More than 1,000 USW Rapid Response activists and other union members rallied today at Capitol Hill, thanking lawmakers who voted for health insurance reform and vowing to work hard for them come election time.
"Today is truly a new day in America because health reform is here," said USW International President Leo W. Gerard.
"We thank these members for their courage and we dare anyone to run a campaign to repeal health care for working families, seniors and other Americans who so desperately need it. We dare them to take away fixing the 'donut hole' that forces retirees to choose medicine over food or to take away health care for adult kids who want to go to college."
Decked out in navy blue and gold "Rapid Response" shirts, USW members held signs with messages such as "Hope and Change Are Working for Me" and "Middle Class America Thanks You." Many members from a variety of other unions also attended the rally, chanting "Thank You," and "Health Care for All!"
Lynda Hiller of Coplay, Pa., is a breast cancer survivor who lost her health insurance when she could no longer work because of the cancer and her husband was laid off after 28 years working as a truck driver. She told her heartbreaking story of how crushing medical bills and unemployment have cost her family nearly everything.
"I am so grateful that other families won't have to go through what we did," the Working America member said.
Alliance for Retired Americans member Stella Johnson said she and other seniors are grateful that reform will help close the so-called Medicare Part D "donut hole" that forces them to pay full price for medications once their annual benefits run out.
"There are so many things in this new law that will take stress off me and my family," said Johnson, a retired teacher from Washington, D.C.
Among the lawmakers who attended the rally were House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), and Reps. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.). AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also attended.
Pelosi said getting health insurance reform passed was like climbing over a tall fence or pushing open a locked gate. She thanked Rapid Response and other USW activists for working to make it a success.
"All of you helped push open that gate and we got to the other side and now we're in a different place," Pelosi said.
All the speakers reminded union members that with so much misinformation about health insurance reform and other issues that it's more important than ever that working people vote for lawmakers who stand with them.
They reminded the crowd of all the other issues at stake, including jobs, trade, reigning in Wall Street, workplace safety and the Employee Free Choice Act.
"We are just six months away from an election that is going to make history one way or the other," Durbin said. "Let's keep moving forward. We need your help in November. Let's win it."
Trumka and Gerard said it took courage for lawmakers to stand with working families instead of big insurance companies that spent hundreds of millions of dollars to try to defeat the bill.
"We thank them for supporting us, and we want them to know it's payback time. You supported us, now it's our turn," Trumka said. "We will work harder than ever. We will work smarter than ever. And we will win in November."