He's no stranger to the stage, but labor leader George Gresham feels a certain pressure to deliver a speech like no other in D.C. on Saturday.
The longtime head of SEIU 1199, one of New York’s largest unions, is joining a large contingent of his members in the nation’s capital for the Women’s March on Washington — and he’s one of the few men who’s been asked to deliver remarks from the main stage.
Gresham, 61, says the issues at stake are especially relevant to his crew — because women are most of his workforce, and they are in the business of health care.
“Our history has always been fighting for universal health care and the Affordable Care Act is the closest we have come to it,” said the labor leader, who was already in D.C. Friday for meetings.
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He said he did not plan to attend Donald Trump’s swearing-in ceremony.
But his focus is definitely on pushing back on the Republican-led effort to repeal ACA — which would leave as many as 20 million Americans without insurance.
“I have confidence in the will of the people, and I think those who are trying to do this — the lawmakers — have underestimated the support for ACA,” he said.
Gresham said he’s not convinced by promises from President Trump and other Republicans that ACA will be replaced by a new plan as soon as its repealed.
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“That doesn’t reassure me they will do the right thing, that doesn’t mean they are going to make ACA better ... there have been numerous opportunities in the last six years to have engaged in that and they didn’t,” he said.
As for his invitation to address the crowd at Saturday’s rally and march — which looks to be at least 200,000 strong — Gresham said he had been surprised when the event organizers reached out to him.
“I was given the honor to speak and I’m very happy to talk about these issues in particular,” he said.
“We all have one major issue and that is how do we take care of our family and how do we keep them healthy,” said Gresham, who is a grandfather himself.
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“To do that we need a living wage and we are going to be strong when it comes to making sure affordable care if available to everyone as we go forward,” he said.
Gresham said he plans to meet his members in D.C. at the bus arrival point — then peel off and head to the main stage for the 10 a.m. rally kick off.
After he speaks, he’ll join his union in the crowd and march with them through D.C., he said.
“You know, we didn’t even have to organize our members to go to D.C. — as soon as the news broke of a march they started calling the union to get buses,” he said. “They organized themselves.”
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Gresham said he’s going to focus on the challenges of his mostly women members — many of them immigrants who support their families of their earnings as home health care aides — as he crafts his speech.
“There are so many issues at stake now — labor, the environment, and so on. But I think we ought to focus on the issues that affect women primarily in this country, and health care is one of them,” he said. “This is a time to listen to and focus on women.”Send a Letter to the Editor