are you going to pay for it? And that's a legitimate question, because I inherited the $1.3 trillion deficit when I came into office. That's the other thing people have been a little selective about -- they don't seem to remember how we got into this mess. (Laughter.) But it's a legitimate question: How are we going to dig ourselves out of this big financial hole we're in? So let me try and answer it.
The plan I'm proposing is going to cost $900 billion over 10 years. That's real money -- although that's less than we've spent on Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It's less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed during the previous administration -- wars and tax cuts that were not paid for and ballooned our deficits to record levels, and didn't help America's working families. (Applause.)
We won't make that mistake again. We will not pay for health insurance reform by adding to our deficits. I will not sign a bill that adds a dime to our deficits, either now or in the future.
What we will do is pay for it by eliminating hundreds of billions of dollars in fraud and waste and abuse, including billions of dollars in subsidies for insurance companies that pad their profits but aren't improving care. (Applause.) We'll also set up a commission of doctors and medical experts to encourage the adoption of common sense best practices that can further reduce costs and raise quality in the years ahead. That's how we'll pay for most of this plan -- by using money that's already being spent in the health care system, but spent badly.
So don't pay attention to those scary stories about how Medicare benefits will be cut. That will never happen on my watch. We will protect Medicare, so it's a safety net for our seniors that they can count on today, tomorrow, forever. (Applause.) Not a dollar from the Medicare Trust Fund will be used to pay for this plan, not a single dollar. (Applause.)
These are the reforms I'm proposing. These are the reforms labor has been championing. These are the reforms the American people need. These are reforms I intend to sign into law: quality, affordable health insurance; a world-class education; good jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced; a strong labor movement. That's how we'll lift up hardworking families. That's how we'll grow our middle class. That's how we'll put opportunity within reach in the United States of America. (Applause.)
The battle for opportunity has always been fought in places like Pittsburgh, places like Pennsylvania. It was here that Pittsburgh railroad workers rose up in a great strike. It was here that Homestead steelworkers took on Pinkerton guards at Carnegie mills. (Applause.) It was here that something happened in a town called Aliquippa.
It was a tough place for workers in the 1930s -- "a benevolent dictatorship," said the local steel boss. Labor had no rights. The foreman's whim ruled the day. And the company hired workers from different lands and different races -- the better to keep them divided, it was thought at the time.
But despite threats and harassment, despite seeing organizers fired and driven out of town, these steelworkers came together -- Serb and Croat, Italian and Pole, and Irish, and Greek, and kin of Alabama slaves and sons of Pennsylvania coal miners. And they took their case all the way to the Supreme Court, securing the right to organize up and down the Ohio River Valley and all across America. (Applause.)
And I know that if America can come together like Aliquippa and rise above barriers of faith and race, and region, and party -- then we will not only make life better for steelworkers like Steve in Indiana, not only make life better for members of the AFL-CIO, but will make possible the dreams of middle-class families and make real the promise of the United States of America for everybody. (Applause.) That's what we're fighting for. That's what this White House is committed to. That's what the AFL-CIO is committed to. (Applause.) And arm in arm, we are going to get this done. (Applause.)
I got a question for you: Are you fired up?
THE PRESIDENT: Are you ready to go?
THE PRESIDENT: Are you fired up?
THE PRESIDENT: Are you ready to go?
THE PRESIDENT: Let's go get this done. Thank you, everybody. God bless you. (Applause.)
Doug May, Local 1899: USW helps lessen layoff blow
January 20, 2009
As a member of the United Steelworkers for over 35 years, I have become deeply involved in the mechanisms of labor, capital and legislative action since becoming the editor of USW Local 1899's newsletter, The Mettle Post in Granite City, Illinois. I have to admit that much of the energetic fuel I’ve been driving on as an activist has been partially fed by the misguided direction to which the Bush Administration has held us hostage for the past eight years. But without the United Steelworkers Press Association, and without the training and tools they provide, the outcome of my activism would have resulted in one foot in the ditch while the other hobbled aimlessly down the shoulder.
The speed and severity of the downturn in steel production at our steel plant in Illinois is unprecedented. Granted, as one of many plants now owned by United States Steel, the ownership has the luxury of operating more efficiently, stabilizing falling steel prices and hopefully securing our employment future by consolidating their steelmaking operations and consequently, idling the Granite City Works.
What makes this so difficult to bear is that steel analysts had forecasted another very good year in 2009 had it not been for the culture of greed in this country that has torpedoed a very good run of demand and favorable prices. This is the same element of greed, the one that has created obscene income disparities in the U.S. and the supplemented belief that regulation, no matter what industry it provided oversight for, was nothing more than an unnecessary nuisance in a free market society, is responsible for the current mess.
I have been on temporary layoff before, and weathered many crises during my tenure as a steelworker. When I hired into the steel mill in 1973 I had an idea of what to expect as far as inconsistent paychecks due to being employed in a cyclical business. My father was a lifetime Teamster so I knew the potential that awaited me as a union member. What I did not know was to what extent my layoffs would prevail and how the protections as a member of the United Steel Workers would pave my path as a father, a consumer and as an activist.
The supplemental unemployment benefits negotiated by the USW, which I received during my multiple layoffs during the '70s, kept my head above water and my feet out of the soup kitchens. As my collective bargaining protections always guaranteed that I would not lose my seniority once called back to work, I was able to structure a life plan for my family without losing direction. Once the 40-hour work week guarantees were achieved in the collective bargaining process, I strung together 28 years without missing a single day to layoff status. Keeping in mind, these 28 years were darkened by numerous black clouds that were repeatedly cast over the industry.
Maybe I was too busy being a young parent, or maybe a slow learner, or possibly distracted by the vices in life, but not until I finished sending my children through college did I finally realize those hurdles that the industry faced would have been insurmountable had it not been for the political action of the United Steelworkers with campaigns like Stand Up For Steel and the involvement of USW membership. The industry has faced many tough challenges such as modern Japanese steel plants sending their excess capacity to this country, the over-capacity in the U.S., the illegal dumping of steel onto our shores, and the onset of China’s entry into the global marketplace. Through all of these struggles, the USW has been fervent in assisting American workers and the steel industry with their passionate belief that we must save good paying American jobs and the accompanying standard of living. The belief has been consistent through the generations that we could, with an involved membership, construct positive change within our government.
The bankruptcy of the previous owner of the mill where I operate a 400-ton crane, National Steel, resulted in the painful loss of my pension. For me and so many others at my facility when we were within months of the 30 years of service, qualifying for that long awaited, promised entitlement was a bitter pill to swallow. After accepting this unwarranted, painful loss of my pension benefit, the assets of National Steel were bought by U.S. Steel and the restructuring of our USW negotiated contract has placed the industry in an enviable position. We have become more competitive through the difficult process of reduction in job classes and cross-trained job classifications. Recent record profits within the industry and the negotiated benefit of a profit sharing plan has provided us with some unanticipated prosperity. During this process the USW did not forget about the retirees service after this bankruptcy as they are once again receiving healthcare benefits as part of the contractual obligation negotiated with US Steel.
Maybe the economic realities of indefinite layoffs will lead many who have become complacent over the years to an awareness of the economic disparities, bad trade laws, and trickle down economics that have left too many workers standing on the side of the road with a tin cup waiting for their share of the trickle. It is not mere coincidence, though; that there is a correlation between the multitudes of problems we are facing in the U.S. and the diminished union influence in this country.
Now is the time for us all to use the momentum gained through this difficult economic circumstance with help of the labor friendly administration of Barack Obama, and participate in constructive change. Together, with greater membership participation, we can build strength through the legislative process. We can build power with passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, fostering a renewed belief in regulatory systems and free trade laws that enforce fairness. We have proven that American manufacturing can compete in a global market place when the playing field is level.
By supporting programs of federal investments in the next great technology breakthrough and supporting tax breaks for investments in sustainable energy we will be assisting in the creation of millions of the accompanying sustainable jobs that cannot be outsourced or lost due to faulty free trade deals. Americans can again experience shared fair prosperity. However, we must remain fervent with the potential through strength in numbers and not allow those in power to ignore our will. Removing our contempt for government and replacing it with a collective belief that we can prosper without sabotaging one another or sacrificing our individual beliefs is imperative for building a bright future for the generations to come.
Portions of this website are paid for by the United Steelworkers Political Action Fund, with voluntary contributions from union members and their families, and is not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.
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