91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

How a rift between labor unions over Medicare for All could impact Michigan in the 2020 election

doctor holding red stethoscope
There's a divide among labor unions across the country over a single-payer health system. Some unions worry it could erase the generous benefits packages they've fought hard to negotiate.

Medicare for All took second place to the dust-ups Wednesday at the Democratic debate, but it's still a prominent issue for a lot of voters. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren discuss it frequently on the campaign trail. But concerns are developing within some labor unions over the plan for a single-payer health care system. As primary momentum shifts toward Michigan, eyes are now on union leaders in the state.

Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team who's been covering this rift among organized labor. Kullgren said there are unions that support Medicare for All. But others, like the Culinary Union “who really have one of the best health plans in any union in the country,” are more hesitant. 

In Nevada, the Culinary Union declined to endorse any Democratic candidate ahead of the caucus. Union leaders there have worked hard over the years to negotiate an affordable and comprehensive health care plan for their members. Kullgren said the union worries that Medicare for All could lead to a worse deal than they have now.

On the other hand, the American Federation of Teachers has endorsed both a public option and Medicare for All. Leaders there say "a government-run program would get it [health care] off the bargaining table, and would allow them to focus their fire power on wages and other benefits for their workers,” Kullgren explained.

In Michigan, Kullgren said, union leaders have remained silent on the debate so far. Complicating the issue is the fact that many local union leaders serve on the board of the insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS). There are also Democratic politicians in the state with ties to the health insurance industry, including Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Her father was president and CEO of BCBS from 1988 to 2006.

“As a result, she has had a really kind of complicated stance on this issue.” Kullgren said. “She says she supports Medicare for All in concept, but hasn’t given a really detailed explanation for what that means.”

Given that Whitmer won the governor's seat in 2018, Kullgren thinks her stance on healthcare could be in line with many Michigan voters. He said 58% of Democrats in the state support Medicare for All, but the policy may not appeal to swing voters.

“So if we want to talk about Michigan reflecting the presidential race as a whole, there’s an argument to be made that it would be wise for some of these candidates, like Pete Buttigieg, to stay on the general election path.”

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan. 

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 9 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
Related Content