A somewhat forgotten aspect of the current municipal union seven year contracts is $3.4 billion of health cost savings the unions agreed to. Politico New York (formerly Capital NY) reported that the city has achieved its savings goals for the first two years but we still really don't know about the future.
In the current round of collective bargaining, the UFT set an abysmally low municipal union pattern for salary increases by agreeing to 10% over 7 years plus a month and we also agreed to let the city add the 4% + 4% that other municipal union workers received from 2008-2010 in stages so we won't have the money fully added to our salaries until 2018. In addition, the money we already worked for from 2009-2011 that the city owes us won't be paid to us fully until 2020 and without interest.
Throw into this mix weaker and even non existent tenure protections for Absent Teacher Reserves and we have one ungenerous contract. (ATRs automatically resign if we miss two mandatory interviews which because of communication mix ups happened last year on too many occasions.) One result of our substandard settlement is we helped produce a gargantuan $5.9 billion city surplus. Meanwhile, Bloomberg style management continues in the schools so it should be easily understood why teachers might not have the highest morale these days. This is not the end of the story. We still haven't come up with the bulk of the health cost savings we owe the city.
Those $3.4 billion in health cost savings are being used to fund some of our minimal salary increases. The big bill for these savings is coming soon. The Politico NY story said the healthcare savings targets for the first two years of the contracts of $400 million and $700 million were met or will be achieved. Politico calls those savings "low hanging fruit." Meeting these targets where nobody really noticed is positive news. However, the health cost savings figure jumps higher in the next two years.
One solution being offered is to attempt to get more city workers to opt out of their health benefits by offering them higher cash payments in exchange. We could live with that too.
However, buried deep in the Politico story comes this bit in the last paragraph:
The administration is looking at several other ways to reduce health spending, including increasing copays for emergency room visits, which, in theory, would encourage employees to avoid expensive visits unless they are true emergencies.
I wonder what other ways to reduce health spending means in addition to higher ER visit costs. It looks as though we might be able to weather this storm without having healthcare premiums taken from our paychecks but I am not as optimistic that there will not be changes that will have the effect of reducing our benefits. Yes, municipal worker benefits are pretty good compared to what others receive but the municipal labor force is a huge pool of workers which should spread the risk and we are supposed to have powerful unions supporting us.
10% salary increases over 7 years + a month, retroactive money not paid fully until 2020, weaker due process for ATRs, no real working condition improvements and healthcare savings thrown in for good measure. This is with our so called progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio. The press should be crowing about how de Blasio tamed the UFT and other unions by negotiating a pattern setting contract that is more fiscally advantageous to the city than anti-union Republican mayors could achieve.
I'm not surprised by de Blasio's sinking poll numbers. His enemies are going to hate him no matter what he does and when a politician shortchanges his friends, they remember too. Union leaders might love our mayor but the rank and file I have spoken with are not enamored with him. It would be wise for the mayor not to cut any health benefits between now and Election Day 2017.