Labor on Line in Health Care Debate

Support for public option could impact labor movement's future.

ByABC News
September 4, 2009, 12:22 PM

Sept. 7, 2009— -- As he makes the case for health care reform, Richard Trumka, the incoming president of the AFL-CIO, talks about the nation at a "crossroads," with decisions looming in Washington that will affect workers and the economy for decades.

That same metaphor applies to Trumka's union, and the labor movement more broadly, as debate rages over health care.

National labor leaders are front-and-center in a fight that's pitting them against some elements of the Democratic Party -- and might leave them choosing whether to oppose the White House itself.

Top union leaders have mounted an aggressive push to include a "public option" as part of health care reform. They're keeping up that pressure, despite hints from top Obama aides that the concept may get dropped in negotiations.

"If it's the status quo or it's the promise of eight, 10 years down the road or something like that, our answer's going to be, 'We need the health care reform now,'" Trumka, the AFL-CIO's secretary-treasurer and president-designate, said Thursday on's "Top Line."

"We need the public option to force [insurers] to become more efficient, more innovative and to break that stranglehold that they have on healthcare in this country," he said. "We need insurance reform right now. That's what people ask for, that's what they're demanding and we're going to fight to make sure that's what they get."

With the nation's largest unions coordinating Labor Day rallies nationwide, and with President Obama scheduled to speak at one such rally in Cincinnati today and address the AFL-CIO convention later this month, Big Labor is at a defining moment.