Tuesday, January 29, 2008

HIP-GHI Conversion Nearly Complete

On Tuesday, January 29th at the HIP headquarters in Lower Manhattan, so many people showed up for a public hearing that by 10:00 am the hearings were temporarily closed to the public. Those who wanted to enter the only public hearing being held in NYC had to wait up to six hours to testify. The majority were against the merger and conversion that would turn GHI and HIP from two separate non-profit entities into one for-profit company, EmblemHealth.
The President of the Medical Society of the State of New York, Dr. Robert Goldberg, who also testified at the hearings believes the conversion of the GHI-HIP insurance company would have a negative impact on patient care and payments to physicians.

This new company will be the largest single health plan in the state, with over four million members and $7 billion in revenue and would dominate the New York metropolitan area. In particular the municipal unions, as over 90% of their members will now be subscribers in this new company. The original merger began in 2005, but was blocked by the mayor until 2006. In November 2006, they were approved by state regulators to operate as affiliates under a governing foundation. While the union is known as EmblemHealth, the companies continue to function under their own names.

At the hearing it became clear that no one knows what the future holds for this new company. In particular, the billions of dollars that will be made when it becomes a private company. One group, New York City union leaders, want their members to become part of any profit sharing model. As Randi Weingarten, President of the UFT put it " .. We want our members, the dedicated city workers who are the real stakeholders who have contributed to the value of HIP/GHI for decades, to get a fair share of the proceeds should the HIP/GHI conversion to a for-profit move forward."

In the past, large company mergers have led to layoffs of long-term workers. To date, at least 160 union workers from HIP have lost their jobs due to this conversion. In addition, non-profits that convert to for-profit health organizations traditionally raise the prices for the cost of care. This is the reason most experts in the medical field believe single payer health care is the better way to go.

A second public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 31 in Albany.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Congestion Pricing: Who Speaks For Transit Workers?

By now most of you have probably have heard of Mayor Bloomberg’s plan NYC2030 which has two dozen transportation proposals, but the one that has gotten all the attention is congestion pricing. This means more commuters to a transit system that is already at capacity, and in desperate need of repair.

Both the public and the State legislation rejected the original plan of the Mayor’s which led to the creation of the New York City Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, a seventeen-member body directed to undertake a review and study of plans to reduce traffic, congestion and other related and health and safety issues within the city of New York. Our union leadership has supported the Mayor’s congestion pricing plan and continues to do so. Now even the biggest proponents of congestion pricing say that the system is currently unprepared to handle thousands of additional commuters.

The one thing no one -- including our union leadership Local 100 and the Mayor’s research staff -- has studied is the impact it would have on the transit workers. President Toussaint has not only endorsed the Mayor’s plan, he is now pushing the mayor and the MTA’s congestion pricing plan for them. In other words, our union is pushing a plan that would be a new tax on the working class, small business and at the same time increase our workload. He has made this decision not through research from our union but on the homework of the MTA.

Where are the researched reports and the studies conducted by the union? Why has congestion pricing not been on agendas for union meetings? Are we to believe that the Mayor and MTA are doing what’s best for local 100 members? To make matters worse, everyone knows that there are no guarantees that money generated will go only for mass transit. The other key here is how this will be funded, as congestion pricing is very expensive to set up and then to run, especially when you consider that we were all told that this congestion pricing plan would stop mass transit fare increases.

Something is really wrong when union leaders side with the ruling elite to add new taxes that will impact the working class. Make no mistake about, this is a tax on working class New Yorkers no matter what they try to call it. Although congestion is a problem, and the need for more funding for mass transit is critical, both the mayor’s original plan and the alternative plans by the commission are deeply flawed.

There are many groups, coalitions and individuals discussing the plan, both pro and con. The one thing that every one of these debates has in common is no one speaks for the transit worker. It is time that we get in on the debate, and until we know how this will impact every title in transit, I say we keep NYC Congestion Free.

Transit Unions Split on Congestion Plans, Chief-Leader 1/18/2008

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Friday, January 18, 2008

UPDATE ON 20/50 BILL (A5778)

January 14, 2008 A new bill was been introduced last year by Assemblyman Peter J. Abbate, Jr., which would allow employees of the New York City Transit Authority, who are members of NYCERS, to retire with a full pension after 20 years of service at the age of 50.

This new bill (A5778) was in the Ways and Means Committee when session closed in June 2007 in Albany at the state capital. This means it did not have a chance of reaching the Governor’s desk until sometime in 2008. Governor Pataki vetoed a similar bill back in 2004,but this new bill is cost neutral to the state, as it calls for an additional (6 percent) contribution from members who wish to opt into the 20/50 plan. The bill that was vetoed in 2004 called for a 5.5 percent increase. It was vetoed by Pataki for not being cost neutral.

Currently members can retire at age 55 after 25 years of service. If and when the 20/50 bill becomes the law current members will have option of remaining in 25/55, or may elect to enter into the new 20/50 plan. But all new members hired will be required to enter into the 20/50 plan, except those who are over 41 years of age at the time of hire, who may elected the 25/55 plan. As you can see, 20/50 is not being given to transit workers but will cost us an additional 6% of our salary. To put this in perspective, multiply whatever you are paying for the 1.5% (see healthplancont on your check or stub) by 4 and that will give you an idea of what 20/50 will cost you personally.

I am pointing this out to my fellow transit workers so we can begin to understand more about our pension plan and that we must pay for 20/50; it is not being given to us. And also to provide an awareness that we will need to prepare our finances if 20/50 is ever passed into law so we can actually take advantage of 20/50. We need to have detailed information at meetings about the 20/50 plan so all members understand exactly what is in the bill, and how it will impact them.

This lack of information along with dearth of questions is why I am putting this out to the membership, and why I made the 20/50 bill discussion a part of the Homestation Healthy, Wealthy and Wise Seminar Series™. There needs to be more education on pensions and the pension process under the Taylor Law. If 20/50 is important to you, remember it’s the state legislators and the governor who control the fate of 20/50. This means we must get politically active to move the 20/50 bill.

Have you written a letter to your assembly or state senator? How about visiting them in their offices where you live? This type of ongoing political action is what is needed to move our bills and to complement our annual lobby day. Next week, we will be covering exactly how you can contact your state legislators and the governor, along with sample letters and petitions to send to the capital.

What You Can Do Now:
Tell Us What You Think: Visit the Message Boards and join in the conversation on The 20/50 Bill.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Speaks at Cornell ILR School

On January 11, Arlene Holt Baker, the new Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO, gave an informative and inspiring speech at the Cornell ILR School in Manhattan.

Ms. Holt Baker, who has been a union and community organizer for over thirty years, was approved by the AFL-CIO Executive Council on September 21, 2007 to be Executive Vice President, becoming not only the highest-ranking woman in the union movement but also becomes the first African American to be appointed to one of the three highest offices in the AFL-CIO.

Ms. Holt Baker began her union work with AFSCME and worked her way through the union ranks from organizer to international union director. In 1995, Holt Baker went to the AFL-CIO as executive assistant to the Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson. As the first director of the AFL-CIO Voice at Work campaign in 1999, she launched an active movement to bring together community leaders, clergy members, farm workers and elected official and others in support of the workers’ right to form unions. After leaving the AFL-CIO for a couple of years to serve as President of the Voices of Working Families (a nonpartisan organization effort which registered thousands of women and people of color to vote), Ms. Holt Baker returned to the AFL-CIO in 2006 to lead the Gulf Coast Recovery effort.

In her speech Ms. Holt Baker was informative on the issues of immigration, healthcare, African American unemployment rates and the need to organize for the upcoming presidential election this year. Ms. Holt Baker pointed out the enormous challenges facing all working class people at this point in history. Ms. Holt Baker also talked about the plans for the AFL-CIO’s political and membership mobilization program, Labor 2008,which will be the largest political mobilization ever undertaken by the union movement with some 53 million dollars budgeted alone by the AFL-CIO for this election.

Her presentation was inspiring as she quoted Dr. King’s speech from the 1961 AFL-CIO convention, and reminded us all how the struggle for civil rights and workers’ rights were one and the same. She also noted that the only time that there has been change and progress in the United States is when people of diverse backgrounds have worked together. With Dr. King’s birthday approaching, it’s time we all recommit ourselves to the struggle for progress and change through the political process, community activism, union activism or whatever form of action you can take.

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