IATSE backs Gephardt

Pledge of presidential support a first for the union

Soaring health care costs, which are causing a growing number of union members to forgo insurance coverage, is a leading reason the Intl. Alliance for Theatrical Stage Employees announced its support for Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) at its midsummer board meeting in Gotham on Tuesday.

This is the first time in the union’s 110-year history that it has pledged support for a presidential candidate.

“Health care is a huge issue in Hollywood right now, and if it’s an issue in Hollywood, it’s an issue in this country,” said IATSE president Thomas Short, speaking for 100,000 below-the-line members.

Short said Gephardt was the “first presidential candidate to enumerate a health plan that will work for everyone.”

IATSE’s Tuesday evening fund-raiser for the presidential hopeful raised upward of $50,000. That coin adds to the $102,475 Gephardt has collected from other unions, including the Screen Actors Guild.

The IATSE board voted unanimously in favor of Gephardt, who emphasized middle-class values and union empathy — his father was a Teamster — to thunderous applause.

But while he vouched to improve the economy, do away with George W. Bush’s tax cuts and fight terrorism, health care was the issue of the day.

“Health care is a moral issue,” he said. “It’s immoral to have anyone in this country without health insurance.”

Gephardt said his health plan would “offer generous tax subsidies to every employer and employee” and put money into Medicare, Medicaid and COBRA.

His words fell on appreciative ears. In recent months, Short has been vocal about rising medical insurance premiums and drug costs — up 14% and 20%, respectively, he said — and has called for an expansion of Medicare to include prescription drug coverage.

Gephardt, who is currently backed by seven international unions, said he hoped to get the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, which has an executive council meeting next week. “I don’t know if I’ll get it, but I seek it,” he said.

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