Posts Tagged 'Medicare Advantage'

Union elections have consequences. One of those consequences is apparently getting your healthcare and retirement benefits stripped away without a membership vote. 

Today, the Municipal Labor Commission (MLC) voted to force hundreds of thousands of retirees off of traditional public Medicare and onto one of two privatized Medicare Advantage Plans (MAPs). (Full analysis of those two plans and the UFT’s role: here). Most of the City unions did not vote in favor of this change. But most unions are much smaller than the UFT and DC37. Therefore, with weighted voting, Mulgrew and Garrido were able to ram through Mulgrewcare with the help of a handful of other union leaders.

Weighted voting in itself isn’t unfair. Some of the unions in the MLC are smaller than divisions in the UFT. It makes sense that our union would get more of a say than particularly tiny ones. On the other hand, does it make sense that UFT votes as one giant bloc? Perhaps, the issue is that UFT has a winner-take-all model of democracy. Only a few minor seats, such as the High School Executive Board, are obtained through division votes. So, even though more than 40% of in-service teachers voted against Mulgrew, including the majority of high school voters, Mulgrew gets to speak for us – and use our weight to influence MLC votes. That’s particularly egregious, because those who voted against Mulgrew voted overwhelmingly for United for Change (which included New Action).  One of our platform items was to preserve traditional Medicare and end healthcare givebacks. It’s sickening to know that Mulgrew was able to use our numbers to vote against our interests as explicitly outlined in our election materials. 

Better yet, why wasn’t a decision this big opened up to a vote for general membership? Even those who voted for Mulgrew in the last election didn’t know that he would push through MAP without even a payup option to keep traditional Medicare. We should have been able to directly vote on this question. But, when asked, Mulgrew made it clear to the executive board, the DA, and–most explicitly–to the retirees that membership would not get a say. His message was simple, a paraphrased version of Trump’s infamous: ‘elections have consequences.’ By winning the UFT election, it seems, Mulgrew earned the right to throw us off our healthcare. He earned the right, in fact, to throw every municipal union off their healthcare. 

Look, the damage isn’t necessarily done. Tier sixers, like myself, are probably feeling pretty pessimistic right now. (We might be able to win for a while, but how do we win for another 50 years?) Nevertheless, we can organize. We can fight back. And we need to take Mulgrew at his word. If elections have consequences this drastic, it’s time for members to start getting involved with alternatives. 

We can’t keep letting Mulgrew’s ‘political party,’ Unity Caucus, do this to us. We can’t keep letting them do this to our brothers and sisters throughout the labor movement either. It’s time for a change.


UFT/MLC to Greenlight MAP Nuclear Option

Medicare Advantage has arrived in New York, handing over eviction papers to traditional Medicare in the process. UFT bureaucrats are already informing retired members that the plan is imminent. By September, 2023, barring a win from opposition, it’s all but certain that UFT retirees will be ripped off of GHI Senior Care and thrown onto Aetna’s privatized MAP plan. Here are the plan details. Here is a somewhat sugar-coated comparison with Senior Care (it doesn’t even mention prior authorizations). And here is the same thing but for the prescription rider.

All that is left is for the papers to be signed. The MLC vote is scheduled for March 9, the same day as New Action’s own meeting. But, there is little UFT members can do to stop what is in motion, (except, of course, in our ‘rogue’ organizations), as Mulgrew has made it clear that neither retirees nor in-service members will have a say in how he votes. Indeed, sources suggest that he is steamrolling the plan through MLC steering, forcing the vote to happen before other union leaders have their questions answered.

Nevertheless, Mulgrew will need to do two seemingly contradictory things to retain a semblance of consent from membership as he attempts to obliterate our healthcare: (1) sell MAP as equal to or ‘better’ than traditional Medicare; and (2) blame others for its implementation, particularly as the only available retiree healthcare plan (other than HIP VIP – another MAP plan).

The Sell Job

While the so-called ‘Coney Plan’ is a slight improvement over what we would have seen in the last go-around, it does nothing to address the more major concerns of municipal workers and retirees. There are still prior authorizations, copays, more limited networks, and the nagging problem of participating in the privatization/destruction of a public good for short term gain. To make the pill easier to swallow, some of the costs in the plan (like the deductible) are temporarily waived and some prices (e.g. the prescription drug plan) are cheaper in 2023 than in 2024. Perks galore are also mentioned on page 5 of the comparison chart to sweeten the deal. Some of the perks, like the fitness benefit, I don’t see swaying retirees. But a few, like hearing aid reimbursement, unspecified meals after hospital stays, some transportation benefits, and an OTC allowance stand out. These perks, of course, can only be offered because of the profits Aetna will make on the administrative end – namely denying care through pre-authorizations.

Mulgrew will also need to skate over much of the uncertainty in the plan. The contract expires in December of 2028, and there’s no telling what we’ll get in 2029. In the interim, only time will tell how many doctors opt out as providers. One thing is certain: by the time Tier 6ers retire, and traditional Medicare is but a distant memory with which private insurance no longer has to compete, we are likely to have few if any perks, higher costs, and extremely reduced networks.

The Blame Job

Over the next few weeks, Mulgrew and co. will likely blame ‘a judge’s ruling,’ an arbitrator, and/or the myopia of progressive opposition for the complete elimination of Senior Care as an option. That’s all bunk.

  • Judge Lyle Frank’s ruling does nothing to reduce collective bargaining rights, as Mulgrew has claimed. Here’s a line directly from that decision: “As the municipal labor unions are the entities that enter into collective bargaining agreements, those unions, through the umbrella Municipal Labor Council may amend those agreements….” Indeed, in the Aetna plan overview that right is stated explicitly: “Any change to agreed-upon benefits, including the termination of this Contract, is subject to collective bargaining.”
  • Arbitrator Martin Scheinman never issued an arbitration decision. By Mulgrew’s own admission, he delivered a mere recommendation without any binding authority.
  • When Michael Mulgrew decided to start coming after our healthcare, the progressive opposition joined retirees and mobilized. We successfully stopped the City Council from voting to amend Administrative Code 12-126, preserving the HIP benchmark. Had the Code been amended, the City and MLC could have wreaked even further havoc on retiree and in-service healthcare, especially for lower income members who don’t have the same access to pay-up plans.

In fact, the fault lies squarely with UFT leadership, DC37 leadership, and a few other labor leaders in the MLC. The truth is this: 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. Medicare Advantage is one of many ways that Mulgrew plans to deliver on that debt. Using precisely his right to speak for us in collective bargaining with the City, he’s going ahead with the nuclear option to pay the City what we owe.

A Final Point – the Contract

Mulgrew keeps saying that healthcare isn’t a part of the current contract negotiations. As I pointed out last week, this is nonsense. ‘Settling healthcare’ was the only way the City would sit down with labor unions to negotiate contracts. Not only is Medicare Advantage clearly a consequence of and prerequisite to collective bargaining, it is part of a larger deal which includes sub-inflation wage increases below the mostly non-unionized U.S. average. Healthcare for in-service members is also due for worrisome changes in cost savings, which could include service changes or increased costs borne by employees. This is all unacceptable. As rank-and-file members are threatened with lawsuits by their own UFT leadership for having the audacity to organize for more, our union officers merely manage decline.

What will we give back next? And what will opposition–who has successfully quashed Mulgrew’s healthcare givebacks before–do to stop him? For starters, Retiree Advocate and CROC have emergency meetings and mobilizations next week (Monday and Thursday afternoons; details here.) Please also join New Action on Thursday evening to discuss next steps. With our union leadership working against us, it’s up to us to fight back.

DC37 Contract, Aetna Medicare Advantage Plan, Charter Fight – 2-27-2023 – UFT Exec Board Minutes

Quick Summary/Analysis: The DC37 contract and healthcare conversations were a big part of the exec board meeting tonight. Nick Bacon pointed out that the pattern being set by DC37 is below inflation and asked what we were doing about that. Barr deflected, saying it wasn’t our place to do anything public about another union’s contract. Bacon remarked that this union’s contract would have the effect of committing our union to sub-inflation wages. Mulgrew also commented that there may be other (bad) costing things in the DC37 contract other than what we already see. However, when asked by Mike Schirtzer what healthcare ‘savings’ would also be a part of the contract, he claimed that none of that costing will have anything directly to do with healthcare (this bargaining round). On the other hand, a new Aetna Medicare Advantage plan is to be reviewed, and Mulgrew confirmed that while he won’t approve it unless it meets UFT’s preconditions, we won’t get to vote on it before it goes to the MLC. He was frankly hostile with new HS Exec Board member, Luli Rodriguez, when she pressed him on this. For more questions on the charter fight, district reports, and info on reso endorsements (all unanimously approved Unity resos this week), please see the informal minutes below.


Minutes approved.

LeRoy Barr: 500 member negotiating committee, tomorrow. March 2nd, fourth installment of Black History Film Series. Film will be Aftershock. Chapter Leader Training this weekend, sold out. Lunar New Year Banquet on March 10th. Lobby Day on March 13th. Thanks Janella Hinds for leading effort against Charter School expansion. Wednesday, March 13th next DA. March 16th, anniversary of the UFT.


Alex Jallot: Bronx H.S. currently has a charter middle school in the same building in D75. They are attempting to expand, which will be a detriment to the regular public school there.

LeRoy Barr: Main pushback in the last fight was parents. To build a campaign in the Bronx, maybe talk to Janella.

Ibeth Mejia: Need support on grievances on operational complaint. Some people telling us to do grievances, some operational complaints. James Eterno, I, and another attempted a grievance. We were told we should file an operational complaint RE curriculum maps. Member got a letter in the file, but CL said there wasn’t enough support from membership to enforce that part of the contract. Aviation’s grievance on coverage pay – they won but haven’t been paid yet. I was told to email Mulgrew and never got a response from anyone in the UFT. What do we have to do to get someone from the UFT to address grievances at Middle College and Aviation. Principal is taking advantage of situation; needs to be stopped.

LeRoy Barr: Many people here can speak to you on that.

Mark (director of Grievance): On payment from shortage area, we brought a grievance for a teacher and won a grievance. DOE challenged arbitrator’s award. This is rare, but caused delay. Shouldn’t have done this, but they did. The other case I’ll talk with you about, but can’t go too far into it here because it’s an individual case. We’ll look at that case.

Nick Bacon: DC37 contract – there’s a tentative agreement. I hope the members get the contract they deserve and am happy for them if they do. However, we already know that one aspect is not so good – and that aspect affects us and all other unions in the MLC. The wages are set to be way below inflation. Because of pattern bargaining, that means the DC37 agreement will essentially commit us to a pay cut. What is the UFT doing, whether publicly or privately, to prevent DC37 from setting sub-inflation pay cuts for all other unions?

LeRoy Barr: I’m sure conversations are happening, but we can’t make public statements about another union’s contract. Would you want another union to say something about our contract before we voted on it?

Nick Bacon: This aspect of their contract is effectively part of our contract too. It’s bad for our members. So if that pattern does go through, what are the next steps for our union?

LeRoy Barr: That’s really a question for tomorrow’s (closed) contract meeting.

Nick Bacon: Yes, with its NDAs.

District Reports

Janella Hinds: Lobbied legislators. Thanks many. Next Saturday, Herstory event – celebrate current/historic activists.

Rosemary Thompson: School counselors conference – glue that holds our schools together. March 11th, 9 AM to 3PM.

Social Workers CL: Thanks UFT officers for their support of the pre-k social workers. Next week is social worker appreciation. Share with your CLs and everyone so social workers, who are often isolated, get recognized in your schools.

Seung Lee: UFT Uptown Loves You Event occurred. DRs there.

Mike Schirtzer: We did the DC37 event, good union solidarity event. My school all sat together and ate lunch. Beautiful moment.

Adam Shapiro: Beginning March Madness Tournament. Follow district 21 facebook page.

Lamar Hughes (D25): April 2, first family day. Nets vs. Jazz. Everyone welcome to attend.

Rashad Brown: Black history month events, if you missed, you missed out. Aftershock event to come, hybrid. Thursday at 4:00 PM. Scholarship applications coming out next week.

Joe Usatch: Shanker scholarship deadline is March 10. Thanks Rosemary Thompson and Nick Cruz for helping move over to new IS platform.

President’s Report:

Mulgrew: Europe has done 4 day work weeks. Jokes about putting that in the contract. Some schools in PROSE do have that (sort of – socioemotional instruction, etc; still work full minutes).

We now have a new pattern tentatively. Talk to Garrido all the time. Sure there is stuff in there about costing that has not put things out in the public. We will have a conversation once they do their thing.

Tomorrow, we have the contract event. We need to talk about workplace stuff – stop wasting our time.

See what actions we can commit to tomorrow.

In terms of City itself, talking about negotiations. PBA agreement should come in shortly – 2.5 year arbitration.

Charter school fight – thanks Janella and team fighting in Albany. NY Post front page all about how horrible we are – that we aren’t serving the people of the city. They forget that they don’t serve many kids, and we take them with pride. This kind of bad press from the Post shows we’re doing our job well. People behind the corporate charters are used to getting their own way. They want to chip away at the unions because we stand up to them. Even if we defeat this this year, it’s not going away. There are people in the City’s administration who I think want to see charters prosper.

Lobby day is 2 weeks from today.

Aetna is putting out its current proposal to the MLC. UFT has been at the table, because we won’t approve a MAP program unless it has everything we say it has to have. No agreement until the signatures are there. We didn’t meet the arbitrator timeline, so what – we keep going. We’ll get the info out as soon as we have it.

Context: stuff happening in the South, especially Florida, is off the charts. Like a communist takeover of a state with propaganda all over the place. Just teaching the facts becomes ‘CRT.’ Also destroying the middle class, removing rent and insurance regulations. Teachers are bearing the brunt of the culture war down there.

Mike Schirtzer: City saying healthcare first, then raises. What kind of changes are we looking at?

Mulgrew: Last couple of contracts, didn’t negotiate healthcare. We went to City Hall and said there won’t be any ‘healthcare savings’ in this round of bargaining. But we’ll look at the RFP. This is a straight round of bargaining. Still, understand – that healthcare is part of the compensation package, but not a part of this bargaining negotiation.

Luli Rodriguez: Emergency MLC meeting on MAP with Aetna. But not an MLC vote on Aetna. So will the exec board/ DA get to see the Aetna proposal and vote on it before we vote at the MLC?

Mulgrew: We have not done that in the past. But, I won’t vote on the plan unless it meets our criteria. But we are different than other union, because we have a much closer relationship with our retirees. We have this relationship because it makes us stronger to keep our retirees active and working in the union. That’s not the norm. So here, we actually have an extra check and balance on retiree decisions. Retirees here vote in elections.

Luli: So you’ll talk to the retirees on the criteria you want…

Mulgrew: Cuts off. I am not a dictator. We have an exec board, adcom. There are people in our union working with other unions to reduce/eliminate our vote in the MLC. Not fair.

Luli: Just want to make sure that retirees are taken care of.

Mulgrew: Healthcare costs a lot of money, but we’re putting ourselves at the table – not waiting for the employer.

Alex Jallot: Going back to charters. But we do represent some charter school members. What happens where a UFT-represented charter school wants to expand at the expense of the UFT-represented public school at the same campus.

Mulgrew: Last time that happened, we helped the charter school move. Working on that with a relevant charter school (the one Alex mentioned earlier). By the way, that charter school was one of the only ones founded by a group of teachers. But we want to find them a different space. You should talk to them – actually pretty cool people.

Motion Period:

Dave Kazanzky: Motion endorsing Tom Brown to keep post on TRS. Victoria Lee endorses as well.

Motion carries unanimously.

LeRoy Barr: endorses reso on anniversary of UFT founding. You have to talk about things, but you forget. Grateful to have the opportunity to talk about all we had an opportunity to gain over the next few years. I want to push each other up. It’s important to push up. The two groups that were there and came together, it was that same pushing against each other – it almost didn’t form. But they had more in common than differences.

Motion carries unanimously.

Janella Hinds: endorses resolution on Women’s history month. Important to think about the local history of our union. Let’s pull out a bit and think about the historical impact women have had on our union and our country. Important to think of the impact of those who came before us.

Motion carries unanimously.

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April 2023