Posts Tagged 'Healthcare'

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.


UFT/DC37 Contract Watch – It Gets Worse 

Surprise, surprise – it’s not looking good for the UFT’s next contract. In an exploitative misuse of pattern bargaining, Adams set up DC37 to vote in sub-inflation wage increases that other municipal unions will be ‘stuck with.’ But, rumor had it that DC37 rank-and-file were overwhelmingly happy about the deal. Many of them were expecting less than the 3% pittance being sold as a win. And some were happy about vague promises of more ‘flexible’ remote work policies even as they would be irrelevant to many DC37 members. (You can’t remotely tune in to cook school lunch). But even among the optimists, there were skeptics. Though the tentative contractual agreement was years late, it also paradoxically felt rushed. What was everyone missing? Most of us guessed healthcare.

This leaked MLC memo suggests we were right. 

Translation: just as DC37 leadership is setting up to push out a sub-inflation pattern for all MLC unions, MLC leadership (predominately UFT and DC37) is gearing up to privatize our retirees’ Medicare. And with constant talk of a mysterious ‘RFP’ to replace GHI/HIP, we can expect further ‘cost savings’ to be dumped onto working municipal employees. In short, we were sadly right to predict that ‘3% could easily become -3%.’ 

The Role of Rank and File

Even before this news, teachers were picking up on our union leadership’s non-willingness to fight for something better. Earlier this week, on the ICE-UFT blog, James Eterno posted an anonymous teacher’s plea to NY’s City Council. This teacher, lacking any confidence in UFT leadership to get us wages anywhere close inflation, begged our City Council to write/pass legislation that would. This isn’t the first time a teacher has gone to politicians for help because our union leadership let us down. Think back to 12-126. Without the consent of membership, UFT leadership tried to organize us to get the City Council to erase our healthcare protections. Indeed, we now know that massive amounts of money were spent by our own union leadership to lobby against our healthcare interests. With union leadership working against us, members were left with no choice but to form their own massive grassroots response. In opposition to Mulgrew, New Action joined thousands of fired up municipal workers and retirees to petition against changing the code. We won that battle. City Council listened to rank-and-file members/retirees over the union leadership who was trying to sell us out. It was proof that rank-and-file could organize even when leadership was actively working against us. But, we all knew it wasn’t over. This leaked memo, with its suspicious timing right before a bad pattern is about to be set, shows the time is now.

These are the odd circumstances we’ve found ourselves in circa 2023. We are left with the need to use real union tactics like organizing members for no-votes and working together to lobby our employer for better pay/healthcare. But it isn’t our official union leadership who is doing this organizing. They, rather, are doing backroom deals and putting forth propaganda to get us to accept crappy wages and healthcare reductions. And yes, I’m sure in their minds, they think they’re doing the right thing. In the context of the Taylor Law, this might be the ‘best’ they can do while using traditional (i.e. legal) negotiating methods. Yes, it’s not a good deal, but it’s the ‘least bad’ deal they can get us.

If we simply go with Mulgrew and Garrido, all we’ll get is the ‘best possible reduction in wages/benefits.’ If we want more than managed decline, we have no choice but to organize ourselves. Short term, that means organizing around healthcare/the pattern. Long term, that means making massive changes to the Taylor Law, so that our unions can function like unions again. Bottom line is: we can’t just sulk and ‘wait for the inevitable.’ We need to be ready to fight. 

UFT Leadership’s Dangerous 2018 Giveback has put us all at Risk

In 2018, Michael Mulgrew rushed out a contract with dangerous givebacks, lying to 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, and we all know the story there: retirees fought, and at least temporarily won back premium-free traditional Medicare on the basis of Administrative Code 12-126. But they didn’t fix the issue of our debt, and the UFT is in big trouble there.

That trouble–the trouble of Mulgrew’s 2018 debt commitment–is why we’ve seen so much misdirection from UFT leadership. It’s why we’ve seen a policy set, without any democratic mandate, to convince in-service members to ‘amend the code.’ And it’s why we’ve seen threats sent out to membership, likely coordinated between Mulgrew and the very people with whom he’s supposed to be bargaining. It’s also why we’ve seen Mulgrew’s big lie – that somehow, on the basis of Administrative Code 12-126, we’ve lost our right to collectively bargain on healthcare. That’s nonsense, as I showed in an article earlier this week. Indeed, much in Lyle Frank’s decision substantiates our right (via the MLC) to collectively bargain with the City over healthcare.

There’s only one source which gives any credence to the idea that we might lose collective bargaining rights over healthcare plans. That source is Martin Scheinman’s letter suggesting what he might do if Administrative Code 12-126 isn’t amended. Read this letter carefully. While Scheinman notes that the City is only obligated to provide one health plan, he doesn’t say anything about collective bargaining rights being taken away in Frank’s decision. Rather, he notes that [if the administrative code isn’t amended] he would “determine the City and MLC shall eliminate Senior Care as an option.” What would give him the right to intervene in this way? As he notes early on, it’s the 2018 Contract and our (unmet) promise for healthcare savings. UFT Leadership always leaves out the 2018 contract when it discusses healthcare. It turns out that contract, which UFT leadership tricked members into ratifying, is the entire source of the problem.

Whether or not Scheinman’s decision would stand, one major finding needs restating here. 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. Therefore, if you have anyone to thank for ‘losing our collective bargaining rights’ over healthcare, it’s UFT leadership. It is they, not retirees or opposition activists, who negotiated a secret deal and couldn’t keep their end.

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April 2023