Labor Advocate Gives Big Push to Health Care

Article excerpt

The Clinton administration's health-care effort has quietly signed on one tough battler.

Joyce Miller, a native Chicagoan, began work Tuesday as a special adviser to Labor Secretary Bob Reich.

Miller long was the nation's top female labor leader, serving as the first woman on the AFL-CIO Executive Council before leaving a year ago to run the Glass Ceiling Commission in the Labor Department.

In her new job, she'll try to explain the White House health-care reform to three constituencies: women, unions and retirees. Called outreach, it's basically a selling job for a complex plan facing sturdy opposition.

Why the appointment? As one Washington insider put it: "The president needed help on health care."

"There's a lot of misinformation," Miller said Wednesday from Washington. "You talk to people and they're really not sure what the bill says, and there are so many changes going on in Congress.

"So I would be doing both things, listening to what people have to say and reporting back (to Reich), and definitely trying to tell people what is in the bill as it affects them."

Miller's key focus will be women, given her long-held interest in their health issues. But she realizes her top challenge may be the labor movement, with antipathy remaining from the fight over NAFTA.

She notes that AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland says while labor differed with Clinton on NAFTA it was going all out on health care. But she acknowledged that several blue-collar unions, such as the Teamsters and electronics workers, were livid with Clinton. Other unions, she noted, from communications workers to laborers to textile workers, are highly supportive on health care.

"I think the labor movement is intelligent enough to know that NAFTA took place, they led a very intense fight, and now they've got to concentrate on health care," she said.

Miller said she felt her work as executive director of the Glass Ceiling Commission was completed. The panel, chaired by Reich, has researched such topics as how glass ceilings affect women, Hispanics, blacks and Asian-Americans. …