Sunday, November 27, 2022

UFT Leadership Says Letting City Pay Less=Improved Health Care

You can turn on Tucker Carlson, if you have a strong enough stomach, and see people comment on the Club Q shooting. If only we'd end this evil agenda of gender-affirming care, they say, this would stop happening. 

So we need to stop protecting these people, and then they won't be attacked anymore. Sure. That makes sense.

Using similar logic, UFT leadership tells us we need to revise the city code to allow the city to pay less money for our health care. It's a good thing, they say, that the city doesn't have to pay so much for the health care we expect and work for. You see, if we only let them spend less, our health care will be better

Sorry, but if they pay less, doesn't it stand to reason that we will pay more? Didn't leadership just go to the mattresses for a program that would have cost retired couples thousands extra?

That is heresy, they say. If you dare question this logic, you're ruining things for everyone. When this thing blows up, it will be all your fault.  After all UFT leadership tried to warn you the only way to get better health care was to permit the city to pay less to support it.

On Facebook, a highly compensated UFT official tells thoroughly uncompensated HS Executive Board member Nick Bacon that, if we don't allow the city to pay less toward our health care, the city will impose a premium on all in-service members. Also, they will dump all retirees into a lone Advantage plan. Here's a sample of how he speaks to Nick, who wants to preserve the health care retirees have earned and enjoyed for decades:

Your malcontent nature will never allow you to see the positive and beneficial. You could be given a bar of gold and would be upset you weren't given two. It's fruitless to engage a person like that.

(Shouldn't it be like you?) Let's forget about this guy's failure to maintain a simple subject. Let's even forget the fact that this guy, despite saying it's not worth it, is engaging anyway. (Passive-aggressive much?) This same union employee, along with many others, was very recently jumping up and down declaring an Advantage plan would be the bestest thing ever. But that was then and this is now. Why can't we be good soldiers and forget already?

You'd think leadership assumed we all just fell off the tomato truck from Jersey. They change their tune and improvise a new one on the fly. Then they demand we all dance to it or there will be consequences

This is not the sort of treatment we deserve from union leadership. We pay their salaries and they work for us. In fact, this is the sort of treatment I expect from abusive supervisors. Still, I have extensive experience being verbally abused by union employees. In 2005, we passed the worst contract I'd ever seen, giving up rights to grieve letters to file, and agreeing to work longer hours for more money while pretending it was a raise. (A raise is when you work the same time for more money.) There were other lowlights I no longer recall, but I remember personal insults galore. 

Ad hominem is the logical fallacy of personal attack. That's what you do when you have no argument and/ or little imagination. You attack your opponent. You mischaracterize arguments, more logical fallacy. You tell people they're dangerous. You issue appeals to fear (as the UFT official did here) to frighten your opponents into line. 

Only it doesn't work. Retirees are horrified that their health care is in jeopardy. The fact is the Advantage plan, despite explicit assurances otherwise by the UFT President, was not accepted by all doctors that accepted Medicare. Also, it was largely not useful to members who'd moved outside of NY or Florida. There would have been an almost $5,000 annual fee to keep the health care they expected. This is a significant expense for people living on a fixed income. Imagine how that would've impacted paraprofessionals and lower-paid DC37 employees.

As a prospective retiree, I have a very specific suggestion about what this union official can do with this "bar of gold."

I'll refrain from posting that here. I'll just say the only thing that actually protects us from exorbitant fees, whether we are in service or retired, is Administrative Code 12-126. It's time for leadership to get off their high horse and admit the 2018 health care deal, the one they made with no input whatsoever from us, was a spectacular blunder. Then, they need to start working for us for a change. 

Make no mistake--that's their job.

Monday, November 21, 2022

MLC Takes Us for Carnival Rubes

After looking at the proposal that we pay $191 to keep Medicare and our version of Medigap (a program to cover the 20% of medical expenses that Medicare does not), I thought Medigap programs must be very expensive. After all, if our union was proposing to charge us almost 200 bucks a month for reasonable coverage, it must be a lot more for someone who didn't spend thirty years serving the city of New York.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw this NY Times article comparing traditional Medicare to Advantage plans. I'd figured Medigap programs must be prohibitively expensive. Otherwise, why would all those members be queuing to pay 191 bucks a month? How much was it? 500 bucks? A thousand? Here's what the NY Times says on that:

Medigap policies are not inexpensive; a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that they average $150 to $200 a month.

So not only were we not being offered a particularly good deal, but the price we were being charged was on the high end. I'm in my 38th year of working for the city, and I've been told to expect better than that, pretty much since the day I started. My father told me I wouldn't get rich being a teacher, but we had great retirement benefits and health care. 

He was right, to an extent. I'm very happy to be in a position where I can retire without taking a job unloading trucks at Best Buy or greeting Walmart shoppers. But I absolutely expected to be fully covered by Medicare, you know, the real one that doctors accept all across the nation. I will have that option, I suppose, even if I have to pay. 

But I did not expect that. Retirees already pay for prescription coverage, though I don't recall how much. It seems pretty unfair to tack on the unexpected costs to avoid being dumped into an Advantage plan. Thus far, it appears the only advantage there is saving money for a city rolling in unspent billions from the federal government.  

I've been pretty happy with the health care my family and I have received since I became a teacher. Sure, copays are inconvenient, but they beat the hell our of being uninsured. The thing is, though, that GHI is good in NY and Florida, but not so great elsewhere. When Mulgrew rolled back his promise that all doctors that accepted Medicare would take the Advantage plan, he modified it to say that all doctors taking our current plan would accept it. 

That's not bad, but not great either. In my meeting with UFT employees, one who now lived in New Jersey told me that it was very tough finding GHI coverage out there. Now me, I try not to go to Jersey unless someone pays me, so that won't be an issue. Still, there are a whole lot of states other than Jersey, Florida and NY. I know someone moving to PA who's concerned about health care, and who will have to pay if that's what it takes to keep standard Medicare. Why can't we keep standard Medicare with Medigap for city employees, and allow them to live where they wish without penalizing them?

I was originally open to the Advantage plan. Before all the various clarifications and screwups, I thought it might be what it was presented as. The biggest argument against that assumption was the approval issue. I had cancer once, and I recall being approved for various procedures. It was no fun, but GHI was good to me. These days, insurance companies are not altogether altruistic, and the Times piece has a sharp message about Advantage:

Advantage participants who are denied care can appeal, and those who do so see the denials reversed 75 percent of the time, according to a 2018 report by the Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Inspector General. But only about 1 percent of beneficiaries or providers file appeals, “which means there’s a lot of necessary care that enrollees are going without,” Mr. Lipschutz said.

That's far from encouraging. Given Mulgrew's walkback of the contention that all doctors who took Medicare would take the Advantage plan, we know the advice he gets and relays to us is less than reliable. As far as I know, those same people are still sitting around, getting paid by our dues money, and giving him the same awful advice. There is no way I want to be at the mercy of some company whose profits are more important than my health.

Again, we've been promised standard Medicare plus our entire careers. But hey, if we're gonna have to pay to keep what we've been promised our entire careers, you could at least offer us a good deal. It's disgraceful that MLC (with the explicit encouragement of our elected leadership) seeks to treat NYC employees, who they ostensibly serve, like marks at some cut-rate traveling carnival.

Friday, November 18, 2022

I Meet With UFT to Discuss Healthcare

Yesterday I was called into a Microsoft Teams meeting with at least five people who work for UFT. We were only disconnected once, so for my money, MS Teams is improving. 

I got a little bit of flack for my Gotham Gazette piece. There were many arguments put forth. Some were more understandable than others. While they had a lot to say, I did not get a strong sense my responses were valued.

They told me the proposed Advantage plan, which does not actually exist anymore, were it to be replaced, would do everything the current standard Medicare plan does. It's absolutely necessary to change the code, they said, or the city will place everyone in some Advantage plan or another. Some disagree. Personally, I remain unpersuaded that changing the code is necessary, and I am not eager to enable the Eric Adams administration. 

I am also very much aware that multiple city unions, including uniformed unions who often score better contracts than we do, oppose this. I recall, years ago, going to an Urgent Care and being told there was a new $50 copay, unless we were NYPD, They managed to get themselves excluded from that particular copay raise. 

Why can't we do things like that? Why can't we all do things like that?

One argument they presented was that, despite asserting otherwise, I knew about health changes. They said I wrote about them somewhere here. I didn't suppose they would say that if it weren't true, and it turns out it was, so my apologies for not making those connections previously.

With the expert help of Jonathan Halabi, I found some links. There are various quotes of things Mulgrew said. Bottom line is I wrote of, and was thus aware of a side agreement on healthcare. I took notes at the DA on a pretty regular basis, including here, and I will quote two passages. These notes come from the question period on October 12, 2018, the day the DA voted to present the contract to membership.

Health care negotiated with all unions. Done six months ago. MLC thought something bad could happen with health care because of DC. We wanted to lock in a deal. No additional copays, but made a change for all unions. We tried to get plan in better place. Was proactive approach. Has been out for six months. Was smart thing to lock down our health care with no significant cost ships to union membership. Others pay 3200 out of pocket. We are only workers who can get plans with no premiums attached. If UFT members get cancer they can go to Memorial Sloan Kettering—this is with HIP, also Hospital of Special Surgery. Go read it before you tie it to this contract. 

I confess that I did not go read it, nor do I know where I would have done so. In fact, I don't know where I would do that now either. That said, I disagree that we "locked down" anything. In fact, despite the assertion otherwise, there are now additional copays. These copays appear to be a result of this agreement, and appeared only weeks ago. I would also disagree, with the health care coverage city retirees have earned and enjoyed for decades now imperiled, that there is "no significant cost to union membership."

Here's another assertion:

Health care has nothing to do with this agreement. We are only saying this should go to membership. They will have plenty of time to read. We rushed MOA out for that reason.

The fact is, the health care agreement was in the contract, in Appendix B, and we were not shown Appendix B. 

From the meeting, I conclude UFT leadership is very concerned about this issue, and that's a good thing. If I were in charge of UFT, I would do all I could to repair the damage this health care agreement has done. This is an issue that will not just go away. Were I running the Unity Caucus, or even part of it, I'd worry a lot about the significant loss of support in the last union election. I'd advocate to do whatever I could to turn that around. The fact that they reached out to me to discuss this may be a good sign.  

Not good enough to give up the fight though. Our retirees deserve what they have, as do we. I can accept that the health care deal was negotiated outside of the contract, but it was included in that appendix, and it is a mess. I remain highly unimpressed with whoever it is that negotiates for us. The ever-evolving explanations are frustrating. 

They said we were never lied to. I pointed out that we were told any doctor who accepted Medicare would accept the proposed Advantage plan. They told me that's what the people told Mulgrew. I don't believe he gets up and lies to us. I believe he gets bad advice and repeats it. But if that's the case, whoever fed him that information should be fired and replaced with someone competent. I've heard nothing about any changes in our negotiating teams. 

This is not easy for us as membership, and I'm sure it's not easy for leadership either. I'd say, for an acceptable solution, we all have to be involved. That, for my money, is what union is all about.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Why Fall Sports Are the Best

I don't like to brag, but I have a sports star in my class. 

Sure, I don't see him all that often, but his name is on my ledger and he does stop by once or twice a week. He sometimes, on leaving, reaches out to do a fist bump, you know, because we're good buddies. 

Except we really aren't. I'm a teacher, and he's a student. I kind of have different expectations, so I don't respond to that anymore. I used to, but it didn't help. I do other things, but they don't much work either. He was in my class last year, and failed because he showed up 40% of the time, if that. 

I have a bunch of students from China who are really tall and were trained, perhaps from birth, to be basketball stars. Some can't be on our team, though, because they're failing all their subjects. Perhaps in China, if you're a basketball star, that's what you are, The whole academic thing thing may not be a large issue. 

When I first started teaching, I had a basketball star in one of my classes. I recall being called into a assistant principal's office. She explained to me, that although the student had never actually shown up to my music class (I've taught many things.), that he had to pass. He was, you know, a basketball star. I was young and knew nothing, but everyone told me that was how it was done.

Things have changed, of course. I've changed, the system has changed, and I can't imagine an AP even attempting to deliver a message like that. But I wondered why my basketball stars were benched, and this guy was not. I've visited various APs around the building making inquiries. 

First, I asked why this student, who failed everything last year, was allowed to be on the team at all. Evidently, he attended a summer program where everything was translated into his first language. That makes things easier, of course, especially when one of the courses you need to pass is English. Once your English class is no longer in English, it becomes much easier to pass. Of course, the student didn't learn any English at all. But he passed something or other, somehow or other.

This next one is my fault. I didn't give grades for some time, since we didn't have a grading system. We still don't, though we're hopeful. When the student started cutting class, I went to another supervisor. "What are his grades?" asked the supervisor. "He hasn't got any yet." "Then he's not failing." I couldn't argue with that. 

When the student got his report card, I noticed he was failing five classes. I thought that might make a difference. Yet another supervisor told me that the athletic association that runs the teams does not consider letter grades, you know, the five "U" grades, to be failing. So the kid failed five classes, and there is no consequence. Clearly, this kid is smarter than I am.

I finally spoke with one more AP. I told him the whole story, and he was surprised. He pointed out that you could get away with murder in the fall sports, but you couldn't do it during any other season. That didn't seem fair to him. It doesn't seem fair to me either. 

But hey, if you're a failing student, take some summer program, learn nothing, go back and join a fall sports team. If you're a good player, everyone will protect you and no one will give a golly gosh darn that you are learning nothing whatsoever.

Friday, November 04, 2022

Beware The Zero-Sum Game

When Michael Mulgrew writes to say we have to make retirees pay more, or in-service members will pay more, he's engaging in a zero-sum game. 

Make no mistake--this is a desperate move. He's pitting us against other union members to try and dig himself out of the quicksand he secretly inserted in the 2018 contract. We were never notified of the health saving promised in that contract, and it's unconscionable that it was buried somewhere in there as we voted for what appeared a plain vanilla contract.

I wasn't actually sure what a zero-sum game was until I read The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee. In a zero-sum game, every time one person gains something, another loses. The illustration at left shows only one person gets ice cream, when of course there could be more, or it could be shared. 

In the United States, zero-sum games cost us a lot more than an ice-cream cone. Whenever things like civil rights are promoted, opponents suggest if those people get rights, you will lose yours. And somehow, people buy it. 

This is why you get absurd movements like "defense of marriage." In fact, no one's marriage is threatened if we allow people to marry who they choose. If a man marries another man, that won't end Marjorie Taylor Greene's marriage. It turned out her adultery had a lot more to do with that than two guys somewhere who chose to share their lives together. 

On a more basic level, we're the only industrialized country on earth that doesn't offer health care for all. You'll read all sorts of nonsense, calling it "socialized medicine," but I've seen people die as a result of our miserable health care system. My father fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and toward the end of his life he was scrambling to unload everything he ever worked for. He could not afford appropriate elder care, and needed to qualify for Medicaid so his wife wouldn't lose their home once he passed. 

Job-related health care was a great benefit to people who could get decent jobs. Who do you suppose got better jobs after WWII? Here's a clue--my dad was able to buy a home due to the GI Bill. But people of color were largely denied this benefit.  In fact, people of color were denied standard mortgages and were largely cut out of the middle class boom that followed the war. Read The Sum of Us for chapter and verse. 

Remember when Obamacare started, and they vilified him for saying he lied when he said you'd get to keep your health care? It turned out the program set minimum standards for health care, and those companies that didn't meet them didn't make it. People would have to sign into Obamacare and get better policies. No one really lost, but you wouldn't know that from watching Fox News. The GOP tried very hard to kill it.

Of course Obama didn't get to offer a public option. That would've been dangerous. There would be no corporate profits to worry about and such an option would prove more than competitive. Perish forbid some rich guy sitting around in his mansion were deprived of a paycheck. Better people you and I pay more, so the rich guy can construct another chateau in the south of France.

Now, of course, we receive email from the President of the UFT saying if we don't change a law, so the city can pay less for our health care, in-service members would pay more. That makes our health care a zero-sum game. And it's not only Mulgrew doing this.

She's right about that. Still, I don't much love the implication that our salaries are the problem here. She's also been quoted as saying,  “The unions shouldn’t be taking this out on current retirees. Their changes should be effectuated on active employees or future retirees."

Zero-sum games hold us back and need to stop. Neither retirees nor in-service members should be penalized for wanting to be as healthy as possible. We need to hold together and draw a line in the sand here. 

Full disclosure--I supported the 2018 contract, and it's the only one I voted for in my living memory. It looked fairly innocuous, with raises that were at or near cost of living. Like most, I had no idea that UFT leadership had agreed to massive health care savings and kept it from us. As far as I'm concerned, none of us voted for this. Along with the overwhelming majority of UFT members, I was duped.

Unless I see the fine print, I will never vote yes on another contract. I'm sorely disappointed to see my trust broken. I won't let it happen again, and you shouldn't either. 

Contact your city council member and urge a NO vote on any changes to Administrative Code 12-126.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

UFT Leadership's Contract Plan

The odd message we got from the UFT President the other day has me thinking about contract negotiations. After urging the membership to cave in the face of a threat by the mayor, to throw the the retirees under the bus right now so rank and file won't get thrown under later, how do we take a principled stand on the contract?

I mean sure, there is a committee of 500 members working to craft demands, but I'm not persuaded that will make much of a difference. In the end, it will be UFT and DOE leadership making the deal, and given that committee members are sworn to secrecy, how will we gauge how much, or how little difference they actually made?

Everyone, myself included, would like to make more money, especially in a year of rampant inflation. Yet we're tied to pattern bargaining and you can bet Mayor Swagger is slithering about looking for the first lowball offer he can muster. Salary is, in fact, the prime consideration for most members, and pattern bargaining places it almost certainly beyond the purview of the committee,

Also, what does it matter if 500 members want something, or indeed if the entire rank and file want the same thing? Eric Adams now knows he can make threats and they'll likely as not be amplified by emails signed by the UFT President, along with mass tweets made at his urging. Imagine this:

Mayor Adams says if we don't agree to a 10% cut in salary, he will cut our salaries by 25%. Of course this is unacceptable to us. That's why I want you to write the city council and tell them to pass a bill to cut all municipal salaries by 5%. See the pre-written tweets below and share them.

Could that be an ask? Probably not, but there's now precedent for it. And how much will Adams offer, knowing that we actually went to battle for second-rate health care, trying to force our retirees to pay 5K a year per couple to keep benefits they've worked for and enjoyed for decades? If I were him, I'd feel like I was dealing with, essentially, nobody. I'd swagger here, I'd swagger there, and I wouldn't offer one thin dime in raises, let alone improving working conditions. Adams is sitting on unspent billions and pleading poverty. Our quest to cave to his demands has done nothing to help that.

Now sure, you say, but there are those 500 people on the committee. UFT is the largest local. How can we be ignored? Let me ask you this: Is there a single retiree in this city, not on a union payroll, who wants to give up Medicare for a half-baked Advantage plan that's never been tested anywhere? Probably not. In fact, given that this plan was bungled at every turn, I wouldn't be surprised if even people on union payroll were also wondering about it, albeit more quietly.

Can you even believe we're battling to change a law so NYC can charge premiums? If Mulgrew and Adams succeed in making retired couples pay 5K a year for the health care they were promised for free their entire careers, who's to say it will stop there? If Adams doesn't get to charge in-service members $1500 a year for GHI now, who can say he won't charge them 2500 next year? After all, in service members might be able to afford it better than retired members. Can't you imagine Adams making that argument? Can you imagine us supporting it?

This, of course, is all administered by the MLC. We're the largest union in the city, and the largest voice in the MLC. Meanwhile, the DOE sees us actively campaigning for worse conditions. 

It's very hard for me to imagine this administration feeling gratitude and offering us a fair contract. After all, we endorsed Adams in the general and he has yet to show gratitude for that. He's worried about vegan menus, because he's vegan, sometimes. He's worried about training in dyslexia, because he has dyslexia. He doesn't give a golly gosh darn about class sizes, because he's not attending a class. 

Mostly, the only person Eric Adams cares about is Eric Adams. Sure, he'll give the chancellor's girlfriend a gig if the chancellor will give his girlfriend one. But the fact that he'll create a scandal just to impress his girlfriend is just another testament to his monumental self-absorption. He now sees us as pushovers, and perceives that walking all over us may increase his swagger ratio.

Given that, the only way we can get Adams to offer UFT a fair contract is to make sure his pay depends on it. 

That's not happening any time soon. We're all in the same boat, we've painstakingly carved out a hole in it, and we're sinking fast. 

Leadership had better wake up some time before we hit bottom.