United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew with then-NYC Mayor...

United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew with then-NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio after the city and the UFT reached a preliminary agreement on a nine-year contract in May  2014, at City Hall in Manhattan. Credit: Bryan Smith

Daily Point

Retirees still furious over Mulgrew's deal with de Blasio

The terms of a unique labor deal reached a decade ago with New York City have come to politically vex the leadership of the United Federation of Teachers.

President Michael Mulgrew’s allies in what is called the retirees’ chapter within the union have been voted out. Dissident candidates to lead that chapter prevailed 63% to 37% in election results revealed this week.

The rebellious vote arose out of years of honed dissatisfaction over how the 2014 deal could end up changing the terms of health coverage for retired employees.

Significant raises in wages, negotiated with the former de Blasio administration, were expected to be largely paid for by health care savings for the city under the deal. As negotiated, retirees from the UFT and other city municipal unions would no longer get completely free, full Medicare coverage — but instead would be offered extensive coverage under a Medicare Advantage plan that would save city taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

But retirees insisted this was not what they were promised or saw mandated in municipal law decades ago. They denounce all Medicare Advantage plans as lesser coverage. The NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees has so far won its extended battle challenging the switch of plans both in court and City Hall.

Mulgrew’s position as the head of the Municipal Labor Committee gave him key influence in negotiating the major pay-hike deal — but he has now drawn political fire from within his own organization. He and his now-ousted retiree leader Tom Murphy have strenuously argued all along that the privately administered “Advantage” plan would be excellent for members and far above most plans.

But Bennett Fischer, who won the chapter election on the Retiree Advocate slate, said: “For three years now, retirees have been fighting for our lives: Fighting for the health benefits that we earned; fighting against the privatization of our health care; fighting for the traditional Medicare and Supplemental insurance that we were promised.”

The separate, ad hoc city retirees’ organization is headed by Marianne Pizzitola, a retired FDNY medic formerly of Babylon. She told The Point how she thinks Mulgrew ended up a target of retirees: “He corporatized the union,” she said. “We are labor. They should have our back but they got in bed with management.”

Unlike many other unions, the UFT allows retirees to cast a weighted vote in its elections. Mulgrew faces reelection next year. But he and the UFT and the Adams administration aren’t the only ones drawing heat in this fiscal conflict.

Pizzitola’s group promoted a bill that failed to win approval in the just-ended Albany legislative session. District 37, the city’s largest public-sector union, lobbied against it. The measure would have barred public employers from “diminishing health insurance benefits provided to retirees and their dependents or the contributions such employer makes for such health insurance coverage” below the levels provided at the end of 2021.

To its critics, the 2014 deal was the direct opposite of the cliché that unions “eat their young” by making contract concessions that affect only incoming or future employees. Diminishing the package for retirees — even slightly — appears harder for city officials to do. Unlike labor’s rookies, retirees had no reason, over many years on the job and after, to believe they’d be forced to adjust to a change in plan.

— Dan Janison dan.janison@newsday.com

Pencil Point

Teed off

Credit: CagleCartoons.com/Rivers

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Final Point

Watch now: Experts on LI’s looming crisis

Long Islanders trying to meet the challenges of rising sea levels and intense flooding received lots of valuable advice at a recent event hosted by Newsday Live and nextLI, now streaming here. Local experts addressed the urgent and complicated tasks of stopping erosion, raising homes and finding insurance coverage in an engaging discussion moderated by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

As the predicted active hurricane season approaches the region, the event explored:

  • How storms, erosion and rising tides are creating problems for residents on the North Shore and South Shore
  • LI's choices of “fight” — viable long term solutions, or “flight” — managed retreat through buyback programs
  • The impact of intense rainstorms on those not living or working next to the shores and the rising price of insurance affecting all of us across the Island

Panelists included:

  • Christopher Gobler, endowed chair of coastal ecology and conservation; distinguished professor, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University
  • Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment
  • Dan Panico, supervisor for the Town of Brookhaven
  • Robert Larocca, chief strategic relations officer at SterlingRisk Insurance

Want to be heard? Share your experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future. What are your experiences and concerns with flooding and insurance costs?

— Amanda Fiscina-Wells amanda.fiscina-wells@newsday.com

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