Archive for December, 2022

Why UFT members don’t get a vote on Healthcare – Notes on the December DA

There are two stories on the December, 2022 DA. One is the protest outside the DA, where hundreds of retirees and supporters gathered in front of 52 Broadway to protest healthcare givebacks. The other story is what happened in the DA.

Mulgrew spoke a lot tonight on the ‘arbitration decision’ that supposedly compels the MLC/City to force retirees onto Medicare Advantage. He also thanked our members for doing as told and petitioning the City Council to amend 12-126. I asked a two part question, which I show below with his response summarized in italics.

(1) Martin Scheinman phrases his so-called ‘award’ not as a ‘decision’ but as a ‘recommendation.’ He calls other awards ‘decisions.’ Councilwoman Gale Brewer also commented that the arbitrator decision is non-binding. Why are you calling it a decision? To this question, Michael Mulgrew admitted that the decision is not binding, despite having spoken about it as if it was before my question. Of course, if it’s non-binding, that begs the question of why we’re even talking about it. It literally can’t be enforced.

(2) There’s been a lot of talk tonight about our fight to change 12-126. You called it ‘our opinion’ that it should be changed. But there was never a decision by the Executive Board or the Delegate Assembly that this was our point of view. Shouldn’t we have been consulted for a vote before we as a union decided it was our decision to invest in resources and campaign to literally change city law? Other unions, don’t even agree with that move. PSC (the CUNY professors union) for instance is campaigning to NOT change the code. Mulgrew’s response was long here. He gaslit a bit about how we ‘can’t vote on EVERYTHING.’ But more importantly he noted that ‘he was voted in’ and thus ‘has the right to make decisions.’ What does that say about our democracy?

Towards the end of the DA, I put forward an amendment to the Tier 6 reso, a reso which was vague as originally written, as it did not specify that the union planned to do anything to make Tier 6 anything like Tier 4. Dave Kazansky spoke against the amendment, which should tell us how cosmetic are the changes they plan to make to Tier 6. Before anyone in opposition, including me, had a chance to endorse, the parliamentarian claimed that the amendment, which has 3 resolves, isn’t 3 lines, and therefore needs to be printed. They therefore, on a dubious technicality, prevented a vote from taking place on the amendment below:

Be it resolved: the UFT will begin an immediate and aggressive lobbying campaign to the City and the State to improve Tier 6 to at least the level enjoyed by current members of Tier 4. Where benefits differ within Tier 4 for members with different join dates, the UFT will opt to work to equalize both Tier 4 and Tier 6 to the join date with superior benefits.

Be it resolved: as part of this campaign, the UFT will lobby to create a 25-55 option for all current Tier 6 members equal to that previously offered to many Tier 4 members.

Be it resolved: the UFT will also commit to campaigning against any new proposed tiers for future members that have lower benefits than those of currently active tiers.

What can I say? Not a great night for UFT democracy.


UFT Healthcare: What will we give back next?

Last week, New York’s public sector stirred anxiously about a supposed arbitration ‘decision‘ that would end traditional Medicare as we know it. Municipal retirees, it was said, should be thrown onto an Aetna-managed Medicare Advantage plan without any option to keep Seniorcare (unless the City Council voted to amend city code 12-126). Jonathan Halabi discovered some peculiar word choices in the ‘arbitration’ report that called into question how binding it really was. Rather, as Halabi elaborated in a follow-up piece, and as the NYC Organization of Public Sector Retirees discussed in their own statement, Martin Scheinman had actually only issued a mere recommendation. If there was any doubt about this conclusion, today members of City Council, such as former Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, indicated that indeed, there was no binding arbitration decision about Medicare Advantage.

So where does this leave us? At a minimum, the argument for collusion between key union leaders and the City is frankly more realistic than the alternative. A small group of bureaucrats bargained away our healthcare behind closed doors, didn’t succeed, and have likely been working together to finish what they started. Unfortunately, the fact that the City, Mulgrew, and Scheinman already all agree with each other, complicates things. Many left-opposition activists have been excited about the possibility that Scheinman’s lack of authority here means there’s hope yet for traditional Medicare. Again, perhaps it’s the malcontent in me, but I remain pessimistic. There’s no need for an arbitrator when all sides with formal power agree. Scheinman doesn’t need to ram through Medicare Advantage if that’s what both the MLC and the City already want. And if there’s any question on where Mulgrew stands, just look at his latest statement, dated three days from today:

“The city and the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) have put out a request for proposals to find a health insurance provider that can offer benefits that are as good or better than the current GHI CBP plan for in-service members but at less cost. Meanwhile, we are in the midst of negotiating a new premium-free health care plan for all Medicare-eligible city retirees. We see a possible opportunity to use the Medicare Advantage system to create a new plan for retirees that would have the strength and quality our retirees deserve while allowing us to tap into $600 million annually in federal subsidies.”

This is literally dated in the future, almost a full week after Scheinman’s ‘decision.’ Note that number ‘$600 million,’ the same figure as the debt to which Mulgrew committed us without our informed consent in the 2018 contract. That debt is the big story here. Whether or not Scheinman can actually rule on how we pay it back, the City has made it clear that if we don’t get them their money, things aren’t going to end well. For one thing, in that scenario, city unions like the UFT can expect not to get new contracts with fair raises. And that’s just the beginning. The portended end of GHI-CBP and its replacement with something at “less cost” does not bode well. It implies that $600 million in savings and the end of traditional Medicare is just the start – that we’re beginning our long descent down a never-ending stairwell of healthcare givebacks. And, as a Tier 6 member with almost 30 more years on the table before I can retire with a crap pension at 63, the idea of committing to worse healthcare just makes me ask: what will we give back next?

We aren’t going to win on healthcare, pension, pay, workday, or anything else, unless we completely rethink our union’s strategy. UFT leadership has been managing decline for a long time now. Beyond a few scattered and mostly superficial victories here and there, we haven’t had real gains in years. In net terms, teachers and other members have been losing. In large part, that’s because we allow the City and the State to take from us when budgets get tough. Formally, our union isn’t fighting back on healthcare. Retirees have only held onto traditional Medicare because of their own quasi-wildcat actions. But, especially for those of us in Tier 6, those grassroots victories will be short-lived unless we solve the root of the problem: we constantly allow our union to let the City and State dispossess us of real income, benefits, and time. If the City/State can’t pay us our value, shouldn’t we demand that they find the money another way? That’s why the UFC-elected High School Executive Board proposed a stock transfer tax to fund our healthcare back in November. Unity Caucus voted that resolution down, and have opted instead for backroom deals with more givebacks. If we keep accepting less, how little will we have in ten years? Thirty years? Fifty years?

Enough is enough. The only real solution we have is to finally stand up and fight for more.

UFT Members Take Note: Medicare Advantage is a Consequence of Backroom Bargaining

Today, Martin Scheinman issued an expected arbitration decision that elaborated what he had already told us he would do several months ago: force retirees onto Medicare Advantage. This time, the privatized Medicare program will be managed by Aetna, who you may remember sued when they didn’t get our contract the first time around. His decision is long, roughly 60 pages (though about 30 of those are appendixes). You can probably get away with reading the 3 page ‘summary‘ he presaged back in September. The decision substantiates much of what the UFT’s left-opposition has been saying all along.

  • This all comes down to the 2018 (and 2014) contract(s). Scheinman only has the right to intervene here, because Mulgrew promised healthcare savings to the City that he couldn’t make happen (and without the informed consent of membership).
  • Scheinman’s ability to force retirees onto MA has nothing to do with a judge’s ruling about the ‘end of collective bargaining rights,’ as UFT leadership has claimed. No, as I wrote last week, “No judge decided we could lose collective bargaining rights over healthcare. Contracts have consequences, and one is arbitration when there’s a question of one party not meeting their obligations. UFT Leadership is unable to meet their obligations of healthcare savings from the 2018 contract. Our arbitrator, Martin Scheinman said he would intervene and enforce MAP as the only healthcare option for retirees (in order to get the City its savings). That’s not the end of collective bargaining, it’s a consequence of collective bargaining.”
  • Scheinman’s decision does nothing to counter the argument that this is all a big coordinated plot between the City, the MLC, and perhaps even those in charge of arbitrating their ‘disagreements.’ Indeed, much of the language on the City and the MLC here is ‘fluffy.’ For instance, on page 14 of the decision, Scheinman states “Striking the right balance between rising healthcare costs and the provision of robust, quality benefits has been the focus of near constant work by the MLC and the City for decades.” On that same page, he notes that the ‘cost savings’ agreement first entered into effect in 2014 was “historic.” If you didn’t know any better, you’d think Sheinman, Mulgrew, and Adams were labor’s only friends.
  • The only ‘villains’ in the official story are a “small group of unaffiliated retirees,” (p. 19), i.e. the retired left-opposition. This substantiates what we’ve been saying all along, that the people who have been fighting for better healthcare will be scapegoated by the people in power who destroyed it. Don’t get me wrong, that ‘small group of retirees’ has said some things I disagree with. Grandfathering is NOT a solution here. We must preserve traditional Medicare both for current AND future retirees.

While those with power party poolside, we bare the consequences of a union leadership who has given up on fighting for our benefits. Medicare (Dis)advantage is a consequence of backroom bargaining. As our union leadership has kicked us to the curb on healthcare, it will be up to us to organize our own grassroots response to keep our benefits at the level we deserve.

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December 2022