Mr. Mulgrew, WHERE IS YOUR HOMEWORK? - The UFT’s New York Health Act Scandal and a possible UFT Constitutional Crisis.
If you ask the majority of UFT chapter leaders and delegates whether our union supports the New York Health Act, they’ll tell you ‘yes’.
Indeed, in 2015, the overwhelming majority of us officially passed a resolution in its support. But if you ask UFT President Michael Mulgrew or his staffers, you’ll hear something entirely different.
And, if you dig deeper, our official union website, paid by our dues, counters the will of our membership and states that we (the UFT) do not support NYHA. Union leadership ignored the will of members by lobbying against NYHA in the MLC.
When confronted with the question as to why UFT leadership has disregarded the will of the membership and lobbied against NYHA, Mulgrew has pointed to backroom decisions based on ‘advice from his lawyers’ and budget models put forth by people associated with right-wing think tanks (which contradict more neutral sources). He has also spoken vaguely about consequences like reduced education funding, dismantling of UFT-led control of the Welfare Fund, and outright catastrophe - the destruction of our union and even NY State.
He has even condemned membership for short-sightedness, intimating that the resolution to support NYHA was a result of all of us NOT DOING OUR HOMEWORK.
And yet, when we’ve asked Mulgrew to be more specific - to show us his receipts on why UFT leadership was ‘compelled’ to disregard the will of our elected chapter delegates - we’ve been met with IOUs.
Show us your RECEIPTS
It’s not as if membership hasn’t asked for the specifics. In the October 24th Executive Board meeting, the High School Division (newly elected via the United for Change slate), asked for the “fiscals” or projected models that Mulgrew consistently points to as to why he is persists on trampling on the decision of the Delegate Assembly.
Ronnie Almonte: Question about data and the NY health act. Where are the so-called numbers that leadership has said that says the NY health act will be too expensive for the City? Only numbers come from the pro-charter Manhattan Institute – at least those are the only numbers I’ve seen.
Joe Usatch: Can’t speak to it, but I’ve heard discussions in MLC.
Assurances were made at this meeting that UFT leadership would get back to the executive board with the internal state budget model projections as to why the officers are disregarding the DA’s 2015 NYHA resolution.
So, where is your homework?
Yet, as of February 2023, Mulgrew and UFT leadership have still not shared their homework. And not only have they not told us the specifics of why, they’ve also gone full speed ahead with other privatization moves that are completely anathema to the NYHA model supported by our general membership.
For instance, rather than push to preserve other single-payer models, such as Medicare, UFT leadership has sought to put retired members on privatized ‘Medicare Advantage’ plans. Without a vote at the DA, they launched a massive campaign without the consent of membership to dupe UFT members into lobbying to remove administrative protections for our healthcare, as they did in their campaign to lobby city council to amend city admin code 12-126.
Educators are used to this kind of obfuscating and projecting behavior from students who don’t do their homework:
My dog ate it. My sister ripped it up. My mom made me go to sleep early. Let me look again in my bookbag.
But Mr. Mulgrew, we are sick of excuses.
We need to know the hard data behind why you don’t support NYHA.
Otherwise, we are inclined to agree with critics who suggest ulterior motives. For instance, MORE’s Peter Lamphere, longtime union activist, notes:
“The union leadership benefits from large salaries and patronage jobs by managing close to half a billion dollars of Welfare Fund benefits (with 10% overhead spent on “administration”). But rank and file members do not benefit from the competitive insurance market that ends up forcing worse and worse coverage on all of us.”
Indeed, with the recent realization that our existing coverage is not meeting our needs, with onerous copays, increasingly restricted networks, and a mental health coverage crisis that may well be leading to litigation, it’s hard to believe that NYHA would be the wrong move.
Nevertheless, it may well be possible that Mulgrew has an argument, that maybe NYHA needs some work for us to formally lobby for its passage. There are legitimate questions, for example, as to how NYHA will be implemented for retirees living out of state.
But, as the legislation is now being amended to better meet the critiques of labor unions, will Mulgrew switch course back to the will of his membership or at least participate in the rewrite of NYHA, along with our sister unions?
Whether he does or doesn’t, the time for excuses is over. The homework is due, Mr. Mulgrew.
The Solvency of NYHA
Moreover, it is important to note in regards to the solvency of the New York Health Act, various reputable studies have cited that it would save money for all, while covering ALL New Yorkers - see RAND Corporation study and Dr. Friedman, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Where is the hard internal data that contradicts this that doesn’t come from Avik Roy, a former senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute, whose first book was a missive against Medicaid, and is a staunch advocate for Medicare Advantage for All, Mr. Mulgrew? Why is he even being platformed on our UFT website?
A UFT Constitutional Crisis?
Lastly, the leadership’s caucus is on the record often reaffirming that the delegate assembly is the ultimate decision-making body in our union — of course, other than a referendum by all UFT members. This was just recently acknowledged in a Unity-sponsored resolution that they passed cutting the question period time of executive board meetings to 15 minutes.
Even a Unity chapter leader recently asked about why we are not pursuing our 2015 NYHA resolution in a 2022 Delegate Assembly.
Thus, the question begs to be asked:
Can the executive leadership act UNILATERALLY beyond a delegate assembly mandate?
Regardless of one’s position regarding the privatization of healthcare or the New York Health Act, these acts of executive leadership’s defiance against a resolution passed by duly elected chapter leaders and delegates empowered to make decisions for the whole presents what can be viewed as a “constitutional crisis”.
Is the UFT delegate assembly, as many see it today, simply performative? Or does it truly hold the powers consented to by our rank-and-file members in our UFT constitution? Can union officers tasked with implementing the will of our members UNILATERALLY not execute our mandates?
These are more nuanced questions that need to be grappled with and answered in the coming months, as we see how leadership handles a groundswell of collective voices rising up and asking for improved quality healthcare for workers, a wage raise that keeps pace with inflation, and better working conditions for educators that are overworked and exhausted.
In the meantime, once again, the time for excuses is over. The NYHA homework is due, Mr. Mulgrew.
Health care for all N.Y.: An idea whose time has come - Arthur Goldstein
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