Are one-time raises more important than healthcare?

There’s been a lot of debate about healthcare over the last several weeks, with opposition unionists writing some brilliant pieces. Fellow executive board member Ronnie Almonte (MORE) wrote probably the best summary of the UFT’s healthcare debacle, while James Eterno (ICE) has written compelling pieces that expose the holes in Michael Mulgrew’s argument that we ‘must’ change administrative code 12-126. (The reality is that code protects both in-service members and retirees and changing it opens up a pandora’s box of health care givebacks that may never end once we start). Jonathan Halabi has written several good pieces over the last few weeks which demonstrate what Mulgrew’s healthcare ‘savings’ actually look like for members. (Hint: we aren’t the ones saving money when copays go up). And former Unity-candidate Arthur Goldstein has written several good pieces on the abysmal situation we’re in, as UFT tells us essentially that we must organize to ‘surrender’ on healthcare (and what that might mean for us on contract). You can also check out notes on the debates that have happened on healthcare between Unity and UFC executive board members here and here, or see Norm Scott’s chronicling of actions by retirees here.

A lot of the UFT-policy wonks who read those blogs (and this one) are probably already familiar with most of the articles above. But, everyday members who don’t read the opposition blogs are also getting fired up on healthcare. The biggest question I’ve been getting from teachers, paraprofessionals, and related service professionals over the last few weeks is ‘why are we prioritizing raises over healthcare?’ One of the reasons people choose civil service over the private sector is because of the benefits, not the pay. Public school educators want stable access to high quality premium free healthcare and the knowledge that they’ll continue to receive such care once they retire. So why weren’t we asked if we’d prefer one-time raises or healthcare? Many of us are terrified about what it means that we are opening the pandora’s box to lose the security inscribed in administrative code 12-126 – that we might lose the right to traditional Medicare or to the HIP benchmark (and corresponding premium-free access to GHI). Mulgrew never asked us. He just went for our healthcare.

I presented a resolution that on contentious issues like healthcare, UFT should allow the 7 UFC executive board members to give a minority report, so that members could see multiple perspectives. Unity shot that resolution down of course, then shocked even the opposition by reducing the question period from unlimited to 15 minutes. Closing off the membership from knowing multiple perspectives about healthcare or from being able to ask questions on what’s going on is just bad unionism. Members are scared right now and want answers, not emails from Mulgrew or texts from ‘Rachel,’ paid for by our own union dues, that demand we go to the City Council to ask for our healthcare protections to be ‘amended.’ Before the UFT organizes members to go after their own healthcare in exchange for one-time raises, don’t you think they should ask the members first? Maybe also give them the full scope of the issue, and let them make the decision for themselves? I for one, think they should.

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