Mulgrew Preps UFT Members to Expect Healthcare Premiums

This afternoon, Michael Mulgrew publicly withdrew his support for ongoing negotiations with the City RE changes to the healthcare provided to UFT members. You can read his letter to Harry Nespoli, chairman of the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC), which states as much, here. This letter was also linked in an email to members, which I’ll include in the appendix below. That email, in fact, is a bit more alarming than the letter, because it hints at what’s going on behind the scenes – the addition of premiums for in-service members.

Mulgrew puts this blame, predictably, on others (the City), washing his hands of the consequences of a process that he himself put into motion.

But he did put the process into motion. Remember, in 2018, Michael Mulgrew rushed out a contract with dangerous givebacks, misleading members that there weren’t any. The most dangerous giveback? That somehow, in a time of record healthcare inflation, we would find a way to save $600 million annually on healthcare. The main way Mulgrew sought to do this was through a Medicare Advantage program (MAP) for Medicare-eligible retirees, and we all know the story there: retirees fought and won several court cases against the City that prevented them from being forced onto MAP. Then, for the first time in half a century, they beat Mulgrew’s caucus (Unity) for control over the retiree chapter of the union (RTC) – in fact winning in a tremendous upset. But retirees, of course, couldn’t fix the issue of Mulgrew’s debt, and the UFT is in big trouble there no matter who controls the leadership of our union.

That trouble–the trouble of Mulgrew’s 2018 debt commitment–is why, Mulgrew can write a line like “this administration has proven to be more interested in cutting their costs than honestly working with us to provide high-quality health care to their workers.” We, and by ‘we’ I mean Mulgrew, promised the City that we’d reduce spending on our healthcare. When the retirees successfully fought back on MAP, that left in-service members to carry the bill. And remember, even when UFT leadership expected MAP to go through, they were still engaged in an RFP to reduce healthcare spending on in-service members by 10%. We can only imagine what savings will have to come on our backs now – but something tells me it’s far more than 10%.

Rather than take responsibility for this mess, Mulgrew has simply withdrawn support – like a baseball pitcher who just pitched a grand slam to the other team and simply leaves the game mid-inning. ‘It will be the rest of the team (MLC’s) fault  now if we lose, not mine.’ Claims of fighting the City ring hollow, because we already know that we’re stuck with the score from Mulgrew’s bad pitch. And it’s the last inning.

After years of used-car-salesman-like PowerPoints to members saying that we are going to just love the healthcare that’s renegotiated, do we really expect Mulgrew to rally the troops against those renegotiations? After taking a sub-inflation contract without a fight – a contract so bad our so-called ‘raises’ fell below the non-unionized American average – do we really expect the Unity-led UFT leadership to fight anything?

No, of course not, but we fully expect them to pretend they are fighting to save face during an election year. That’s why we , as in actual working UFT members, can’t let negative changes to our healthcare go through. We must fight back. Because anything we get from UFT leadership, I fear, will be a purely performative motion.

Read Mulgrew’s email here:

Dear Nicholas,

Today I’m writing to let you know that I have sent a letter to the chair of the Municipal Labor Committee, Harry Nespoli, to tell him that the UFT will no longer support the MLC’s negotiations with the city on health care benefits.

For nine years, the MLC has worked to maintain high-quality, premium-free health care coverage for city workers while working with the city to achieve billions of dollars in savings despite the increasingly difficult national landscape. It has become apparent that this administration is not willing to continue this work in good faith. The city has delayed our current negotiations on in-service and pre-Medicare retiree health care for months, and we no longer feel that it is in the interest of our members to be part of that process. This administration has proven to be more interested in cutting their costs than honestly working with us to provide high-quality health care to their workers.

The process is no longer collaborative; it is now adversarial. We would hope that the city would choose to side with their workers in this fight, but that choice is theirs. If they make the wrong choice, we will have to shift our strategy from fighting with the health care providers to fighting with the city.

Let’s be clear: Any move by the city to try to put premiums on health coverage for our in-service members will result in an all-out war.
Read the letter to the MLC
We will keep you updated about this process as it moves forward, and we promise to continue to do the tough work of fighting to preserve the high-quality, premium-free health care we deserve. We need to stand together, because no one has given us, as unionized workers, anything; we’ve had to fight for everything we have.

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

1 Comment

  • Avatar
    Sheila Zukowsky

    You mean you don’t believe that he’ll declare a war on the city if they try to impose premiums on working members? No, neither do I. Nor am I convinced he’ll stop at trying to finesse some kind of newfangled phony charges on retirees either!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *