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Labor Day Agenda For People “Working Themselves To Death”

September 4, 2009

Charleston, WV - At Labor Day rallies and picnics around West Virginia, union officials and political leaders will be talking about what they feel are the needs of working people. In places like Paden City on the Ohio River, whose Labor Day parade is one of the oldest events in West Virginia, they're likely to bring up health care reform and the employee free choice legislation moving though Congress.

Boilermaker Shelva Smith, with the local AFL-CIO labor council, has been involved with the parade for decades. He says health care is a matter of survival for people struggling to get along.

"Two jobs or three jobs, part time. They work themselves to death and when they get sick they have no choice but to go to the emergency room."

Smith was fired from a plant in another state after getting the employees to sign union cards and approaching the owner to ask for an election.

"The next morning he called everyone into the office, one at a time, and he just put the fear of God into people. The last two people he called in was me and the other fellow that was doing the organizing and he told us we didn't have a job any more."

Even people who have decent jobs are worried about health care costs, according to WVU labor and economics professor David Cormier.

"If you earn ten bucks an hour, figure that's going to bring you twenty-thou a year. Not only can you not afford health care insurance, many times you put off treatments because there just isn't the money in the family pot to pay for it."

Some in Congress have called health care reform socialism, even the parts intended to keep down the cost of private insurance. When it comes to the Employee Free Choice Act, Smith says it would guarantee opportunity for anyone who wants to join a union. Critics call it slanted in favor of labor.

The Paden City parade is Monday, September 7. Other large events are planned in Racine and Mannington.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV