Mulgrew and UFT Unity, Not MLC, Initiated Health Cuts
Claims otherwise are false. -- By Arthur Goldstein and Daniel Alicea
Mulgrew’s 2014 UFT Deal: The Healthcare of City Workers for Sale
In 2014, we had been without a contract for five years. Cops and firefighters had gotten twin 4% raises, and Bloomberg had basically extended us his middle finger.
UFT had options. We could have gone to arbitration and demanded what the police received. When we received a sub-inflation salary increase this year, Unity members were quick to lecture me on the “unbreakable pattern.”
If indeed the pattern is unbreakable, arbitration would seem a sure thing. In fact, had we somehow not managed to win, we’d have finally broken the “unbreakable pattern.” We’d then be free to negotiate reasonable raises, no matter what DC37 saw fit to accept.
Of course, Mulgrew and Unity had a different idea. Instead of demanding fair treatment, they worked out a deal.
Deliberately missing from the UFT highlights is this—they agreed to fund new raises by giving one billion dollars from our health stabilization fund, a fund designed to prevent members from paying premiums for GHI/CBP. And if any sufficient funds are still available in it, they can be earmarked towards new benefits – like we’d done with PICA.
In case the giveaways weren’t outrageous enough, the fund contained 1.8 billion in 2014, so they were giving away more than half. Not only that, but take a look at the pattern it funded:
1 percent — 1 percent —$1,000 cash — 1 percent — 1.5 percent —2.5 percent — 3 percent
What was not said in the UFT communique referenced here was that the thousand dollar bonus was in lieu of a raise. The city’s thousand buck bonus bought a zero percent raise for a full eighteen months.
We, the UFT, not only shot an arrow into the health care of all city employees, but also imposed a clearly crap pattern on our brothers and sisters around the city (not to mention ourselves). If that weren’t enough, we managed to delay our five-year overdue raises for another five years, with no interest whatsoever. (Good luck getting terms like that when you buy your next car.)
Let’s get one thing straight—cost of living raises ought not to come with givebacks. Yet Michael Mulgrew and the “smart people” he loves to mention managed to give away the store for raises that didn’t even approach cost of living. On top of all that, the notion of bankrupting our stabilization fund to support crappy raises can be laid entirely at the feet of Mulgrew and his Unity Caucus.
Mulgrew and Unity, despite this, repeatedly insisted healthcare is only negotiated in the MLC, and that healthcare had nothing to do with our contract negotiations.
This shows that it was not the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) that initiated the cuts on our health care. It was Mulgrew himself, and his Unity Caucus, working on behalf of the city rather than the members.
It’s become quite clear that the 2014 and 2018 contract deals were inextricably linked to our diminishing healthcare. Mulgrew, the MLC, and we, by default, are all still on the hook to make good on Mulgrew’s outlandish giveaways.
When you are presented with a plan in the coming days that costs 10% less than GHI, perhaps with higher copays, fewer doctors, and maybe even a premium, remember it was Mulgrew and the Unity bosses who started that ball rolling.
UFT Unity and the MLC first targeted retirees, evidently deeming them too old and feeble to fight back, but Marianne Pizzitola and the NYC Retirees have handed them their asses in court, 12 times so far. (Contribute to them right here.) In most unions retirees aren’t even members. No retirees have a vote in contract negotiations. Perhaps that’s another reason Mulgrew deemed them a convenient target for cuts.
Lest we forget, Mulgrew takes great pride in being the architect behind the inferior, privatized Medicare Advantage Plan that forces retirees to give up the benefits they worked a lifetime for. Mulgrew and the MLC contend this is needed so as to replenish the depleted Health Care Stabilization fund, while helping to pay towards the preposterous but infinite 600 million dollars a year abyss they’ve brokered.
Mulgrew and the MLC targeted Medicare recipients despite the fact that the stabilization fund has nothing whatsoever to do with funding Medicare. It’s also worth asking why retirees, who do not even receive wages, are supposed to fund wage increases.
Again, Mulgrew and UFT Unity could have gone to arbitration in 2014. They could have demanded we be paid the double fours the cops and firefighters got, immediately. Instead, they opted to cut our stabilization fund by more than half, impose a crap pattern on the entire city, jeopardize our health care, and wait another five years to get back pay in dribs and drabs. We can hardly even conceive of worse bargaining.
Rather, Mulgew plodded ahead with a backroom deal with Bob Linn of OLR. He then went on camera with De Blasio, and jubilantly announced on May 1st, 2014, that he had singlehandedly made a deal for retro pay — with healthcare “cost savings’ driving the deal.
May 2, 2014: The MLC Steering Committee Meeting
The following day, Mulgrew would have to sell his deal to the MLC executive steering committee.
There, he laid down an ultimatum to union leaders of the MLC. They needed to “take it or leave it”, or the City was going to take it off the table. It was followed up by his demand for a drive-by approval — even as he could not furnish a written agreement for the other union leaders to read and analyze.
The minutes of MLC meetings are not readily accessible to the public, or even rank and file members of its respective unions. We uncovered the 2014 meeting minutes buried in a lawsuit case file, here. (The 2016 lawsuit by the PBA against the City is also an interesting related tangent worth its own article, at another time.)
The MLC minutes in 2014 clearly show he had never fully disclosed how he was going to pay for the raises at previous meetings, and we can see how fellow labor leaders grappled with understanding whether dipping into the Healthcare Stabilization fund for wages was even appropriate, much less wise.
There were a lot of questions and shock at the 2014 MLC steering committee meeting regarding Mulgrew’s unilateral deal.
Here is Barbara Bowen, former President of PSC-CUNY, inquiring about the deal specifics at the May 2014 meeting:
Union leaders of cops and firefighters, evidently endowed with common sense, opposed the billion dollar giveaway in no uncertain terms. Misgivings were expressed about future giveaways.
Pat Lynch, then President of the Police Benevolent’s Fund, Michael Palladino, former President of Detectives’ Endowment Association, and Stephen Cassidy, President of Uniformed Firefighters Association were among the union leaders who expressed unease that the teacher contract was now setting the next pattern, and expressed they could not vote in good faith for Mulgrew’s secret pattern-making deal that implicated all city workers.
They could barely believe that Mulgrew hadn’t brought the collective bargaining agreement in writing to the meeting. (Alas, UFT members are becoming accustomed to this type of bad faith maneuvering, as experienced in 2018 and 2023. Mulgrew and Unity did exactly this when rushing tentative agreements for ratification votes within our contract negotiation committees and UFT Delegate Assembly.)
Here, union leaders attempt discussion with a remarkably resolute Michael Mulgrew.
Despite Mulgrew’s assurances to the MLC, he and other Unity “smart people” inserted permanent healthcare savings into the 2018 contract. In 2018, we were obliged by the MLC and Mulgrew to save the city six hundred million dollars a year, forever, in exchange for a three year contract around cost of living. (Find the 2018 agreement, here)
The Worst Deal in NYC Labor History: 2014 + 2018
Was Mulgrew drunk? Asleep? On LSD? Desperate? Have you ever even heard of such awful labor deals?
Many unions opposed what Mulgrew started. Alas, in MLC they are dwarfed by the combination of UFT and DC37, who constitute two thirds of the MLC’s weighted vote.
Our extraordinary lack of vision means not only we, but also our brothers and sisters in the unions that opposed this nonsense are stuck with the consequences of our damaging agreements.
If you’re tired of terrible agreements like these, there are actions you can take. This school year you can elect a chapter leader who represents you, rather than the UFT Unity patronage mill. Make sure your elected representative is pursuing better working conditions for you instead of a cushy gig at 52 Broadway.
If you’re a retiree, you can vote for Retiree Advocate this Spring. It’s disgraceful our supposed leaders endorse privatized Medicare Advantage plans for us. A NY State Supreme Court judge has declared this plan would cause irreparable injury as Aetna would deny not only access to current doctors, but also service these doctors deemed necessary.
We need leaders who really make smart decisions. We need leaders who will negotiate raises that meet or beat inflation. We need leaders who will refuse, point blank, to give away the store for no discernible reason.
We ought not to have to apologize to cops, firefighters, or any of our brother and sister unionists for our myopic leadership. Many of us have dogs that negotiate treats far more effectively than Michael Mulgrew negotiates contracts.
Next year, we must vote him out, along with his UFT Unity sycophants. We need to create a union that cultivates activism, promotes forward-thinking unionism and values transparency & democracy. Specifically, we need to create a union that works for us, not Eric Adams.
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. UFT Unity has controlled our union since its inception. This must end. We need leaders, not bosses.
Vote like your future depends on it. Because it clearly does.
Arthur Goldstein, is former chapter leader at Francis Lewis HS and UFT executive board member. He’s a retired educator and union activist. His work appears in the NY Daily News, the NY Post, Huffington Post, and elsewhere. Follow Arthur’s Substack, Union Matters, and on Twitter @TeacherArthurG
Daniel Alicea, is an NYC educator, organizer and activist. He is a UFT chapter delegate. Follow Daniel at The Wire: Powered by Educators of NYC and on Twitter @DanielAlicea
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