Posts Tagged 'MLC'

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.

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. 

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April 2023