Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The UFT Contract Teach-In

There's a good idea here somewhere. Involving members is a key element of effective union. It's the kind of thing I would push for. It's the kind of thing I'd unsuccessfully lobbied my Unity friends for over the last few years.  I've written a lot about missing pieces in our union, and rank and file involvement is THE missing piece

Now, though, is a curious time to do this. UFT explains that this is a practice that originated in the 60s, to protest the Vietnam War. In fact, then-UFT President Albert Shanker supported that war. History has proven Shanker wrong. Alas, as the current UFT President battles, in cahoots with our bargaining adversary(!), to reduce our health benefits, we need no hindsight whatsoever to know just how wrong he is. 

This teach-in, ostensibly, has to do with contract talks. Our union finds itself at a bizarre crossroads. Rather than simply negotiate with our employer for better working conditions, we also have to battle our own union leadership. In humiliating defeat after humiliating defeat, leadership has failed to remove benefits from retirees, our most vulnerable members. They are, therefore, coming after us instead.

What our members need to be taught-in is that our leadership made an awful, awful deal in 2018. They agreed to health care givebacks in exchange for a contract that provided us with at, or near, cost of living increases. What astute negotiator offers givebacks for such modest gains?

Mulgrew presented this deal much differently than how it turned out. He told us he had locked in premium-free health care for years, and it now appears the opposite is true. He told us there would be no additional copays or large sacrifices, and that's not true either. Mulgrew often speaks of how smart our negotiators are. However, with all due respect, this deal was idiotic. In fact, Mulgrew ended up sending us an email saying we had to either throw our retirees to the dogs or face premiums for the first time ever.

In 2018, Mulgrew and the MLC made a terrible deal, and everything we were told about it turned out to be false. (Full disclosure--I believed him at the time and supported the 2018 contract. This was an error and I regret it.)

Now we face the prospect of negotiating a contract with Eric Adams, a mayor we supported although he was bought and paid for by the charter lobby. Adams is expecting health care "savings," and by "savings" I mean cuts or extra expenses for members. After all, that is what MLC, including our leadership, agreed to in 2018. 

And make no mistake, Adams has every right to ask where the hell those "savings" are. Teach-in or no teach-in, Adams is not likely to seriously negotiate with us until he sees them. Our leaders signed that agreement, and it was shoehorned into our contract, without our knowledge, under Appendix B. I was on the negotiating committee three years ago, and I was never informed of what was actually contained there. Even if I had been, I'm not sure I'd have understood it. 

What I'm saying here is that the negotiating committee is not, in fact, privy to the closed door deals our leadership may make (or perhaps has already made). As a committee member, I had no idea the 2018 contract would lead to these draconian health cuts for anyone. I therefore doubt that the current negotiating committee knows what's really happening either. 

Whether or not that's the case, the committee has agreed to not share with us exactly what they hell they are discussing. Given that, how are we, rank and file supposed to know what's going on? We are very far removed from those actually signing the contract, Mulgrew and the chancellor. And let's get real--by the time it gets to us, who knows what's actually going to be in it? 

A teach-in could be a great thing. But it's based on the premise that leadership is actually interested in what we think. I am not persuaded that's true. I therefore do not believe this teach-in, however genuine the sentiments of its creators may be, is done in good faith. I believe, and the evidence bears out, that leadership goes behind our back to make stupid deals that benefit no one in rank and file. 

I believe, therefore, that leadership needs to be replaced. And if by any chance I should get a voice in any teach-in, that will be my message to my union brothers and sisters.

Friday, January 20, 2023

If It Isn't Good Enough for Everyone, It Isn't Good Enough for Anyone

Today, in my restaurant, I'm serving some great dishes. You can have whatever you like. However, all those other people get potato fudge. What is potato fudge? No one really knows, but it doesn't matter. 

Now some people say they don't want potato fudge. They say it has no nutritional value. They say it's full of chemicals that will make them sterile. They say it will negatively affect their health. It will leave them sluggish and overweight. Well, too bad for them. If they don't want to eat that potato fudge, it will cost them and their partners $5,000 a year. 

That is, until we raise the price, which we can do any time. Once we get rid of the minimum necessary funding, we can make them pay 6, 10, 50, or 100K a year to get them off that potato stuff. The sky's the limit, once we repeal that nasty minimum health payment.

Now of course we aren't really talking about potato fudge. We're talking about Medicare Advantage. Mulgrew says so at the DA, and appears to be barreling forward despite multiple humiliating defeats.

They need to make a deal because their first one fell through. The Municipal Labor Committee, including Mulgrew, had a deal to dump all the retirees into an Advantage plan, to be run by a coalition including Emblem Health. I felt good about that at first. Then, of course, the retirees rose up and the deal was scuttled. Who'd have thunk it? Certainly not anyone at MLC. They failed to anticipate the lawsuit and they failed to familiarize themselves with the law. That smells like potato fudge, or incompetence, but whatever it is, it stinks to high heaven. 

Then they went to Aetna. Aetna, though, is currently under investigation for something or other, and has its roots in selling slave insurance. Not a great look. It came out in the hearings last week. Again, MLC failed to research or anticipate this. They also failed to anticipate that retirees would object to cuts in their health insurance. They aren't precisely thinking ahead, are they?

This has its roots in deals MLC made. In order to secure contracts, they agreed to health savings. It seemed to work in 2014, so they went with it again in 2018. Evidently, they thought it was a very smart move. As the City Council just declined to vote on changing the code guaranteeing us a minimum toward our health care, the move is not looking all that smart right now. 

In fact, let's look at the concept of exchanging health costs for a contract. Is that a great idea? Shouldn't we receive cost of living increases, at least, without giving anything back? MLC seems to believe otherwise. They therefore made that second deal, the one that had them advocating for draconian cuts to retiree health care. (And make no mistake, they're coming for us next.)

Not only that, but they arranged for these cuts to run even after our contract had expired. It seems to me if cuts continue in perpetuity, so should raises. Of course, I'm not among the few, the proud, the people on MLC making deals with no input whatsoever from rank and file. 

I've just given you multiple examples of their abysmal judgment. Do you trust them with your health care?

Perhaps most galling of all is that UFT leadership arranged for highly-compensated former officers to state that they needed a "choice" of standard health care for exorbitant fees. I heard someone with cancer spoke to say standard Medicare was necessary. The fact is anyone can get cancer. I've had it. The fact is that not just anyone can afford the extra fees MLC wants us to pay for the care we've expected all our careers. 

Medicare Advantage, evidently, is not good enough for elite, privileged former UFT officers. It's not good enough for people with cancer. We all know it's not good enough for anyone living outside the coverage area. We also know that most of our country is outside that area, and that people on a fixed income, like retirees, might just need to move someplace cheaper than the NYC area.

We are union. If Medicare Advantage isn't good enough for everyone (including ex-UFT officers collecting double pensions funded by our dues), it isn't good enough for anyone. 

It's disgraceful, outrageous, and unconscionable that our union leaders muster the audacity to claim otherwise.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

UFT Leadership Wants to Preserve Choice (for Those Who Can Afford It)

Freeport, where I live, had an awful flood on December 23rd. We lost our water heater, our boiler, and two cars. I spent my break trying to fix these problems, while showering at my sister in law's house and trying to buy two cars in the worst buyer's market I've ever seen. 

But I made it a point to protect my family and our little dogs. I never threatened my family, saying we have to sacrifice this dog to save the other. Because family doesn't do that. 

On the other hand, UFT President Michael Mulgrew says if we don't toss retirees overboard into the briny deep, in service members will pay. I don't know who Michael Mulgrew listens to, but someone needs to tell him union doesn't do that. Like family, we protect and support one another.

I see on Norm's Blog that the new leadership chant is that they wish to "preserve choice." This is probably the best argument they can muster at the moment. They are determined to unconditonally surrender to Mayor Eric Adams as he threatens to eliminate Senior Care and force every city retiree into an inferior Advantage plan. The mayor has threatened this, even though he cannot achieve it unilaterally. 

These pleas were coming from UFT/UNity Caucus retirees, all of whom have been on the UFT payroll and may still be.

This is a crucial flaw of the Unity Caucus. While I was aligned with them, I tried to address it. But it was a waste of breath. That's the way it is, that's the way it's always been, and that's the way they're determined to keep it. Everyone in Unity is either an officer, an employee, or someone trying to climb the ladder. Every single member has an ulterior motive to tow the party line.

Let's look at that. Several extremely well-compensated former UFT officers got up on their hind legs and demanded their "choice," clearly suggesting that the proposed Advantage plan, the one that's supposed to be so wonderful it walks on water, would not be adequate to meet their health needs. And yet, it's supposed to be good enough for the rest of us. That is elitism. That is the privileged talking down to us lowly serfs.

And make no mistake, that is blatantly anti-union. We are one, in theory, at least. This notwithstanding, former officers were paid several times the salary of mere teachers. Not only that, but they also receive UFT pensions. That's in addition to the DOE pensions they also receive.

Now let's talk about their "choice." The choice they want is the choice to pay almost $2500 each, or $5000 per couple annually, to retain the health care we've been promised since we began. If I retire soon, I may also have that choice. I may have the choice to make a substantial cut to the pension I've been promised for my, so far, 38 years of service. There is no doubt my pension will be far lower than the privileged few who testified for UFT leadership.

I might be able to swing a 5K cut in pension, but it's disgraceful that my union leaders are out there advocating for any such thing. Do they seriously believe that represents my interests or those of my colleagues? 

I doubt it. They may be many things, but they are not that stupid.

Now let's talk about others, who will not get this "choice," even if it is somehow offered. Imagine you're a teacher with far less service than I have. Better yet, imagine you're a paraprofessional, making 20 or 30K a year. Imagine you're a DC37 school aide making close to minimum wage. You will not have a "choice" that does not entail altering your diet to feature cat food. 

We need union leadership to stand up for us. We do not need union leadership that gets on its knees before Mayor Swagger and then demands we do likewise. They screwed up in 2018, without consulting us. They don't deserve a "choice." They didn't give us one. 

Now it's time for them to get off their knees and find a solution that works for all of us, not just the highly-compensated and privileged union officers. Groveling, while it may appear attractive to our leadership, will never work for the United Federation of Teachers. Any change in health care must be negotiated with MLC. MLC, including UFT leaders, needs to show some backbone or step aside for someone who will.

That, my friends, is what real leadership is and does.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Piloting the DOE Attendance Program

It's a great idea to take attendance online. And the DOE's attendance program is much better than their grading program. It does what it's supposed to do, at least most of the time. Sure, you can't easily scroll down without seeing the same bunch of names over and over again, but if you force the names to the bottom you can easily scroll up and catch everyone. 

Of course, that assumes you have internet. The thing is, though, you can't always depend on DOE wi-fi. If it's out, you have a tool that's essentially useless. Sometimes the internet goes out for the whole city, and when that happens, you can't even print up old attendance sheets. 

Our department office doesn't have wi-fi anymore. Something or other went out, and sorry, you just can't use it in that area of the building. Fortunately I don't teach in the office. I teach in our annex, which has had fairly reliable wi-fi. However, that's really not enough if you want to use the DOE attendance function. The screen above is the one I got when I was trying to take attendance on Tuesday afternoon. The attendance app would just not appear.

Usually I wait until students are engaged in something that doesn't require my immediate attention before taking attendance. I will then spend a minute or two quietly marking the list. The thing is, though, sometimes the list just does not appear. You get the blank screen and have to hope for the best. Sometimes, after a few minutes, it shows up. Sometimes, though, like on Tuesday, it simply does not. 

The problem with this, if you happen to be teaching, is you have to constantly check as to whether or not it has shown up. This is an irritating impediment to teaching, which kind of needs constant attention. You never know what will happen next, and you want to be there when it does. If you have to look at the laptop every few minutes, the flow thing is just not happening. 

And here's the other thing--you can try and recall who was in the class, but the app does not allow you to go back the next day and enter anything. (Correction. I was, just now, able to input attendance for Tuesday. This is new.) I'm not sure which DOE genius designed it that way, but since they know everything, and regularly remind us of that, who am I to question this policy? I'd argue, regardless, that having to try and enter attendance multiple times is redundant paperwork. It's certainly a huge waste of time, and a large diversion from a job that requires constant attention.

Here's another small issue. If you sign out, or if the DOE has determined you signed out, you have to sign in again. This requires you to confirm you are you, by some other means. I let the DOE text me. I have access to texts on my Macbook, so it's easy.

Except when it isn't easy. Sometimes, the DOE doesn't send you the text until hours later. And the thing is, not only do you not need it hours later, but it's only good for five minutes. So you get that second screen, which is just as good as the blank one. 

Now I'm sure this is absolutely my fault, since the DOE is Perfect in Every Way and never makes mistakes. However, I've developed a long habit of taking attendance. On Tuesday, I gave up and had two of my classes sign attendance sheets. Of course, since it's no longer Tuesday, I can't enter that attendance.

So theoretically, this is a good system. Under real world conditions, it isn't. 

I'm lucky to be in our new annex, which is relatively clean, and has some cool stuff. One thing we have here are these smartboards. The only thing is, they aren't hooked up to the internet. They could perhaps have been wired, and helped us on days wifi was out. But they aren't, so there are all these nag screens you have to go through if you want to use, for example, the whiteboard.

The first day I used them I tried to sign up for internet, as it requested. I later learned these smartboards were delivered without internet cards, and have no capacity. For some reason it's a big deal fixing that. No one in my building would have ordered them like this. For my money, only the Great and Mighty DOE could do something like that. Today, my smart board thinks it's March 4, 2022. I wonder whether that came on a weekend. Well, if the DOE says it's March 4, 2022, it must be March 4, 2022.

Well, if it's a weekend, I'm off, and if it's a weekday, I already worked March 4, 2022. Maybe I should just turn around and go home.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

A Note on Health Care from City Council Member Tiffany Caban


I submitted my recent Daily News column to the city council as testimony, and received this response from council member Tiffany Caban. I don't know about you, but I love it.

First off, let me thank my colleague, Council Member De La Rosa, for chairing Monday’s marathon hearing, which gave us all an opportunity to hear from a great many concerned parties regarding the proposed changes to the administrative code.
I want to start by zooming out and acknowledging that this shouldn’t even be an issue in the first place, because we should have comprehensive universal public health coverage, if not at the federal level with Medicare for All, then at the state level with the New York Health Act. If either of those was in place, this would be a moot point, and there would be no need to pit retirees against current workers this way.
The bottom line is this. The reason the Municipal Labor Committee cannot maintain its Stabilization Fund commitments under the status quo of skyrocketing healthcare costs driven by our for-profit healthcare system. Since this change to the administrative code does not address these rising costs, it is not a real solution. It merely kicks the can down the road, while opening municipal employees and retirees up to further fee hikes and reductions in coverage. Or as my friend Dr. James Davis, president of PSC/CUNY put it, this doesn’t rip the Band Aid off, it simply “applies a different Band Aid, while inflicting new wounds.”
While we cannot afford inaction, we also cannot afford this action. I hear from scores and scores of retirees every day, who simply cannot bear the cost this change would force on them. Many wouldn’t be able to afford the premiums to maintain their current coverage, or would have to resort to a no-premium plan that might not cover treatments that their lives depend on. I cannot and will not support that.
We need an alternative. The City must make immediate allocations to shore up the Stabilization Fund in the short term. This will buy us time to establish a stakeholders’ commission to identify a pathway to controlling healthcare costs, thereby getting at the root cause of the current emergency. Such a course of action will enable us to keep retiree access to traditional Medicare and Senior Care uninterrupted and premium-free.
Thank you for your continued advocacy on this issue. We look forward to continuing to support your fight.
Very warmly,
The Office of City Council Member Tiffany Cabán

District 22, Queens

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Tell the City Council to Vote NO and RETAIN the City's Minimum Contribution to Our Health Care

We are on a slippery slope here. If we allow the city to make sub-minimum contributions to our health care, it's not likely to end there. The MLC, with the full support of our union leadership, made a short-sighted cost-cutting deal with the de Blasio administration. Though Mulgrew assured us in 2018 copays would not go up, some have doubled since then. 

Where can they go from here? The sky's the limit.

As I wrote in my Daily News op-ed yesterday, once we sell out the retirees, we working teachers (and all city workers) are fair game as cost-cutting targets. Lets stop this right here. If you're a retiree, you can sign to speak at tomorrow's hearing. If you're working, like I am, you can submit written testimony at the same link. An advantage of written testimony is that you may write as much as you need. Oral testimony will likely be limited to two minutes, so plan accordingly. 

Norm has suggestions about contacting City Council members directly, as well as a sample email you can send them. He also includes their addresses.

With his permission, I'm including my friend Bennett's testimony for tomorrow. I hope he can squeeze this into two minutes. It will be a tough day over at City Council. Please take a few minutes to let them know to do the right thing.

Hello, I'm Bennett Fischer and I'm a retired teacher with 29 years of service in our public schools, and I am a career long UFT activist, who is very distraught and very angry at the harmful position my union leadership is taking.

Most of us here are public service employees, and whichever city health plan we are enrolled in, the cost of that plan is protected by a defined price threshold set in a city law. If your insurance costs less than the threshold, you're covered. If it's more than the threshold, you pay up.

That's fair. The law applies equally to all city employees. It ensures a decent, and equal subsidy for the city health plan we choose. And it lets the most vulnerable among us stay on traditional, public Medicare - and doesn't force anyone into the private, regional, for-profit Medicare Advantage ecosystem. Why would you ever even consider taking our healthcare protections out of the law, and putting them into the hands of a very few, very fallible, very self-interested group of politicians? New York City mayors and union presidents come and go. The law offers much more stability.

Keeping 12-126 intact doesn't mean we can't negotiate for quality healthcare, and savings. Amending 12-126 means we will be at the mercy of a few men(!) in a room. I hoped we were beyond those days.

We dedicate our careers to public service, not for great pay, but to do good for our communities and our families. What we sacrifice in pay, we expect to make up in decent, stable benefits both in-service, and in retirement. Don't give away our legal protections. What we give up in law, we will never get back.

Saturday, January 07, 2023