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State unions plan health care push

MONTGOMERY (AP) — The Alabama AFL-CIO marks Labor Day by turning the spotlight on a new union-wide health care campaign keyed to the 2008 presidential election.

State and local labor union leaders said details of the campaign will announced Monday at a 1 p.m. news conference at Tannehill State Park.

“We’re the most industrialized country in the world, and we don’t have nationalized health care,” said Stewart Burkhalter, president of the Alabama AFL-CIO.

The health care initiative will also be announced in Washington, D.C., said Alabama Democratic Party spokesman Jesse McDaniel.

The closing of steel plants has helped decimate the labor unions in Alabama. Burkhalter estimates there are 60,000 union members in Alabama, compared to many times that number years ago.

“We’ve taken hits with downsizing, plants going offshore and plants closing,” he said.

Nearly 5,000 jobs have been lost in steel mills in Gadsden alone, and Birmingham, once the steelmaking capital of the South, has largely abandoned the industry. The industries that have replaced steel in Alabama, most of them automotive, are paying so well there is little push to unionize.

David Freeze, president of the Shoals Area Labor Council, said that while most labor members have health insurance and pension plans through their employers, those standards of labor contracts are endangered by the growing cost of health care.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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