Leo Gerard, Single Payer, Highmark Health, and the Corporatist Labor Movement

If you want to know why the single payer movement is having trouble breaking through in the United States, look no further than Leo Gerard.

From 2001 to earlier this year, Gerard was the president of the United Steelworkers of America.

Then earlier this month, just a few months after retiring as head of the union, Gerard joined the board of Highmark Health.

How can it be that a major American union leader who says he supports Medicare for All single payer, who says he grew up under a single payer system in Canada and “knows the benefits,” who wrote earlier this year that “with a single-payer system like Medicare for All, every American would have the safety and security of health insurance” —  how can it be that a professed single payer supporter would join the board of one of the largest health insurance companies in the nation?

A company that is a dedicated opponent of single payer?

A company that would be wiped out under a single payer system?

How can that be Leo Gerard?

“There are all kinds of single payer,” Gerard said when we reached him this week. “Haven’t you been watching the Democratic debates? There are different ways of doing it. I’m going to be the labor voice on the board of directors. Highmark is there now. I don’t know if the single payer thing will come to pass.”

Will you be a voice for single payer on the board of Highmark?

“I’m done with you,” he says.

Rank and file union leaders say that Gerard is symptomatic of a dysfunctional single payer movement and a corporatist union movement.

Ed Grystar is with the Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Single Payer Healthcare.

“Gerard has previously done TV commercials for Highmark. He now sits on their board,” Grystar said. “This is incompatible with supporting Medicare for All.”

“Especially when support for Medicare for All is rising, why would a retired union president give credibility to an insurance company that is opposed to single payer?” Grystar asks.

“There are over 500 unions that have endorsed Medicare for All. Why not use his time to publicly organize labor support for single payer?”

“Single payer means just that. One payer and the elimination of private health care insurance companies. They provide nothing of value to the health care delivery system. Tens of billions of dollars can be saved and utilized for patient care with their elimination. Health insurance companies are a dead weight on the system. They don’t comfort the sick or take care of the injured.”

Dan Kovalik was an associate general counsel at the United Steelworkers Union for 25 years before his retirement earlier this year.

Kovalik says that Gerard has always been close to Highmark.

“As president of the union, he even did television advertisements for Highmark. He has been endorsing them for years,” Kovalik said.

“It creates the appearance of impropriety. It is troubling. The labor movement is corporatist. It has been for a long time. It has been more focused on getting along with the companies instead of fighting them.”

“Highmark doesn’t employ steelworks. It’s non union and will never be union. The unions never have pushed for single payer. They didn’t even push for a public option. The unions have never aggressively supported it.”

Kovalik said that “President Richard Nixon would have green lighted single payer, but the AFL-CIO actively opposed it.”

“The unions are still negotiating employer based health care. That is one thing they can sell when they are organizing. That is one thing that prevents them from having full throated support for single payer. Unions were not even willing to push for even the public option. They didn’t want to offend anyone. If Bernie Sanders is pushing Medicare for All, the unions will rhetorically go for it. But if Joe Biden becomes president, they won’t push for it. They value their access to people like Biden, they won’t jeopardize that. Some of it is that the unions are so weak that they tend to overvalue access to institutions. Which is why Leo continued to do ads for Highmark and is now on the Highmark board. Part of it is feeling you have access to power.”

(Gerard says he was not paid for the Highmark ads and is not being paid to be on the board of Highmark.)

More articles by:

Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..

September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu
Nyla Ali Khan
Spectacles of the Demolition of the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh and the Revocation of the Autonomous Status of Kashmir
Stansfield Smith
Celebrating 50 Years of Venceremos Brigade solidarity with the Cuban Revolution
Tim Butterworth
Socialism Made America Great
Nick Licata
Profiles in Courage: the Tories Have It, the Republicans Don’t
Abel Prieto
Cubanness and Cuban Identity: the Importance of Fernando Ortiz
Robert Koehler
Altruists of the World Unite!
Mel Gurtov
Farewell, John Bolton
Weekend Edition
September 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Age of Constitutional Coups
Rob Urie
Bernie Sanders and the Realignment of the American Left
Anthony DiMaggio
Teaching the “War on Terror”: Lessons for Contemporary Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: They Are the Walrus
T.J. Coles
Jeremy Corbyn: Electoral “Chicken” or Political Mastermind?
Joseph Natoli
The Vox Populi
Sasan Fayazmanesh
The Pirates of Gibraltar
John Feffer
Hong Kong and the Future of China
David Rosen
The Likely End to Roe v. Wade?
Ishmael Reed
When You Mess With Creation Myths, the Knives Come Out
Michael Hudson
Break Up the Democratic Party?
Paul Tritschler
What If This is as Good as It Gets?
Jonah Raskin
Uncensored Tony Serra: Consummate Criminal Defense Lawyer
Ryan Gunderson
Here’s to the Last Philosophes, the Frankfurt School
Michael T. Klare
The Pompeo Doctrine: How to Seize the Arctic’s Resources, Now Accessible Due to Climate Change (Just Don’t Mention Those Words!)
Luke O'Neil
I Would Want To Drink Their Blood: God Will Punish Them
Louis Proyect
The Intellectual Development of Karl Marx
Tom Clifford
How China Sees the World
Kelsey Hawkins-Johnson – Negin Owliaei
Who’s Burning the Amazon?
Yasin Khan
Rideshare Drivers are Employees, Not Contractors
Ralph Nader
Big Business Lies Taught a Watchful Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Sacking of John Bolton
Andrea Maki
Wild Love Preserve Founder: Our Path Forward
Jeremy Kuzmarov
The War in Eastern Ukraine May be Coming to an End But Do Any Americans Care?
Tim Davis – Stan Grier
Protect the Sacred Grizzly Bear, Follow Those Who Know Grandmother Earth
Clark T. Scott
Super-Delegated and Relegated
Jim Britell
Lessons From America’s Greatest Grassroots Campaigns 
Howie Hawkins
Workers Need More Rights and Economic Democracy
Ramzy Baroud
‘Justice is Indivisible’: Screams of Israa Ghrayeb Should Be Our Wake-up Call
Jill Richardson
It’s Not About Your Straws and Your Light Bulbs