Budget Cuts, Healthcare Cuts: UFT Executive Board Meeting – 11/20/2023


This was a quick meeting or a long meeting, depending on how you look at it. Mulgrew wasn’t here; nor was Barr, so Mike Sill ran the show.

The main subject was budget cuts. As we know, the Mayor is slashing the DOE’s budget by more than half a billion dollars. That is dangerous for our students; dangerous for our members. It could render all gains under our contract useless in comparison to the mayhem brought in by the loss of funds. I wrote something longer about this this weekend. See here. Unfortunately, in the question period, it became clear that the big-scale rallies that we’re going to need are not at all imminent. Sill spoke of gradualism, working from smaller actions to larger ones. But as I’ve said before, we need big actions now. Budget cuts need to be fixed imminently, not retroactively.

Healthcare cuts were the second big theme. Ed Calamia (New Action) motivated a resolution about keeping GHI and keeping it premium free (see in appendix below). This would have compelled the UFT to fight to keep GHI-CBP instead of driving to find a cheaper alternative that will gut our healthcare by 10%. It also would have compelled the UFT to follow the will of the DA and seek out passing the New York Health Act (NYHA) which would put an end to all of this and give UFT members and our students access to much better care. With NYHA, the cost savings would go to us, not the City or the insurance companies. Unity wasn’t interested in this common sense resolution, of course. Through their leadership, they’ve put the UFT on the hook for billions in cost savings.

One of the places we seem to be seeing cost savings now (in the bad sense of the word) is in mental healthcare. Some of the few friends of mine who have actually been able to find in-network mental healthcare have learned the hard way that due to decreasing reimbursement rates (you read that right), we’re losing the few providers we have. We also learned, mid-meeting, that the UFT has dropped the very solution it proposed last time I asked this question, for teachers who can’t find mental healthcare providers—they’ve dropped Hello Hero entirely, transitioning to Valera Health and at least for now leaving many of the few members who still had mental health services without providers. More alarmingly still, Geoff Sorkin, the head of our welfare fund, who claimed he was trying to fix our mental healthcare in the new RFP, claimed he didn’t even realize we’d dropped them (that it’s a different department – MAP). Since then, I’ve gotten confirmation that an email was sent out to people using the program – it’s out.

During the open mic, some UFT members, mainly from MORE Caucus spoke about how they still wanted the UFT to endorse a cease fire in Israel. Last week at the DA, in a somewhat close vote, a majority of UFT delegates voted against this amendment, followed by a controversial walkout and rally outside. After the speakers were through, during the question period an executive board member noted that he was aware of antisemitic language at the rallies/walkouts during the day of student action (the one endorsed by Ilona Nanay at the previous meeting) and asked what we were doing about antisemitism. Sill responded that we need to work on making sure we all feel comfortable in our schools.

I’ll close with a note on district reports. Today was a short but dense meeting for the most part, but there was a long, almost grueling section of district reports, with UFT staffers reporting on the various things they’re doing in their districts. Hint: it’s mostly special events. It occurred to me that what UFT staffers tell us they are doing each week follow certain patterns. Clearly we’re spending significant time and resources organizing happy hours for teachers, sports events, fundraisers for various causes, workshops for students and parents (but not union workshops), PDs and award ceremonies for teachers, but we don’t hear an awful lot about union actions. I’m not saying that those things aren’t important; particularly the fundraisers for children (NAC gave a $200 check to Rich Mantell for the coat drive before we left). I am wondering, though, if what we’re talking about isn’t union actions; if what we’re talking about for the most part isn’t even about our members (unless they’re at happy hours), what exactly are we doing at 52 Broadway?

Maybe we need to take some of the dues-money and energy we’re devoting to happy hours and devote them to fighting Adams’s budget cuts.

Informal Minutes Follow.

Open Mic

Roberta: When we are in pain that only our pain is real. When we are in pain we will do anything to make the pain stop. However, as educators it is our responsibility to be aware of and sensitive to the needs and our pain of our many students – all of them. People in this room have chosen ed. As profession. Why do we pursue education? Think? To expand horizons to see that other people’s pain and joy.

UFT has chosen to support settler colonialism in Palestine. Yes pain of Israel is real, but so is Palestine.

Don’t they have the same needs, etc. If they poison them do they not die. (Rif on Shylock).

What do I say to my Arab students who have families who have been killed by my tax dollars. A cease fire, so that those monies can be used to feed the hungry. We need expansion of services, not cuts. Should come from war money.

That’s the position I need my union to make.

Olivia Swisher: The following statement is in addition to reso. Our duty to call for immediate cease fire in Gaza with how many are killed.

Nicole St Clair: CL and ENL teacher, mom of almost 4 year old. Universe revolves around him. Standing here to urge for executive board to call for an immediate cease fire. Over 11,000 people killed in Gaza. 1400 Israelis. 5,000 children in Gaza. Can’t wrap my head around these numbers. Can’t stop thinking about the kids and their parents. Know each child robbed from world were as adored as my son and students. Such a powerful union as the UFT cannot stand by as this slaughter of innocent children continues. I know that each one of our members is driven by my love. We must cause for cease fire not a pause in the genocide. We need to call for the massacre to cease.

Saltana M: 4th grade teacher. 11,000 Palestinians have been killed. 5,000 are children, vast majority are kindergarten age. Can we imagine losing 5,000 of our students in such a brutal way. Unconscionable that we couldn’t unanimously stop a cease fire. It is shameful that we couldn’t get together and say stop killing children.

Ilan: In addition to what we’ve already called for, but it’s unacceptable that in this age of suffering as a result of bombardment funded by our own taxes. We must call for the end of the suffering and the end of apartheid.

Minutes: Approved.

Mike Sill: LeRoy and Michael both not here. In lieu of president’s report, DOE put out a financial report related to class size legislation. That was a lot of propaganda. It was the mayor’s propaganda. This is happening at a time when we’re about to start having hearings about mayoral control. One thing I know is going to happen is that we’re going to start reaching out to people to start going to hearings, PEP, in order to speak against the false narrative of austerity, to speak against mayoral control in its current form. That means checks and balances on mayoral control.

Question Period:

Alex Jallot: My question is about what you just mentioned about the budget cuts. What are the plans to mobilize the membership? I know you said we’d go to the various meetings. But we had the CAT teams. But are we mobilizing in the streets.

Mike Sill: We’re going to have to ramp up the fight against budget cuts. Starting first and foremost with seeing how much money was lost.  We’ll activate everything we can.

Alex Jallot: I appreciate the folks who came up and spoke in favor of a cease fire especially in a room where people may have been here before. Cease fire.

Mike Sill: We always encourage people to come here and should never feel nervous about speaking in front of union. Appreciate all perspectives.

Yona Adika: I’m on the exec board and I’m also a Jew. Heard a lot here said tonight that presents a perspective and I understand that. My question is during the March out, when students marched out of class, a friend of mine sent a video in Borough Park with people saying *F israel, F the Jews. What are we doing as a union to mitigate antisemitism?

Mike Sill: Ask is for all of us in our schools to go back and make sure all of us feel safe, regardless of who they who identify with. That is part and parcel of our work.

Ronnie Almonte: President Mulgrew talked about going to war. Indeed, I think it needs to be a war. The most recent cut was half a billion. NYPD is getting millions to encrypt their waves. Despite all finger pointing at asylum speakers, Adams is cutting their services by 20% anyways. Appreciate us meeting in our schools, CAT teams, but think we need to show our force in the streets. Think we should replicate the contract rallies, mobilize people onto the streets. Is there something on the horizon – a demonstration in the next month?

Mike Sill: as I said, when we do this work, we ramp up and eventually end up there. When you hear president, you know he’s not being meek. Anyone on executive board who has suggestions on exec board, we wanna hear it.

Ed Calamia: My question is about these budget cuts. We can confront the mayor in the city, but can we look to our allies in Albany to apply different sorts of pressure to him, Washington, to talk some sense into them. There’s an issue with misdirected money, with mayor under investigation being investigated by FBI, we may want to keep pressure on in backround kind of way.

Mike Sill: In this particular moment, legislature needs to go to mayoral control.

Ronnie Almonte: Budget cuts

Nick: Thinking of a different type of budget cut, our healthcare (referring to 10% reduction planned for GHI). Already, even in our current plan, without those cuts, mental health reimbursement rates are being cut – people who were taking insurance no longer – switch of GHI to Aetna or Emblem United? Under GHI, mental health technically run by an outside operator, what would be the specifics under this RFP?

Geoff Sorkin: When I look at how GHI is done, it has two major deficiencies – one is mental health. National problem everywhere. No matter where you look, it’s a big problem. This has been one of our big pushes in RFP. As head of your welfare fund, I hear from everyone. Other big push is with retirees, MAP.

Bacon: I just received notice that Hello Hero has been discontinued. Is that true?

Sorkin: That’s a question for MAP, I don’t know.

Ilona Nanay: Curious if UFT has published about what its proposing for mayoral control.

Michael Sill: In the past, we’ve done talks about who has power on PEP, who has power to appoint chancellor, but what I can tell you – I’ll bring to next executive board. At prep meetings, we will discuss the history of mayoral control. Sometimes we want to show up as parents or constituents.

Ilona Nanay: Wanted to echo Alex in being really grateful and admirative of rank and file who showed up to speak, RE devastating impact violence has had on all New Yorkers. Has UFT thought about doing a “cease for peace,” make spaces to address the root of the violence.

Michael Sill: As an executive board member, you are proposing that. Sounds like a great idea.


Michael Friedman: Want to do a moment of silence, pathways to graduation, died of liver cancer. Short period of time, taught on Bronx Community college campus, GED-College program. Wonderful person. Scott Redhead was name.

Rich Mantell: This past Saturday, we had our annual Thanksgiving event; brought students, mostly newcomers, living in shelters, here. Thanks people who helped. We raised 9k and thousands of coats, every dime came from UFT members. Nothing from banks, brokers, nothing. Heartbreaking, one student hugged just for socks.

Next Thursday, Jewish Heritage Awards.

Nancy Armando: On election day, Brooklyn hosted a mental health trauma workshop. We had over 100 members who attended. Raving reviews of workshops done through MAP. Dealing with stress and trauma in the workplace.

D15 hosting Brooklyn Nets game, on UFT Facebook page.

Rashad Brown: Pride Committee. On Friday, had 15-20 teachers for D1-2 come to happy hour, strategic planning for year. March at PS3, flyers on table.

Karen Alford: few announcements. One is tomorrow is presser at Bless, topic is all around class size. We’ve heard a lot about budget cuts, don’t want city to use class size as a smokescreen. So tomorrow, we’ll be standing with Mulgrew as we let this whole entire city know what’s at stake and why we need legislation adhered to.

Second thing, Toy drive for elementary schools. On Dec. 16 will be a celebration here, mostly for newcomers, please come.

Kwanzaa celebration on Dec 15, 5-7 PM at Queensborough office.

16th annual early childhood conference on Saturday, April 6.

Shawn Rockowitz: tomorrow is SRP recognition day. Have had good celebrations.

Janella Hinds: Native American Heritage month, important to honor. High School division there is a FAFSA workshop on Tuesday, Nov. 28. It’s changing from 100 questions down to 50, so it’s important for students/families to understand.

Dave Walter: This past Thursday, we had D26 happy hour, lots of members. Annual Queens Parents conference, teaching about ways to support kids – read budget. Parents ready to fight mayor on budget cuts. Upcoming event with a raffle.

Servia Silva: Last Friday we had a Bamba teaching tradition, explaining where that music comes from, it’s been in PR. In two Fridays, we’re doing a cooking class, 4-6 at 119th st between 2nd and 3rd.

Ashley Rzonka: We had tenure workshop, most well attended event that we have. Noticed we have new IA Superintendent, important. We need to be having constant conversations. Going to be having tenure celebration. Nov 30 a PEP meeting at 6, please come in solidarity with that chapter who is having trouble with principal. Queens doing collections for asylum seekers.

Seung Lee: This weekend, the Asian American Heritage Committee had first in person meeting in a while, at a dim sung restaurant in Chinatown. Thursday, Dec 14 at 52 there will be an origami workshop.

Leo Gordon: 2 dates – next Wednesday, 11/29 – CTE meeting; Jan 29, we’ll be filled with CTE teachers for a conference, teachers learning within their realm/industry. Mentions school with an agricultural program, only one, just got 5 million dollars.

Adam Shapiro: D21 had coat drive event.

Mary Atkinson: AFT committed to distributing 1,000,000 books to kids. Want to thank those who came out in the Bronx to help for  an event.

Margaret Dalton: Manhattan SRT celebration is Dec. 7, come, dance, be in funnest group.

Mike Sill: Debra Penny stepping down, on Dec. 4 we will take nominations, can vote.

Special Order of Business:

Edward Calamia: Before you, you have a resolution, hopefully everyone has a copy. Common sense resolution, noncontroversial, things to do in troubled times. Members are wondering, who is looking out for me? Political parties, major television news networks, not so much. Union? People look to us. Members need to be reassured that we have that back, especially with what’s going on in the world, with the budget wars. This resolution speaks to best interests, what we stand for. Yes on this resolution is about healthcare, unity forged between the members of this body and leadership of this body.

Sean Rockowitz– not in favor – meeting last week to discuss NYHA – my opposition based on no additional cost to UFT members – 90 billion in costs – must be paid for in some way – reduce class size, money for raises, etc.

Carl Cambria  – opposition – non controversial – NOT – assumption to evoke fear – ties hands to negotiate better health plan for members – makes assumptions about NYHA – being better than current. Opposes 2nd whereas – objects that UFT wants to keep as is – especially given previous discussion on mental health.

Sorkin – against – decades union has been greatest advocate for health care – there are issues with healthcare – short term and long term – work with AFT to change things. Vote it down.

Nick – support – two things – fearmongering — there is fear – retirees lose trad med – in service – 10% cheaper plan reimbursement already cut – this reso commit to fighting for what we have now (GHI without 10% cuts) and NYHA for later, which would be better than GHI, a long term plan that wouldn’t require cuts.

Even if laid off, or if an untenured member is fired by an abusive administrator; or if you’re a student in our class whose family otherwise wouldn’t have insurance. We have studies – nyha is cost effective. By the way, I wasn’t invited to this r&f meeting – we voted twice for NYHA – Mulgrew said he followed the will of the DA at the last Executive Board meeting. So follow it!

Shawn Ramos: Opposition, seems contradictory, are we fighting for NYHA or GHI. But since we are talking about it, since an author is critiquing GHI and then coming in and speaking against it. Having two vendors fighting against each other can be good. At first, UFT supported NYHA, but then we learned about the money – where is it coming from. Where are the billions coming from? MLC would no longer have control, only some seats would be union member, so I urge you to stand in opposition.

Rashad Brown: Rise to call question. But do want to thank welfare fund unless I’m out of order.

Out of order.

Question Called: only HS executive board votes yes.


Resolution to Keep GHI-CBP – and Premium-Free

Whereas, GHI-CBP, as currently composed with Emblem underwriting medical coverage and Blue Cross underwriting hospital coverage, is by far the most popular health plan for in-service municipal employees, and has been offered premium-free to UFT members for decades; and

Whereas, President Mulgrew reported at the October, 2023 Delegate Assembly that in-service members may see the equivalent of this plan moved to a different one run either by Emblem with UnitedHealthcare or entirely by Aetna; and

Whereas, changes to insurance options, particularly as a means of enacting cost savings for the City, can lead to serious disruptions in care for UFT members and their families (e.g. by reducing reimbursements/networks, increasing costs borne by members through added premiums or copays, and/or intensifying layers of prior authorizations); and

Whereas, the UFT has twice supported the New York Health Act (NYHA) through resolutions adopted at the Delegate Assembly; and whereas as currently amended, the NYHA would continue/expand current healthcare access above the level of GHI-CBP at no additional cost to UFT members, while further expanding healthcare access to currently uninsured residents of New York, including many of our students and their families.

Resolved, that the UFT officials serving on the MLC will commit to using their influence to help keep GHI-CBP as is and premium free; and

Resolved, that the UFT will additionally use its lobbying and organizing powers to help pass the NYHA. 

Signed by:

Ronnie Almonte

Nick Bacon

Ed Calamia

Alex Jallot 

Ibeth Mejia

Ilona Nanay

Luli Rodriguez 

Nick Bacon is a co-chairperson at New Action Caucus. He is also an elected member of the UFT executive board

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