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John J. Sweeney

Keynote Speaker at the Academy's 21st Annual Conference

Few advocates for the American worker are more tireless than John J. Sweeney, President of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). In his keynote address “Curbing High Health Costs: The Linchpin for Success” at the Academy's conference on January 30, he stated:

“In health care reform, the single toughest issue is cost control. Without cost savings, the debates over financing and the relative roles of public and private insurance are useless. No one can afford the system we have now. … U.S. companies that provide health benefits are at a significant competitive disadvantage in the world marketplace because our major trading partners already provide universal health care. And those same competitive firms are equally uncompetitive with domestic firms in their industries that do not provide benefits. So, with monetary pressures dramatized by our profound economic downturn, we find ourselves sailing before several winds of change. Our new president won on a platform that included the kind of comprehensive reform we need. Most economists agree that health reform is a pivotal element in turning around our economy for long-term success. Bipartisan support for meaningful health reform has grown over the years. … The long-fractious health care field has begun to morph into a much more cooperative one. The Institute of Medicine has brought us even closer by showing health care is filled with mistakes, inconsistencies and outmoded structures and deep quality problems. …. What's needed now are some sparks from all of us so we can ignite a brushfire and turn it into a bonfire of public support that can command all health care players into action.”

Sweeney was elected president of the AFL-CIO at the federation's biennial convention in October 1995 on a platform of revitalizing the American labor movement and has been re-elected three times since then. The AFL-CIO is a federation of 56 national unions and 11 million members, including 2.5 million members in Working America, its new community affiliate.

At the time of his election, he was serving his fourth four-year term as president of SEIU. His trade union career began as a research assistant with the Ladies Garment Workers. He joined SEIU in 1961 as a representative of building service employees in New York City. Since 2000, Sweeney has been president of the Trade Union Advisory Committee, an international organization with consultative status to the OECD. Sweeney was a member of the 1991 Advisory Council on Social Security. In 1990, Sweeney was appointed to the U.S. National Advisory Commission on Work-Based Learning. He co-authored Solutions for the New Work Force and authored America Needs A Raise: Fighting for Economic Security and Social Justice.

A founding member of the National Academy of Social Insurance, Sweeney received his B.A. in economics from Iona College. Sweeney is married to Maureen Power, a former schoolteacher. They live in Bethesda, Maryland. The Sweeney's have two children, John (a chef) and Patricia (who works for the AFL-CIO). Sweeney's hobbies include golf and bowling.

Click here to view the full version John Sweeney's keynote address.