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Who is political? A Further Note on the 3-27-23 Executive Board Meeting (and its aftermath)

At the 3-27-23 executive board meeting, we heard from two working UFT mothers – Ibeth Mejia and Luli Rodriguez, who sought to put some teeth into a mostly symbolic resolution written by members of Unity Caucus. That resolution was about recognizing disproportionate maternal mortality rates. Ibeth and Luli’s amendment would have asked the UFT to do something to actually help reduce maternal mortality for women in our own union by fighting for living wages and keeping healthcare viable/affordable, among other things.

Immediately, Luli and Ibeth were attacked for (a) being political; (b) not being collaborative; and (c) raising an amendment that had nothing to do with the resolution at hand. So just a few thoughts.

  •  Political. The word that is always thrown at opposition. I wrote a detailed piece on this a few months back. And in this instance, I want to seriously ask – what political gain could Ibeth and Luli possibly have had by raising a resolution at executive board? This isn’t like the DA, where independents potentially hear from people with different viewpoints. At executive board, Unity cut off access for regular rank-and-file members to view our proceedings months ago, so it’s not like there was an audience. Other than the 7 members and a handful of colleagues who came to support us, there was no one there who wasn’t already tied to the Unity machine. Unlike Unity Caucus members, there’s also no financial political gain that Luli and Ibeth could have from raising the resolution either. No one from opposition is ever going to be hired for a job with the UFT. When I left Unity, for instance, I was actually reducing my political standing in that sense of the word – ensuring that I’d never get a cushy union job. Luli and Ibeth, similarly, were de-politicizing themselves in order to fight for the general good of members. This irony shouldn’t be lost here, because most of the people I see attacking opposition for being political do have union jobs that they got in part from being loyal to the Unity machine.
  • Attacking opposition for not being collaborative is disingenuous. For one thing, we reached out to Unity with two resolutions for this executive board meeting. Both passed. For another, Unity never returns the favor. Unity never reached out to us about the amended resolution. They never sought our input. We only knew about it because it was in the adcom minutes. Yet, when Ibeth and Luli raised an amendment to a resolution that Unity wrote without collaborating with us, they were vilified, along with the rest of opposition, for not working with Unity. Unity can write their own resos, but it is a cardinal crime for anyone from opposition to do anything on their own.
  • The final complaint is that Luli and Ibeth’s amendment about healthcare/wages for working mothers had nothing to do with maternal mortality. But that’s patently absurd. For that, I can simply go to Michael Mulgrew. For the last few weeks, he’s been using the idea of a ‘committee with real teeth—arbitration/penalty power’ to help keep Aetna honest (as he pushes retirees off of traditional Medicare, where that sort of ‘teeth’ wouldn’t be needed).  Unity here put forward a symbolic resolution without teeth. Yes, maternal mortality is terrible.  Luli and Ibeth found a way that we can do something about that as a teachers union – by fighting to make sure that mothers in our union have medical benefits and living wages. That’s at least something our union can do to help working mothers. The argument from Unity that maternal mortality doesn’t have anything to do with mothers having good healthcare/wages is completely ridiculous. I suspect even they know that. And of course, they voted it down, and have been blowing up their social media with political attacks against two working mothers who tried to fight for more than symbolic help for our members.

Mulgrew spooks members with a 6:00 AM non-update about taking our GHI

This Monday morning, as we rush into our schools and get our first lessons set up for the week, we also have the pleasure of pondering what the heck Mulgrew is talking about in a bizarre non-update on in-service healthcare, sent out when I assume he and the rest of UFT leadership were still sleeping soundly. (It reached me at 6:12 AM).

Titled “An in-service healthcare update,” he begins by reminding us that “All of our members have and will continue to have access to premium-free health care,” failing to mention that this is actually already guaranteed by City Administrative Code 12-126, which he used UFT resources to try and get scrapped – and without a membership vote.

He then reminds us how good we have it, noting that “UFT is one of the few teachers’ unions in the country that still offers premium-free health care coverage for members…” However, he fails to note that other unionized cities that have it, such as LA, are not working to weaken it or trade it away for minor wage increases, but are instead effectively organizing to keep their healthcare and increase their wages above the inflation rate.

Next, Mulgrew hints that we might not be renewing GHI-CBP – an insurance plan that most of our workers have been using for decades, and then vaguely mentions that four providers responded to an RFP, but didn’t say who. In fact, when we asked at executive board last week, Joe Usatch, the Assistant Director of the UFT Welfare Fund, told us that he didn’t even know who responded. Mulgrew also fails to tell us that the RFP to replace GHI sought 10% in cost savings – an amount that would be impossible to save without somehow increasing member costs or reducing member care. There are only so many savings, after all, that Mulgrew can make by weakening GHI itself, such as by inserting massive copays for urgent care visits.

Then, he mentions switching retired members off of traditional Medicare and onto an Aetna Medicare Advantage plan as a win, and not as the failed plan to reach cost-savings at our expense that it actually is. To read this paragraph and not squirm, you have to be massively in the dark about what is going on, as the retiree healthcare battle has been front page news now for years. If he’s using what he’s done to retirees as an example of what he plans to do to in-service workers, however, we should definitely listen.

There are no new updates in this email. In fact, there is less information here than we’ve gotten at executive board meetings, DAs, and even other email updates. No, this isn’t an update. It’s a limp response to a petition organized by opposition to give us a say on healthcare changes before they happen. Sign that petition today.  

UFT Contract Update and Analysis – Get Ready for a Pay Cut

Bad news abounds on the upcoming UFT contract. Teachers, paraprofessionals, and the rest of our members deserve answers on why. While, I’m bound by NDAs not to disclose what is said in the 500-member negotiating committee, I have more flexibility with information given in the Executive Board, Delegate Assembly, and other sources. So, in this post, I’ll go through some of the public information we have right now and analyze what it means for our members and for our union.

Committing to a Pay Cut

It’s no secret that DC37 is about to set the economic pattern for all other New York City municipal unions. A roughly 3% annual salary increase is absolutely dreadful. Even when accounting for the one-time $3000 signing bonus, DC37 is committing to sub-inflation increases. The exact numbers for UFT may be slightly more or slightly less depending on other ‘economic’ decisions made in DC37’s contract. But, we have the big numbers here. DC37 is effectively committing us to a pay cut in real wages. And, because their contract will last for more than five years, DC37 is also committing to a pay cut for a very long time. If that’s hard to stomach, it’s even worse when we look at the pattern in context. Nationally, non-unionized workers are getting better raises on average than unionized municipal employees are about to agree to here in New York.

That’s why at Executive Board this Monday, I asked LeRoy Barr why we weren’t publicly taking issue with the pattern about to be set. His response, that ‘we can’t make public statements about another union’s contract,’ astonished me. First of all, let’s be clear that UFT leaders have publicly criticized the pattern set by other unions before. For instance, back in 2001 Randi Weingarten stated that a pattern set by DC37 was too low for teachers to take. Second of all, why on earth would current UFT leadership place being courteous to other union’s leadership over the interests of our members? If our raises are about to be set at horrendous levels by DC37 leadership, it is the absolute duty of Mulgrew et al to do whatever they can to stop that. The fact that UFT leadership isn’t publicly fighting for pay increases that exceed that of non-unionized workers frankly raises existential questions about our union.

A ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ on Healthcare Reductions  

At this week’s executive board meeting, Mulgrew claimed that ‘there won’t be any ‘healthcare savings’ in this round of bargaining.’ In the next breath, however, he said ‘but, we’ll look at the RFP.’ There are currently two RFPs, both of which were designed so that the MLC could realize cost savings for the City. The problems with the first RFP, Medicare Advantage, are well known. In short, retirees could lose access to traditional public Medicare and face diminished networks and tons of red tape. The second RFP, which is more mysterious, is for in-service members. Union officials have stated that they are seeking a plan similar to GHI at around 10% less of a cost. They have also threatened the possibility of premiums. So, call me crazy, but if healthcare isn’t a part of this round of contract negotiations, why are we humoring plans that potentially reduce our benefits or increase member responsibility for healthcare costs?

The only possible answer here is that clearly healthcare is a part of contract negotiations. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The City was blunt with all unions that new contracts would be predicated on finding healthcare savings first. And frankly, the City and the MLC have been lock-step on many of the proposed changes. Now, on the eve of DC37 ratifying a new contract, we see two RFPs in the mix to reduce the City’s fiscal obligation to our healthcare. This isn’t rocket science.

Where does this leave us? As Mulgrew has stated time and time again, healthcare is a part of our overall compensation package. So, if the City reduces our healthcare or increases our costs, the already bad 3% annual wage increase could be much worse. Heck, we might see a pay cut even without adjusting for inflation.

Settling for Minor Workplace Changes

So, if salary is down the drain and healthcare reductions are already in the works, what’s left? All UFT can do is negotiate for workplace stuff. There’s potential here, but I’m still pessimistic. First of all, if we can’t even negotiate raises above inflation, do we really think we can get the City to improve our working conditions? My guess is that we’re only going to get the City to agree to stuff they want anyways. Mulgrew kind of hinted at this at the last Delegate Assembly, where he said ‘[The DOE is] listening on us to some extent on things we need just to be able to do our jobs better.’ I’d love to see those improvements that make it easier for me to do my job well. But, changes that are mutually beneficial to both the employee and the employer are easy fights. We see those types of wins in places that don’t even have unions. But, we do have a union. What we need to be fighting (yes fighting) for is precisely the stuff that is good for teachers and not necessarily good for the City (as an employer): things like smaller class sizes, caseload reductions, and yes – better wages and healthcare. Bottom line: the UFT must do better than settling for what the City wants anyways. We aren’t going to get anything more than the bare minimum unless we act like a union and organize.

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March 2023