Union Protects Medicare; UFT Retirees Beat Mulgrew!


By Joe ManiscalcoWork Bites

Nope, contrary to what some of the most powerful union leaders in the country would have working people believe—organized labor does not have to abandon the Medicare benefits it fought so hard to achieve in favor of profit-mad Medicare Advantage health insurance plans [MAPs].

The union representing New York City Transit bus and subway supervisors just proved that once again earlier this week when it stepped up and amended its constitution—essentially banning the practice of selling out retirees.

The in-person vote amending TWU Local 106’s constitution on June 11, was unanimous—and “verbally approved” by Transport Workers Union International President John Samuelsen,  Local 106 head Phil Valenti told Work-Bites.

“I let management know, too,” Valenti added. “This is not going to be something we’re going to talk about [during contract negotiations]. MAP is a dead issue.”

The pertinent part of the amended TWU Local 106 constitution says, “Traditional Medicare and Retiree Medical Benefits cannot be eliminated through bargaining for current retirees unless a general membership meeting was called for this purpose with (50%) of the ACTUAL membership in attendance and a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the members voting to affirm the change.”

New York City municipal retirees fighting to retain the Medicare health insurance coverage they were promised have spent the last three years beating back the Municipal Labor Committee [MLC] and two successive mayoral administrations bent on farming out that obligation to the private health insurance industry giants.

The latest retiree victory came just last month when the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Judicial Department unanimously affirmed Judge Lyle E. Frank’s prior ruling permanently enjoining New York City from eliminating retirees’ existing health insurance and automatically enrolling them in a new Aetna Medicare Advantage plan.

“The NYC retirees applauds Local 106 for protecting the benefits of their retirees, employees and the federal public heath benefit of Medicare,” New York City Organization of Public Service Retirees President Marianne Pizzitola said after Local 106 amended its constitution. “Union labor must demand their value be honored and respected and not diminished. Unions helped pass the Medicare Act in 1965, and this brave union is setting the path for other unions to have the courage to do the same. We applaud Local 106 taking a stand.”

Evie Jones Rich was among a group of New York City municipal retirees who went up to Albany on April 15 to rally support for bills aimed at protecting Medicare from the onslaught of privatized Medicare Advantage plans.

Just last fall, CWA Local 1180 President and MLC Delegate Gloria Middleton told Work-Bites, “You know, we have to deal with these insurance companies. We just have no choice in that because that’s the world.”

TWU Local 100 retirees fighting a similar battle in court against their own union’s attempt herd them into a profit-driven Medicare Advantage plan presented oral arguments before Acting State Supreme Court Justice Shahabuddeen A. Ally on June 10.

“A lot of members are sending us their affidavits saying their hospitals all over the country are getting rid of Medicare Advantage,” TWU Local 100 Retirees head Lloyd Archer tells Work-Bites. “Aetna really stuck their foot in their mouth when they said there are no denials, there’re no hospitals dropping out.”

new report out from Physicians for a National Health Program highlights the 11.7 million Medicare Advantage beneficiaries who now find themselves stuck in a “narrow network” that excludes more than 70 percent of physicians in their county.

The same report includes no less than 36 studies collectively finding “negative outcomes” for both patients and providers in Medicare Advantage plans.

“When patients encounter these issues in MA and wish to switch back to Traditional Medicare, they often find that they are unable to do so,” the report says. “In all but four states, regulations allow insurers to deny Medigap coverage to patients who have been in MA for more than a year. Without a Medigap policy to cover additional costs, Traditional Medicare is not an affordable option for many seniors who are then forced to remain in MA despite its many flaws.”

Archer and several other members of TWU Local 100 Retirees were among those—including 91-year-old activist Evie Jones Rich—who traveled more than 150 miles to Albany on April 15, to rally support for bills aimed at protecting existing Medicare coverage from privatization.

Unlike TWU Local 100, however, members of the New York State Legislature did not stand up for retirees and, instead, ended this year’s latest legislative session on June 6, without putting those Medicare bills on the floor for a vote.

Retired MTA mechanic Anita Clinton calls that failure devastating, and despite Valenti and TWU Local 100 standing up for Medicare, she expects TWU Local 100 Retirees’ fight will have to go on.

“[TWU Local 100] has shown that the members and the retirees are last on their to-do list,” Clinton says. “They are dug in, and recently published a small blurb in the Seniors Buzz [retiree magazine] warning to beware of TWU100R as a small group of disgruntled retirees trying to get money from retirees.”

The complete text says the following: “A small number of retirees unhappy with the TWU Local 100 contract as it relates to retiree health care formed a group several months ago called ‘TWU100R.’ Please be advised that this group is NOT ASSOCIATED IN ANY WAY with the TWU Local 100 Retirees Association or TWU Local 100. This group has been soliciting funds from retirees for legal action against the union. Our advice is to ignore these solicitations. You have excellent health care coverage that does not need fixing through court actions.”

Likewise, New York City Mayor Eric Adams is continuing his crusade to push 250,000 municipal retirees into an Aetna Medicare Advantage plan despite extensive reporting revealing those plans to be nothing more than a giant cash grab for Wall St. and corporate America.

But New York City municipal retirees just gave Adams ally Michael Mulgrew—president of the United Federation of Teachers—a sharp wrap across the nose.

As this story was going to press, Retiree Advocate/UFT—the group formed for the expressed purpose of blocking Mulgrew’s ongoing efforts to push Medicare Advantage onto city retirees—won control of the UFT Retired Teachers Chapter.

“This is a beautiful day!” Cross-Union Retirees Organizing Committee member Sarah Shapiro told Work-Bites. “We got the vote out and have shown Mulgrew and his Unity minions that what they have been doing to us rank and file retirees is unacceptable to us. We sent a clear message to him that we will not tolerate his diminishment of our Medicare benefits.”

Secretary-elect Gloria Brandman called Retiree Advocate/UFT’s win an “unprecedented victory.”

“Foremost, we’ll continue our struggle to retain our promised healthcare and we will fight like hell to prevent the city with our UFT-Unity-Mulgrew in the lead,  from putting us into a Medicare Advantage Plan. Also, the democracy that is lacking in our chapter will be implemented at our meetings and events, and we will work hard to maintain, improve and increase the important information and services that the UFT offers to all our retirees.

Valenti, meanwhile, says he has spoken to other union leaders about the need to protect Medicare benefits and that “other unions are going to start doing it,” too.

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