By HENRY GARRIDO
As we look toward 2023, we must stand together to tackle the challenges ahead that face our union and the livelihood of every New York City public worker. Those who mean to cause a division in our collective power are doing the greatest harm to all of us, including themselves.
As a union, we spent the past year fighting and winning battles in New York City, Albany, and at the ballot box. In the coming months, we’ll continue our fight at the bargaining table and at City Hall as we negotiate for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and preserve premium-free health care for our active members and retirees.
Thanks to your volunteer political action efforts, we helped hold off a reactionary political movement during the November 2022 General Election. Our door-knocking, phone-banking, and canvassing campaigns in support of Gov. Kathy Hochul and other pro-worker candidates were crucial as they faced stronger-than-expected opposition by Republicans amid the current economic uncertainty. DC 37 was there when they needed us. Now that we’ve delivered a slew of victories for our elected leaders, we demand the same support in the months ahead.
Our fight for justice and dignity continues in Albany where we’re pushing for legislation that supports working families and our communities. We successfully fought for the HEAL Act this year to hold hospitals accountable for their pricing and transparency so our members can make fully informed decisions when choosing their medical care.
We’ll continue our work to defend jobs and secure funding for essential city services in next year’s fiscal budget. Though Mayor Eric Adams recently demanded PEG cuts, we’ll ensure our workers are protected during the next round of negotiations. We’ll make it clear to the City that they cannot unilaterally make decisions that impact the service delivery and working conditions of our members without DC 37 at the table.
Ultimately, the greatest challenge ahead is the fight to protect premium-free health care for our members, our retirees, their dependents and hundreds of thousands of other New York City public employees.
DC 37 is the largest public employee union in New York City; yet, we are not alone in proudly serving the public. Several other municipal unions represent public workers, including teachers, firemen, sanitation workers, and police. We work together as members of the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) of which I proudly serve as co-chair. For years, DC 37 and our allies in the MLC have worked closely with the City to implement sensible solutions to the dramatic escalation of health care costs. It’s an impending crisis I have called out since January 2015, when I began serving as your Executive Director.
Unfortunately, health care costs have doubled in the last decade despite our efforts to realize savings, and the fund that pays for city employee and retiree health care has run out of money. This is due in part to certain private hospital systems charging 300% above Medicare rates for the same services, increases in prescription drug pricing, and exorbitant bills associated with COVID-19 testing and treatment.
To resolve this issue for the long term, we negotiated a sensible solution with the City — Medicare Advantage Plus, a program that provides more coverage than Senior Care GHI. This would have maintained the service for our retirees and saved the City millions of dollars through federal subsidies. Though a small group of retirees has challenged this shift in court, the fact remains that the current plan is not financially sustainable.
In 2014, a third-party arbitrator was appointed to settle health care disputes between the City and the MLC. This September, the arbitrator stated in a letter to City Council Speaker Adrianne Adams that without an alternative to Senior Care GHI, he would “impose the obligation to contribute premiums on in-service workers and retirees.” The arbitrator estimated the premium between $1,250 and $1,750 per year for every member, retiree, and dependent.
Why? Because in a decision issued by Judge Lyle Frank as the result of a lawsuit brought by the retiree group fighting the Medicare Advantage Plus Plan, he allowed for its implementation but eliminated the City’s obligation to offer additional coverage options by referring to Administrative Code 12-126 that covers health care negotiations between the City and the unions.
The remaining option is for the City Council to amend Administrative Code 12-126 and protect our right to negotiate alternative health care plans and premium-free choices for our members and retirees. Without this change, members, retirees, and their dependents will pay more for their health care — a slap in the face to the essential public workers who have dedicated their lives to making this city run.
We must and will continue doing all we can to provide comprehensive insurance to our retired members. However, we won’t sacrifice the premium-free benefits you rely on in order to do it.
This is what we face in the year ahead. I am confident we will triumph because history shows this union leads the way in banding together and winning the battles before us. We stood tall during the darkest hours of the pandemic, and now we’ll move forward in the fight to defend the rights of New York City’s working families.