As the saying goes, politics often makes for strange bedfellows, but this budding alliance is almost too unbelievable to be true. One of the nation’s most conservative small business trade groups has joined forces with … Big Labor?
Strange, yes, but definitely true. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and the Services Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents about 1.3 million workers in more than 100 service occupations, have joined forces in a new coalition known as “Divided We Fail.” Only one issue, of course, has the power to unite such disparate groups — health care.
The coalition, which also includes the AARP and the Business Roundtable, a group made up of chief executives from some of the nation’s largest corporations, is determined to “make access to quality, affordable health care and long-term financial security top issues in the national political debate.”
The alliance “demonstrates that we’re taking all the steps necessary to change the political climate and fix our nation’s health care system,” said NFIB President and Chief Executive Todd Stottlemyer in a statement. And how.
The health care crisis has been a mounting problem for years, fueled by sharp annual increases in the cost of health insurance and the growing number of people (more than 47 million at last count) who do not have any coverage. More than 90 percent of the uninsured work for small businesses.
Labor unions have a big stake in the issue, as well, because their members have seen their benefits erode in step with rising health care costs. Corporations, meanwhile, have been desperate to find ways to cut health insurance benefits to remain competitive in a global economy, where most foreign companies don’t pay for employee health care.
Given the current environment, it makes perfect sense for big and small businesses as well as labor unions to unite. “We are leading a national push for solutions based on shared responsibility — the role of the individual, government, and the private sector,” said AARP Chief Executive Bill Novelli.
The coalition formed in January, and the NFIB joined earlier this month. All of the groups say they have lost patience with the “partisanship and bickering” in Washington. The coalition wants nothing less than affordable health care and long-term financial security for all Americans. While that sounds like a strong endorsement for universal health care and continued support for Social Security, the group has made no specific recommendations on those two issues.
It has, however, supported increases to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), improvements in health information technology, and greater transparency in health care data. The group says its effort is national in scope and includes grassroots lobbying, media events in public and online, media advertising in key primary states, and individual meetings with lawmakers and thought leaders. Several presidential candidates have already outlined health care reform plans.
“The health care movement continues to grow, and the people of this country have no more patience for partisan bickering and gridlock,” said SEIU President Andy Stern. “It’s time for Washington to act now.”