Retiree health fiasco
The last column of “The history of the retiree health-care change” (Clarion, October 2021) is full of misinformation and propaganda from the “Alliance” of the city and Municipal Labor Committee (MLC).
There is nothing “unique” about this Medicare Advantage plan: it’s a PPO plan filled with co-pays and requirements for prior approvals for any procedure or treatment that is likely to be expensive. It will not maintain, much less enhance, members’ health care. It is well documented that, when members of Medicare Advantage plans get really sick, they flee back to Medicare.
The federal subsidy to the Alliance is not the “key” to the plan, nor likely to be significant. It won’t be known what the subsidy will be for a year. The average subsidy to Medicare Advantage plans nationally are just 4% of what the federal government spends on recipients of traditional Medicare, not the 17% claimed by the MLC in its message to the member unions in July.
Because the subsidy will be small, and their overhead and profits are large, the Alliance will have about 24% less to spend on retiree health care than is now spent under Medicare with city-funded senior care. And the “promise by private insurers that they could provide better care for less money” that was cited in the article has absolutely no basis in fact, as I thought everyone recognized by now. They’re not doctors who provide care; they’re profit-making insurance companies that just pay for it. Even when they’re nominally nonprofit, like EmblemHealth, they behave just like for-profit companies; the CEO of EmblemHealth is paid $3 million per year.
The insurers don’t get a “rebate” from Medicare. They receive a standard Medicare payment for each member as an average annual per-capita payment, plus the 4% subsidy referred to above. The city is reportedly paying them $7.50 per member for 2022 under the as-yet-undisclosed contract. Since the average Medicare payment per person in New York State is about $12,000 per year, this 0.06% payment hardly qualifies as a “subsidy” (though it may act as a fig leaf to cover the fact that this plan is not, in any real sense, a “city plan”).
The NYC Medicare Advantage Plus (MA+) plan is premium-free. So are other, possibly better, Medicare Advantage plans. Having $0 premium is not a unique feature of this plan; it is standard for Medicare Advantage plans.
The city is saving $600 million, Empire and Emblem will make a lot of money, and retirees will pay the price.
No to bullying
The PSC Anti-Bullying Committee engaged in a very exciting month of virtual events in October, where we raised awareness about bullying, spoke about bullying prevention and gave guidance about how to address bullying. Essentially, these workshops, sessions and presentations have only scratched the surface of trying to really address the CUNY culture of bullying in the workplace. The idea is to shift the CUNY workplace culture so that bullying is perceived as absolutely unacceptable in our workplaces.
We are continuing to plan events for the Fall and Spring. The set of events in the Fall semester include: a Workshop on Handling Disagreements on November 8; book group meetings on November 15, 22, 29 and December 13, 20; and a Workshop on Communicating in the CUNY Workplace on December 6.
Our focus is to nurture a workplace environment that is respectful and free from discrimination, harassment and bullying.
The book group will discuss the book, “Bully Free at Work: What You Can Do to Stop Workplace Bullying Now!” by Valerie Cade. We will discuss how to recognize bullying, the effects of workplace bullying, and how to address bullying and empower ourselves. We are looking forward to seeing you at these events, and for you to join the book group as you will find this very informative. Please check the website.
Queensborough Community College
Thinking about strikes
I have been an adjunct on and off at CUNY for 22 years. While adjuncts have made some improvements in our working conditions over the last two decades, we have fallen short of winning the biggest, most important gains we have sought. Being an adjunct in 2021 is not fundamentally different from being an adjunct in 1999. We are still contingent workers who are subject to low pay and chronic job insecurity.
I am also a freelance musician and a member of another labor union made up largely of contingent workers, the American Federation of Musicians, Local 802. My involvement in Local 802 has taught me that the power of a union comes directly from its members’ capacity to withhold their labor to negotiate for better pay and working conditions. It has taught me that strikes work, and that a strike is the greatest leverage workers have to create life-altering change.
The Taylor Law prohibits public employees from striking, depriving us of our most powerful tool for change. The workers of the PSC have never gone on strike, which means that the PSC has developed no first-hand institutional knowledge about how the capacity to strike is so crucial to building union power.
Instead, we have focused on becoming political insiders, imagining that our union’s power comes not from its workers, but from its ability to influence politicians through lobbying, political action committees and campaign endorsements.
But the political insider approach to building power has not worked. That is why adjuncts have only seen modest improvements in our working conditions over the last two decades. That is why hundreds of adjuncts lost their jobs and health insurance in the middle of a pandemic, and why management felt that it could withhold our contractually mandated raises with impunity for nearly a year.
If the no-strike clause is what’s getting in our way, let’s work to repeal it. If we have the political clout in Albany to pass the multibillion dollar New Deal for CUNY, we should be able to strike a few sentences from Section 210 of the Taylor Law.
We have a year and a half to organize and build real power for our union before our next contract. Let’s get to work.