Labor Loses Its Champion: Ted Kennedy (1936-2009)

Lindsay Beyerstein

Working people aren’t getting their fair share of our economic growth. Their hard work is producing skyrocketing corporate profits – not higher paychecks, better benefits, or better lives for their families. The best way to see that employees get their fair share is to give them a stronger voice.”

-Sen. Ted Kennedy (19322009)

Labor lost its most powerful champion in the United States Senate on Tuesday with the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Throughout his long career in the Senate, Kennedy was an advocate for workers. He helped pass bills to protect the right to organize, to keep workers safe on the job, to combat discrimination, and to ensure a secure retirement for all.

Kennedy was lead sponsor of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, which required companies to manage their pension funds more responsibly and transparently. One of his last legislative accomplishments was relief for pension funds that would otherwise have gone bankrupt in the financial crisis of 2008.

He was a vocal proponent of the Healthy Families Act, which would guarantee up to seven paid sick days for all workers.

Kennedy was a driving force behind the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for women to sue for wage discrimination that was concealed from them until years after the fact.

And the senator was a leading proponent of the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize. The freedom to choose a union is vital to restoring the American Dream, especially for the most vulnerable Americans,” Kennedy famously wrote.

But in a career filled with accomplishments, Kennedy singled out his crusade for universal healthcare as the cause of my life.” He understood the link between healthcare and middle-class security.

Kennedy’s remarks on healthcare at the 1980 Democratic National Convention were eerily prescient:

[W]e cannot have a fair prosperity in isolation from a fair society. So I will continue to stand for a national health insurance. We must – We must not surrender – We must not surrender to the relentless medical inflation that can bankrupt almost anyone and that may soon break the budgets of government at every level.

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Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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