Saturday, February 25, 2023

Retiree Health Care--The Nuclear Option

It's been clear for some time that UFT leadership, along with MLC, will not accept defeat. Michael Mulgrew's Unity Caucus is always right, and always knows best. Anyone who disagrees is a galoot, a nuisance, a simple-minded contrarian.

So when an army of retirees united and took them to court, they were wrong. When they won the first time, they were wrong. When they won the second time, they were also wrong. When MLC, on our dime, says you will accept inferior health care, the appropriate response is, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

Soon, MLC will jump up and down and say the CVS/Aetna plan is the bestest thing ever. Perhaps this time, they won't falsely claim that all doctors who accept Medicare will take this plan. Or maybe they will. After all, since they're always right, being wrong is not meaningful. MLC is going to dump all retirees into Medicare Advantage, and any retiree who wants to use Medicare will have to pay all related fees. No more reimbursement for anything, and go find your own frigging Medigap plan at your own expense.

Now sure, this sounds extreme, but there is a bright spot. The former UFT officials who told the City Council that we needed to drop the monthly minimum toward health care will all be able to afford that. After all, they went through their careers earning triple the salary of lowly teachers, and retired with two pensions, the standard DOE pension, plus the UFT pension rubes like us paid for. 

Not so great for DC37 employees who worked at or near minimum wage. Not so good for UFT paras who made 20-30K a year. Of course they wouldn't have been able to afford the $191 per person charge the geniuses at MLC originally envisioned. Alas, not so good for teachers like me either. I don't think I'll be able to afford to shoulder the full cost of traditional Medicare for my wife and me. So if I retire and move to, say, Pennsylvania, and get cancer, I'm basically fucked. 

Thanks for dramatically reducing my retirement options, MLC!

Of course, Michael Mulgrew, the Unity Caucus, and MLC all have a plan to deal with the pushback. This is what it is--they will blame those who fought to retain our rights for losing them. If only those goshdarn retirees would have sat down and shut up, none of this would have happened. Why, oh why did they insist on fighting for what they'd been promised their entire careers?

Now here's the thing about this union position--it is, not for the first time, fundamentally anti-union. "Sit down and shut up" is not the optimal union stance.

Unions exist, at least theoretically. to improve the lot of working people. A very basic thing that union does is raise wages. Our union, of course, despite an ostentatious 500-member negotiation committee, will have little to no input in that. DC37 has set a pattern that doesn't come close to inflation, and that is that. 

Another thing union does is fight to improve working conditions. Union leadership in NYC, though, battles to have the city pay less toward health care. They do that because they want to privatize our health care to save pennies for our employer. Ironically, this year UFT is making a big noise about charter schools. You see, privatization is bad. Unless we're privatizing member health care. Then it's fine, evidently.

That's why there has to be a retiree organization acting in opposition to those who ostensibly represent them. And they know exactly what leadership plans.

Now here's the thing. I don't know exactly what the retirees plan is, but I will tell you what it is not. They are not going to lay down and accept this. They will fight. They will picket. They will go to court. They will try to sway public opinion. There is a UFT faction of this group called Retiree Advocate, and they'll be there every step of the way.

Make no mistake, these people are unionists. They are doing the work union should do. 

Our leaders? Not so much. They are demanding we capitulate. They are demanding we sit down, shut up, and give up, just as they have. 

Our leaders are not leaders. They are tools of our employers. They represent the interests of our employers. They are not willing to fight for reasonable compensation increases. Worse, they fight for inferior health care so the city can save a relative pittance. 

They are not unionists. They don't even know what unionists are.

As a result, a whole lot of our members don't know either. That makes us weak. Pro tip--wearing blue, or green, or whatever a few days a year does not make an active union.

The retirees are taking union actions, and for that, our leaders call them names and fight them at every juncture. 

The retirees know what union is. They act union. They are union. They deserve our full support. 

Because make no mistake, Mulgrew, the MLC, and all the other tools of our employers are coming for us next.

Friday, February 24, 2023

MLC (including Michael Mulgrew) Works for Some of Us, Not The Sum of Us*

The Municipal Labor Committee made a very, very bad deal with the city in 2018, They agreed to health care savings that lasted forever, and in exchange they got a contract that lasted only a few years. What kind of deal is that?

For this, they got compensation increases at or near the inflation rate. Now, they're pursuing a contract that lags well behind inflation, an effective pay cut for all city workers. As it that isn't enough, they're stubbornly determined to sell out our retirees to Aetna.  Make no mistake, they're coming for us next. (Perish forbid they should sacrifice patronage jobs instead.)

Every person who had a hand in this decision is incompetent. If they had any self-respect, they'd resign and hand over leadership to people who'd work in member interests. It is most decidedly not in our interest to enrich Aetna at our expense.  Take a gander at all the lawsuits they face. Is it because they are swell folks who want to take care of us? 

Not likely.

Aetna, now owned by CVS, is notable for its roots in slavery insurance. If some unfortunate plantation owner lost their human chattel, they were in good hands with Aetna, And CVS Aetna is in good hands with MLC, especially UFT and DC37. Despite losing multiple lawsuits and being humiliated at City Council, they're moving full speed ahead to toss retirees under the bus. 

It behooves our union leaders to work in the interests of those of us who do the actual work. While Unity Caucus claims they do the work, I beg to differ. People like you and me do the work. We don't sit in offices at 52 Broadway. We don't make deals to privatize insurance. We are on the front lines in our classrooms, still dealing with 34 teenagers at a time, despite apocryphal promises to reduce class size, if possible, at some future juncture. 

WE do the work.

After many years of doing the work, our leadership wants us dumped into a Medicare Advantage plan. Despite the fact that privatized medicine is the scourge of our nation, despite the fact that is is rooted in classism and racism, and despite the fact that thousands of Americans die each year as a result of this system, Michael Mulgrew thinks it's just swell. In fact, he has complex ties to health privatization, and appears to personally profit via its advocacy. 

Rather than fight for all of us (The Sum of Us), Mulgrew sent his highly compensated BFFs out to plead for the right to PAY for the coverage retirees received free of charge for decades. He even had a cancer patient declare that the Advantage plan was not sufficient for her needs. If that's the case, it's not sufficient for any of our needs. Lowly teachers like you and me get cancer. We simply do not get triple salaries or double pensions, like the retired officers who demanded the right to pay for what we've always been promised for free. 

Michael Mulgrew told us the MLC deal was not going to raise copays. We all know that's not true. He told us it would not result in drastic changes to health care. We know that's not true either. He told us it would preserve premium-free health care. Do you believe him, even as he scours the cosmos for a cheaper plan to replace the GHI-Emblem plan we've used for decades?

Michael Mulgrew told us every doctor who accepted Medicare would accept the MLC Medicare Advantage plan. We now know that wasn't true. He told us there would be a rapid process for when our good pals at Medicare Advantage denied us procedures. He did not tell us whether or not that would result in procedures being approved.

If we really wanted better health care, we'd demand it for everyone. We'd bust our asses pushing for Medicare for All. However, given the current state of the Congress, we'd, at the very least, advocate for the New York Health Act. It's sponsors have offered to negotiate with unions to resolve differences. I've heard nothing but crickets about this from UFT leadership.

I don't know whether or not George Santos's hair is real. Here's what I do know--Michael Mulgrew acts like a George Santos with no hair. Now that's neither hair or there. What's important is this--I'm sure we'll see a side by side comparison of CVS/Aetna Medicare Advantage to real Medicare. But I've been lied to so much, I won't believe that either.

There's one more thing Michael Mulgrew has in common with George Santos. They both need to be replaced by truth tellers. And Mulgrew needs to be replaced by someone who represents rank and file, those of us who really do the work. 


*With apologies to Heather McGhee

Friday, February 17, 2023

DC37 Reaches an Agreement

DC37 workers will get 3% a year for the first four years, and 3.25% year five. They will also receive a $3,000 signing bonus.

If you're thinking this does not match current inflation, you are right. However, many DC37 employees make at or near minimum wage. 

Whatever your feelings may be, I think this will pass overwhelmingly. My worry is what we don't know about, particularly vis a vis health care. 

I'm between classes, and I may expand on this later. 

What do you think?

Monday, February 13, 2023

UFT Leadership Chooses Sacred Cows Over Member Health

It's been a very rough year for Michael Mulgrew and all the folks sitting around 52 Broadway. This is largely due to the shitstorm they stirred up when they tried to dump all our retirees into an inferior health plan (except those sufficiently privileged to buy their way out). 

They thought it would be a cakewalk. They failed to anticipate the backlash, the losing lawsuits, or the City Council stepping up to protect those who served this city. 

They are not used to losing, and smelling loss, Mulgrew threatened rank and file with a $1500 premium if we didn't screw the retirees. That's still a possibility if they don't find another solution.

They need to satisfy the debt they incurred in 2018, when they made an idiotic deal with MLC behind our backs to cut health care. And there are ways to do that without tossing retirees into the briny deep. One way would be to consolidate city welfare funds. Why do we need a separate organization for each union, especially when each is in the same business, providing the same benefits?

An argument I get is that the UFT Welfare Fund does a great job. They administrate, overseeing reimbursement for eyeglasses and dental work. As far as I can tell, though, much of this work is outsourced. There is an actual insurance company negotiating our dental insurance, and some online entity now doing eyeglasses. I'm still awaiting reimbursement for glasses I got in January. I'm also waiting for the 50 bucks I overpaid when taking an MRI at a supposedly cheaper provider. These are minor issues.

But how good is the Welfare Fund if you have a major issue? My daughter went to an orthodontist who prescribed night braces, for months, that she did not need. I went for a second opinion, and the other orthodontist said it was a waste of time and energy. (And money.) I went to the second one. The first then put in a claim that the night braces were the actual braces. I complained to the Welfare Fund. They said they were sorry, did nothing, gave the first orthodontist full payment, and I had to pay the full cost of real braces, thousands of dollars out of pocket, for my daughter. 

I had an oral cancer, and my mouth was treated with radiation. Consequently, I have dire dental issues. Recently a UFT periodontist prescribed a cleaning procedure that was supposed to cost me $70 per quadrant. I went to get the first half my mouth done, and they charged me $300, 160 more than UFT agreed upon. The extra charge, they said, was for an oral rinse. I said if I'd wanted an oral rinse, I'd have gone to CVS and bought a bottle of Scope for 10 dollars. 

I called the Welfare Fund, who said they'd give this dentist a strong talking-to. The dental office was unmoved. I was able to protest this fee via my credit card, and was successful. (Thanks for nothing, UFT Welfare Fund.) The periodontist charged for three quadrants rather than two, and I didn't bother calling my good friends at the Welfare Fund again. How many strong talkings-to could this periodontist take? And whose welfare, exactly, is our Welfare Fund representing?

I don't believe a consolidated Welfare Fund would be any less efficient than the one we already have. It would surely be a hell of an improvement over screwing our retirees. However, patronage is what keeps UFT leadership ticking. It is, in fact, what keeps their Unity Caucus in perpetual control. They aren't going to give up a bunch of high-paying union jobs, and whatever power they deem associated with them. The highly-paid, dual-pensioned elites who run the welfare fund contend otherwise, and suggest consolidation would result in mismanagement.

The fact is we have already consolidated health care, via the MLC, which negotiates it for us. Now on this point I agree they're doing a terrible job, but that's only because they make dumbass decisions without consulting rank and file. That can and must be fixed.  That doesn't seem to cross the minds of those in leadership. Of course, who wants to surrender highly-paid, dual-pensioned gigs just to protect the health care of thousands upon thousands of men and women who spent their lives working for New York City?

This may very well be why Michael Mulgrew, despite a UFT resolution proclaiming otherwise, virulently opposes the New York Health Act, which would grant all New Yorkers premium-free health care, maintain Medicare for all our retirees, and actually eliminate the need for the GHI senior care plan that has Mulgrew and Adams freaking out all over creation. 

If Michael Mulgrew wants to represent the interests of working teachers, he needs to embrace cost-cutting measures that don't debase the health care of retired or working teachers. At the very least, he needs to give up our proprietary Welfare Fund. At best, he'd not only do that, but also embrace the health and well-being of all our NY State brothers and sisters by a. negotiating with the sponsors of the NY Health Act, and b. publicly supporting and embracing it.

Thanks to Daniel Alicea.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

There Is No Eye in Union

 If you live on earth, you probably know it's pretty darn crowded here. If you don't believe me, try renting a frigging studio apartment in Manhattan. If you're human, of course, you might want to talk about that first. If you're a dog, though, you may not. 

Dogs are not particularly social. They just bark incoherently, like members of United for Change. Let me just tell you one thing, pal, you ought not to be barking at our Dear Leader Michael Mulgrew, hallowed be His Name.

I saw a lot of signs at the Exec. Board meeting. Some were Good, and I approved. However, some were Bad. As teachers, it behooves us to be Good. Because Good is better than Bad. We should have signs saying stuff like, "All hail, Dear Leader." Because that would be Good.

I always look on the bright side, because everyone knows that we are in the best of all possible worlds, in the best of all possible unions. That's why these bastards who question Dear Leader are so offensive and filthy. But I won't say stuff like that, because they are my union brothers and sisters. So, let’s not bother to doubt them directly. Let's go passive aggressive and bury our actual message somewhere at the bottom. At Executive Board, we got that message loud and clear. One bold speaker announced that the world would be better if  people were nicer, and that says, as far as I am concerned, that we are one. Or we have won. Or if I had some cookies, I'd give you one. Unless you were one of those slimy United for Change dirtwads. 

Great Leader spoke of his struggles with Eva Moskowitz and the Success Academy. We unionists do not approve of charter schools because we don't believe in privatizing education. That means a whole lot of money that should be spent on our schools will be spent enriching private individuals. UFT is firmly against privatization. Except for health care of retirees. In that case, we back privatization 100%!!!

Dear Leader says we will keep fighting over health care. He will fight to make sure that we all have it. Of course that doesn't mean supporting the New York Health Care Act, which would once and for all resolve it not only for our members, but also for everyone in our state. That would blow a hole in our budget, he said.  As usual, he gave no details, but if Dear Leader says it's true, then a majority of Senate and Assembly Members who support this are blithering idiots. Of course, so are any members who support it.

How could anyone doubt our Dear Leader? When the sponsors of NYHA said they were open to negotiating with unions to address their concerns, wasn't he the one who refused to even meet with them? And didn't that prove that it was Bad, and not Good, and therefore not worth discussing?

At our meeting, many people spoke of all the Good things we did. They were all Good. Very Good. Deeply, touchingly, extremely, fantastically Good. We did Many Things and they were All Good. And on the seventh day, Dear Leader vacationed in the Kaymans. And it was Good.

Of course there is room for improvement. The solution, as I see it, is to work harder. I will work to make sure we focus on the things that unite us, like, you know, Union. We're all in it. And therefore, we should all work harder. Dear Leader is always right. We need to keep that perspective for contract negotiations. Let's not worry about things like health premiums. We know our Great Leader will fight against them, even though he said we'd have them if we didn't toss the retirees under the bus. And because the City Council refused to do that, things are a little bit in flux now. But let's flux together. Flux it all, I say!

Let's keep a totally positive attitude no matter what. Let's not question our Dear Leader, who knows what is Good.

The important thing is that we stay together. Because if we aren't together we'll be apart. And what will we be a part of? We're part of a UNION! Therefore, we shall work harder and not disagree with Dear Leader, ever.  Let's stop all disagreement and present a united front. That way, we can dump all the retirees into Advantage and not pay premiums. We all agree that's the best thing. Except the retirees.

Let's not broach any disagreement whatsoever from those nattering nabobs of negativity. Note that I'm specifically neither naming nor acknowledging those dirty, malodorous, scheming bastards over at United for Change who muster the temerity to challenge our Dear Leader. Remember, as union members, you must think things through, and explore your thoughts. And as long as they never disagree with or criticize our Dear Leader, Hallowed be His Name, you may have them.

Let us act as one, and never, ever question or criticize Dear Leader. If Dear Leader says all retirees have to be in a Medicare Advantage plan that's sorely limited and plainly inferior to what they always had before, let's be united and just go along with it. If he imposes premiums or raises co-pays, let's say thank you Dear Leader, may I have another? Let's stop these ridiculous lawsuits and protect our right to lose our hard-won gains.  After all, Dear Leader says we don't deserve them anyway.

At our meeting, Alex Jallot, that dirty bastard, brought a resolution to keep GHI Premium-free.  Of course we all support this. It goes without saying, and that's why he shouldn't say it. A person from the Welfare Fund said this was the sort of thing that would tie our hands. For example, if we were to negotiate a $1500 annual premium, as Dear Leader promised in writing, this might prove problematic.

So we tabled it. We took the paper it was written on and beat it with a table for five minutes. Then we set the table on fire. (And if that son of a bitch brings this up again, we'll frigging set him on fire too.)

I am the union. And so are you, unless you question Dear Leader. Then you are a worthless contrary troublemaker, an enemy of the state, and enemy of the Good.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

What the Heck Is in the Contract?

It's hard to say. You may see one thing, as I did in 2018, and it may turn out to be another. Or leadership could say it's one thing, as they did in 2018, and it could be something altogether different. 

Imagine Micheal Mulgrew had gotten up in front of the Delegate Assembly and said he had a deal to raise copays, dump retirees into an inferior health plan, and institute premiums for rank and file. Who would have supported that?

That's not what he said, though. We were told the contract had no givebacks. And as for the healthcare agreement, I was at the DA when he announced it, taking notes. Here's what they say:

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.

That's not at all what it turned out to be. Mulgrew also says this:

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.

But health care was in the contract, in Appendix B, which we were not shown. I certainly had no idea what would ensue after the health deal. I thought we had no additional copays, no premiums, and I did not for a moment imagine we'd move to downgrade the health care of retirees.  I thought we had a contract at or near cost of living, with no givebacks. Who knew we'd mortgaged our health care to get it? Not me.

Fast forward a few years and the high school Executive Board members introduced a resolution that we be informed of everything in the actual contract. They also introduced one saying that we should oppose any premiums for Emblem/ GHI. Friends tell me these were opposed by Unity because they are "political." 

Political--relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group in politics.

Well, that sounds about right. Is that a bad thing? What if the idea or strategy includes making things better for working people, particularly those in your union? Full disclosure--I'm not affiliated with any caucus. I support the idea of making things better, though. I think we should work toward making things better not only for our members, but also for everyone else. That's why I support the New York Health Act. If that were in place, we wouldn't be having any of these nasty conversations, and the Exec. Board proposals would be moot. 

Alas, it's not in place, and we, the UFT,  oppose its progress. That's disgraceful, and fundamentally anti-union.

But what about the next contract? What if Mulgrew comes from Tweed and presents us with something? What if it sounds worthwhile? What if DC37 makes some stinker of a deal, and we're expected to accept it? (Maybe it would be karma. I mean, it's not like we didn't do the same to them and everyone else back in 2014.)

How can we know that what's presented to us is true? We now know we were deceived back in 2018. How can we be certain it won't happen again? In fact, if leadership refuses to agree to make everything clear to us, this falls into the "fool me twice" category. Leadership specifically voted down an Executive Board proposal to make all things transparent to us. 

Call me political, but based on that, there's really no way to be sure. I can't think of any circumstance under which I'd vote yes to a contract without explicit knowledge of what it contains. And given that that they fooled me once, leadership will have a very tough time persuading me any deal they make is legitimate, clear, and contains no unpleasant surprises. 

If leadership is uncomfortable with the truth, deeming it "political," or whatever, it behooves them to step aside and let someone else negotiate and present a contract.