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Why are NY city unions hurting their own retirees?
Arthur Goldstein, veteran high school teacher, long time UFT activist, NYSUT & AFT delegate, and former executive board member chimes in on the union healthcare crisis and the role of union leaders.
Posted with the permission of the author, Arthur Goldstein. Originally posted as an op-ed in The New York Daily News.
There was a joke in the movie “Sleeper” about how UFT President Albert Shanker started World War III. Our current union president, Michael Mulgrew, won’t be starting any wars. In fact, Mulgrew is now battling to have the city pay less toward our health care. What’s next? A strike for more work and less pay?
Union can be a powerful thing. It empowers working people. It raises pay for union workers, which tends to raise pay for non-union workers as well. Union enables weekends, child labor laws and workplace safety regulations. There are reasons why wealthy corporations fight us tooth and nail. Without union, they can hire Americans at minimum-wage with no benefits.
Mulgrew wants to move all city retirees backward from Medicare to a distinctly inferior Advantage plan. Far fewer doctors take Advantage plans. If Mulgrew gets his way, retirees will have a NY-based plan like we working teachers have. Retirees, unlike working teachers, often live elsewhere. If they do, they’d better not get sick.
As a working teacher, I’m good in New York, but outside this area I’ll find few to no doctors that take my plan. In fact, while trying to persuade me that Advantage would not be so bad, a union official told me he lived in Jersey and had a hard time finding doctors who accepted our plan.
Then there are the pre-approvals. When you’re over 65 and having a health crisis, you probably don’t want CVS/Aetna deciding between your health and their profit. Mulgrew says there will be a quick appeal process. But what if you lose? Is dying quickly now a benefit?
It’s tough being union when your leaders actively campaign for management. You’d think they’d campaign for improved health care at a lower cost to us. Instead, they’ve gotten the City Council to hold hearings on changing the law so the city could contribute less.
This all stems from a 2018 Municipal Labor Committee deal. Rather than insist the city pay us cost of living raises, the MLC geniuses agreed to fund them ourselves, via health care cuts. On Oct. 12, 2018, Mulgrew told the UFT Delegate Assembly his deal would result in no additional copays. Time has proven that untrue. He also promised no significant costs to union membership. Yet any couple wanting to keep traditional Medicare, under Mulgrew’s plan, will pay almost $5,000 a year.
How can we trust our leaders when they clearly don’t know what they’re doing? Are they simply incompetent, or outright lying?
Rank and file had no voice in the MLC deal that was done behind closed doors. It seems the backroom dealing continues. Weeks ago, the Council was “lukewarm” about revising 12-126, which sets a minimum the city must meet for our health care. Now, they’ve done a rather sudden and spectacular turnaround.
What has changed? I can’t help but suspect my union leadership, along with others, quietly reached out. Maybe those union contributions would slow for Council members who voted to uphold health care contributions. After all, it isn’t us, but rather leadership holding union purse strings. And will Council members get funding from Mayor Adams for their pet community projects if they don’t vote his way?
Mulgrew wrote us an email saying we would have to pay $1,200 a year if we didn’t change the law and screw our retired brothers and sisters. This is a classic zero-sum game. America has never achieved universal health care because that’s how it’s presented. If we give those people health care, it will damage yours. Frequently based on racism, Americans accept these ideas and thus reject proposals that would improve things for all of us.
A fundamental notion of union is that a rising tide raises all boats. Rather than embrace that notion, Mulgrew threatened us. If we didn’t support diminished health care for retirees, our own health care would be diminished. By pitting one union faction against another, Mulgrew and other union leaders took a fundamentally anti-union position.
Union ought not to be in the business of abbreviating health care for its members. Union ought to be in the business of not only expanding our care, but also ensuring the rest of our community enjoys the same benefits we have. That’s why it’s sorely disappointing that Mulgrew opposes the New York Health Act, which would provide health care for all New Yorkers. Rather than work out differences with its sponsors, UFT takes shortcuts. In doing so, we hurt the most vulnerable of my union brothers and sisters.
First they came for the retirees. And if you don’t think they’re coming for current employees next, I have a lovely bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
Arthur Goldstein is an ESL teacher at Francis Lewis High School, and a former UFT executive committee member.
Find him on Twitter @TeacherArthurG.
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