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Home » Guest Column » The AFM Joins a Health Care Movement

The AFM Joins a Health Care Movement


by John O’Connor, Executive Board Member of Local 380-443 (Binghamton, NY)

In the late 1990s, former Local 802 (New York City) President Bill Moriarity was appointed to lead an AFM task force that explored health insurance options available to musicians, analyzed the health care system in the United States, and delivered a report to the AFM Convention. He made comparative analyses to health care systems in other developed countries. I will never forget his summation to the delegates, declaring, “Every country’s health care system has its flaws, but not one country would trade their system with ours.”

Musicians know this story too well. At a conference several years ago, I attended a panel discussion on the challenges that touring freelance musicians face. During the Q&A, someone asked, “What do you do if you get sick while touring?” A panelist responded, “We just hope we are touring in Europe!”

This was a shameful commentary on the health care system in the US.

When I was vice president of Local 802, I watched as the club date and hotel music world dissipated. Some of the city’s finest musicians lost work and found it difficult to obtain adequate and affordable health insurance. The US Affordable Care Act alleviated the problem to an extent, but most applicants found it confusing. And, ever since ACA’s passage, private insurance costs have outpaced inflation, and millions remain uninsured. Nationally, about 8% of Americans lack health insurance, but in our own industry, 43% of musicians are without.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of American workers who lost their jobs and health insurance were forced to scramble for replacement insurance on the open market. The American health insurance system, unlike virtually every other country, is linked to employment. As steady employment becomes more precarious in the 21st century, so does health care.

Even in Fox News’ own polarizing exit polls, conducted among voters in the November 2020 election, 72% were in favor of a “government-run health care plan.” Other polling organizations, more honestly characterizing it as a national health plan (“Medicare for All”) in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single public plan, reported favorability results higher than 80%.

At the 2023 AFM Convention, I and six co-sponsoring AFM locals submitted a resolution mandating that the AFM support a single payer system of health insurance for the US. The memory of Moriarity’s statement must have rung like a bell in the ears of our Canadian sister and brother delegates (who enjoy a single-payer health care system and would not trade it for ours) as they listened to the debate on the 2023 convention floor. Though the convention committee assigned to vet our resolution recommended a watered-down version, the delegates overwhelmingly voted for the original resolution. At that moment, the Federation joined a movement.

The resolution passed by the delegates instructed the Federation to “advocate, educate, and organize for health care justice and a single-payer system that will make health care a birthright for everyone in America …” The resolution further instructed the Federation to join the Labor Campaign for Single Payer and encouraged all the AFM locals to do so.

With the resolution’s passage, the AFM joined other national unions in a coalition that includes the Association of Flight Attendants, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, American Postal Workers Union, IATSE, United Mine Workers of America, and National Nurses United, just to name a few.

The movement for a single-payer health care system, or Medicare for All, will take work and involvement on many fronts. But if the US is to join the rest of the developed world in providing health care to all its citizens, unions must be an essential part of the movement. The single-payer movement has grown even though US Congress is awash in money from insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies that oppose it. It speaks volumes that every Democrat running for a seat in Congress who supported Medicare for All won their campaign in the last congressional election.

How can we move this forward? Supporting candidates that endorse Medicare for All is one way. Several states, including my own (New York), have had single payer legislation introduced as a state health care system. These efforts need our support as well. Canada’s single payer system came into existence province by province, so Americans can do it state by state. We are not there yet, but we can be proud that our union is now joining the movement.

If you are interested in getting involved, get your local to join the Labor Campaign for Single Payer. I have been working on this issue for many years and would be happy to help. You can reach me at

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