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DoE did not collaborate with UFT on calendar

June 3, 2023 pm30 3:34 pm

The DoE released next year’s calendar – and they did not run it by the UFT first. Should the UFT leadership have been pissed? Of course.

Making matters worse, the DoE released the calendar at the end of the day on Friday (around 2PM?) so that there would not be time to engage before the weekend. Friday afternoon announcements are real weasel moves. UFT leadership was rightfully angry. Did they handle it well? Hmm. Read on.

The DoE did not work out the default schedules with the UFT in advance. We have nuisance time – non-instructional – “37½ minutes” – that each school has to decide how to use – and the DoE and UFT leadership decide in advance of the calendar coming out some ways that schools can break up that time without special authorization. Except this year the DoE skipped that step. And the UFT leadership is, rightfully, pissed.

As an aside, that non-instructional time – the infamous “37½ minutes” – we can blame that on the UFT leadership – they negotiated it as part of the deeply concessionary 2005 contract. Every Unity leader you know who was working in 2005 – they fought, personally, to get this contract passed. And it was closer than most – 60-40 among teachers – (probably rejected by high school teachers, though that does not count). So the leaders who are pissed – understandably – about the DoE cutting them out of the process – they should be made to think about how their lousy negotiating put us here in the first place. OK, point made.

Bottom line for today is the UFT leadership is rightfully pissed.

I start seeing calendar posts a little after 2PM. Several hours later, maybe around 7PM, they (I don’t believe Mulgrew writes the emails himself) wrote to members:

The Department of Education today released a 2023-24 school calendar without giving any notice to our union or completing negotiations on the pilot workday agreement.

For the past 10 years, it has been the responsibility of the DOE to come to an agreement with our union on a pilot workday to use the 155 minutes of extended time each week for professional development, parent engagement and Other Professional Work. This year, the DOE released a calendar as if an agreement had been reached but it had not.

At this moment, without the pilot workday agreement in place, the use of the extended time will automatically revert in September to the time configuration prior to 2014: 37.5 minutes on tutoring or small-group instruction after the regular workday, Monday through Thursday, in single-session schools.

Every school’s UFT consultation committee should meet with their school principal to discuss how their plans for next school year must change.

And now members are really, really worried.

What’s Missing?

When the DoE Calendar was released, that was Friday afternoon. The UFT leadership should have addressed members immediately:

The Department of Education today released a 2023-24 school calendar without giving any notice to our union or completing negotiations on the pilot workday agreement. That is not right. It is not collaborative. There are issues that should have been worked out with the UFT before releasing the calendar. We are studying the issue, and will write to you over the weekend once we have determined our best course of action.

(this is not what was written over Mulgrew’s signature)

Strong message. We just saw this. It’s not right. We are working on it. Hold tight, we will update you when we decide how to proceed. Instead, the leadership sat on the issue for 5 or so hours. Instead of reassurance from the leadership, members got silence.

Why? Our leadership never makes a mistake. Or at least never owns up to one. And our leadership never gets caught not knowing what to do. Or at least never owns up to not knowing. Better, in their minds, to leave teachers in the dark than to admit to being less than all-knowing.

By the way, this silence while the leadership was plotting? It also means that working teachers were not consulted about the plans.

This delays also means that while the DoE were horrible weasels for their Friday afternoon release, that the UFT leaders were actually worse, with emails arriving in members’ boxes 7, 8, 9PM on a Friday. Not good.

What Else is Missing?

There’s nothing in the email over Mulgrew’s signature about the calendar itself. This is certainly not the best calendar ever. Members think it’s pretty bad. I guess we can argue about fine details. But we certainly do not need to argue about snow days. The calendar does not need them. When schools don’t open teachers and students will Zoom. So why are there snow days in the calendar? Apparently that was not on the authors’ minds.

What Matters to Unity? What’s their strategy?

The DoE did not negotiate the workday options with the UFT. The leadership is pissed. And that’s what this email deals with.

It looks like they want Chapter Leaders (and committees) to push principals on this – with no UFT agreement there will be 4 days, 37½ minutes after school, and no other options. They want the UFT members to panic the principals. And they want the principals to lean on their superintendents to get this addressed.

Know What Else is Missing?

That’s the strategy. Go in to your principal. Make a fuss about 37½ minutes. Get the principal to make noise. Get the superintendents to ask the DoE to negotiate with UFT leadership. And get this fixed. But that’s not what the email says.

The email, sent after Friday’s happy hours were over, was written so that members think the 37½ minutes is done, that this is what will happen in September. Unity figures that teachers will engage with their principals with more passion if they think this is about to happen to them. Unity does not tell chapter leaders that this is a strategy. Unity does not trust members or chapter leaders, they do not draw members or chapter leaders into the decision-making process, and they do not share with members and chapter leaders what the actual strategy is.

Another Way?


  • Send an email at 3 – the calendar is out – they didn’t consult – we are not happy – snow days? there’s no reason – no pilot day bad.
  • Think it over. Bring chapter leaders into a bigger conversation about how to respond.
  • When ready, send a follow up email:

“The Department of Education today released a 2023-24 school calendar without giving any notice to our union or completing negotiations on the pilot workday agreement. That is not right. It is not collaborative. There are issues that should have been worked out with the UFT before releasing the calendar.

“1) There are too many days in this calendar – there is no need for snow days – we will attempt to address this directly with the Chancellor.

“2) There is no pilot day. The default would be the 37½ minutes – which we know many of our members, and many school communities do not want. We considered raising this directly with the Chancellor, but we are opting for a different approach.

“Every school’s UFT consultation committee should meet with their school principal to discuss the 37½ minutes – and how their plans for next school year would have to change. Your goal is to encourage your principal to contact their superintendent, looking for more options. We think this will lead the DoE to sit down and negotiate with us.

I continue to be amazed – I think Unity is wrong on many political issues – but why can’t they figure out how to communicate clearly and respectfully with Chapter Leaders and members?

Summary of Legal Filing to Save Medicare (NYC/UFT)

June 2, 2023 am30 8:37 am

On Wednesday, May 31 the NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees went to the Supreme Court of the State of New York to stop New York City from forcing its retirees off of Medicare and into an Aetna/CVS Medicare Advantage. (“supreme” sounds high – in New York it is not)

There is the case, and other filings, including a request for a temporary restraining order (TRO). Here is an excerpt/summary:

The City’s radical overhaul of Retiree healthcare is not just harmful, it is also unlawful. Although there are a dozen ways in which the City is violating the law (which are detailed in the Petition/Complaint), for the sake of judicial efficiency, we focus here on only five.

First, because the City clearly and unambiguously promised every Retiree that they would be entitled to City-funded Medicare-plus-supplemental insurance when they became Medicare-eligible, and because Retirees reasonably relied to their detriment on that promise, the City is estopped from denying them such insurance coverage now.

Second, because the City’s new healthcare policy will force Retirees with life-threatening illnesses whose doctors will not accept the Aetna MAP to either switch doctors mid-treatment or proceed without insurance coverage, it is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion, in violation of CPLR 7803(3).

Third, because the City will be diminishing the healthcare benefits provided to Retirees and the contributions made to their health insurance without similarly diminishing either the benefits or contributions for active employees, it is violating in two separate ways the Retiree Health Insurance Moratorium Act.

Fourth, because the City has changed the rules governing Retiree healthcare without complying with the procedures required under the City Administrative Procedure Act, its new healthcare policy is invalid.

And fifth, because the City is providing incomplete and inaccurate information about the Aetna MAP, Retirees cannot make an informed opt-out decision by the June 30 deadline.

The City is on the verge of stripping a quarter-million elderly and disabled Retirees of Medicare benefits they were promised and desperately need. Given the extreme suffering this will cause and Petitioners’ likelihood of success on the merits, this Court should temporarily enjoin the City’s new healthcare policy pending a decision on the merits. The City has provided, and Retirees have relied on, Medicare plus supplemental insurance for the past 57 years. This Court should maintain that critical status quo while this case proceeds.

Complete documentation accessible at

(this was distributed by Dave Newman to his West Midwood listserve – someone shared that posting on the Retiree Advocate listserve, which is where I took it from)

History of UFT Copays – Can You Help?

May 31, 2023 am31 10:48 am

How did they sneak in so many copays? I am hoping you have part of the answer…

Which copays were added, and when? Which were increased, and when? When did co-pays get increased on some providers, but not all?

I am focused today on GHI (Emblem) for in-service members. I think pre-Medicare retirees have the same package.

I have some of the records, and I want to write a piece. But I’m missing a lot.

Dear readers, can you help? Did you save notices of new copays, copay increases, changing rules for copays? They may have come above Mulgrew’s signature, or as an email from the Welfare Fund. They also may have been in Chapter Leader Updates, for anyone who saves those. I don’t recall emails from GHI, but there may have been. And there may have been letters from GHI.

My imperfect recollection is that they have snuck in a lot, piecemeal, over time. Let’s see if the documents bear this out.

Oh – big question – when did copays start? Were GHI copays there forever for members? I don’t think so.

An interesting aspect – the NY City code calls for cost-free, not premium-free, health care. We will come back to this.

Please leave information as comments on this post
Or, better, email me, Jonathan, at:
[this blog’s name] [dot] []
Forward me whatever you’ve got

Last week I wrote – I am paying A LOT in copays this year.

Here are some other bits I’ve written about copays:

A Better Tone

May 29, 2023 pm31 5:49 pm

The way Mulgrew talks at retirees – it doesn’t have to be that way. Scroll down for an alternative. Look at how patiently, how honestly the Professional Staff Congress helps its retirees with the difficult decision about whether to go with Aetna, or to choose traditional Medicare. Union leaders can treat members with empathy, and with respect. United Federation of Teacher Retirees should expect the same, should demand the same.

UFT Retirees have been getting messages with a “certain tone” from Mulgrew and from the UFT Retiree Teachers Chapter. Messages about health insurance. When they are selling something, they sell it hard, like they are fresh off a used car lot, bad suits and all. And they are selling Medicare Advantage hard.

They’ve won, for now, Mulgrew and the New York City Office of Labor Relations – they’ve won their fight against retirees. Unless something upends their plans, Medicare retirees will be forced off of traditional Medicare, real Medicare, September 1, 2023. So why are they still selling?

Today retirees are trying to decide if they will allow themselves to be moved into Mulgrew’s Aetna/CVS Medicare Advantage, or pay a fairly large amount to remain in traditional Medicare. The period to decide ends June 30, 2023, in just over a month. Going into Aetna happens automatically, unless the retiree acts.

And it is not an easy decision. There’s the politics of privatized Medicare, for sure. But there’s the money. Buying your own Medigap costs real money. And there’s the drug plan. And the City will stop providing Part B Reimbursements (I think). But there are issues of control of prior authorizations. And of which doctors take which plan. And of the cost of drugs. Not easy. Retirees who are 65 and over, many of them need help.

Help from the UFT? It’s still the hard sell. Why? Why so little respect for members? Why so little sympathy for the difficult choices retired teachers are trying to make?

Is there another way? Yes. Look at the following article from the Professional Staff Congress’s Retiree Newsletter. Here is the full newsletter. Please note – much of what Ms. Greenbaum writes is specific to PSC – we can only hope that the UFT leadership puts out something so clear, so empathetic, so understanding. But while we are hoping, let’s not hold our breath.

Joan Greenbaum, LaGuardia & GC

As we all know by now, June 30 is the last date to waive out of what is called the City of New York’s Aetna Medicare Advantage Plan. Many hope that this date itself will be waived away and/or a lawsuit will stop the implementation of this privatized plan. The PSC voted against the MLC’s approval of Medicare Advantage last summer and has garnered support with a coalition of unions that did so as well. So many of us have fought many battles up to this point and will continue to work with other groups fighting the City’s effort to reduce the benefits we were promised when we retired.

That said, however, as a union representing over 3,000 retiree members (and countless numbers of retirees who may have forgotten to pay retiree dues), we are obliged to review our options. The City will no longer pay for Senior Care (the Emblem supplemental plan to traditional Medicare), and this plan will cease to exist. On September 1 all NYC retirees who are Medicare eligible will be moved to Medicare Advantage, except for those who either “opt out” into the NYC HIP VIP plan (a Medicare Advantage HMO, but only for those who live in NYC and surrounding counties) or waive NYC retiree health coverage so they can continue to be covered by traditional Medicare. Estimated costs for Medigap policies to supplement Medicare, as Senior Care now does, will vary by state and other criteria. Not incidentally, waiving NYC coverage will also mean losing the Medicare Part B (& IRMAA, if applicable) reimbursement we receive annually from NYC.

These decisions are huge. Paying on one’s own for a Medigap policy similar to current Senior Care (Medigap Plan G) in New York City will cost at least $5,363 (including Part B premiums) per person/per year.

And there are other costs to consider, such as the possible loss of our Welfare-Fund benefits–drugs, dental, optical and hearing care, which the union is fighting to prevent. The PSC is still negotiating with CUNY to continue Welfare Fund benefits for those who waive NYC coverage. Clearly the City is spiking the deal to transfer almost all retirees to privatized Medicare Advantage.

Physically and emotionally the costs of these decisions may seem almost unbearable to many of us. For younger retirees who are in good health the situation may seem manageable for the time being. But for 2 those of us who have current health concerns and for the many who are octogenarians and older (we have over 20 members who are centenarians!), these seem like life and death decisions hanging in the balance. Questions that have been raised at our retiree meetings include: Will I be denied a needed procedure by Aetna? Will health benefits be seamless between August and September? What if I am already scheduled for a medical procedure or operation in early September? A drug I need is on a list requiring special approval; what will happen to me? And there are many, many more. These concerns cause anxiety and, for some, sleepless nights. There are no clear-cut answers at this time from Aetna or NYC. If you have specific questions about the coverage that will start on September 1st , call Aetna at 855-648-0389. Problems and questions about the transition should be addressed to the NYC Office of Labor Relations (OLR) 212-306- 7200.

While the PSC website is not a panacea for all that ails us now, you can find basic information there which retirees need to know, some guidance about how to make a decision, links to authoritative information, and answers to some of the many questions that keep coming up. As union representatives learn more details on these important questions, the website will be updated. Please keep it bookmarked for reference and help older members who may not be able to access or understand it.

And talk to your friends and colleagues, particularly those who may be retiring this year and haven’t been given these details. On a personal note, as I write this article, I have not yet decided what I am going to do; I’m at least waiting until I hear if we get to keep Welfare Fund benefits if we waive NYC coverage. We have until June 30th to decide and should make use of that time to learn as much as we can.


May 18, 2023 am31 1:02 am

Retired teacher here. NYC. UFT. GHI – not part of this Medicare mess – I’m too young. I know they’ve been sneaking in copays – but never like this before.

Just to be clear. New York City. United Federation of Teachers. GHI is now Emblem, the most popular insurance for teachers, including retired teachers (before Medicare) – with no premium.

So here’s the thing. When I’m asked to pay a copay, I’m getting medical service, which I need. I pay. And I know that I am paying more copays and higher copays, and I might make a point of them being too frequent or too much – still I pay them.

But $340 in 2023? The year’s not half done. Why am I paying so much in copays?

UFT members (in service and retired but not Medicare yet) – are you finding the same? Are you paying more copays? Are they adding up to much more than they used to?

Opt out of Aetna?

May 8, 2023 pm31 12:16 pm

“Should I opt out of Aetna?” – it’s a question I hear a lot. I think a lot of us are hearing it a lot.

Big hint: I am not going to answer the question in this post.

First, to be clear, it is not about me. I am not medicare-eligible. This will not be my choice.

Second, the way New York City Office of Labor Relations (OLR) set things up, they want you to “waive NYC health benefits” and they are reserving the phrase “opt out” to mean “choose HIP VIP, not Aetna/CVS Medicare Advantage.” This is confusing. And given OLR’s record, I think it is intentionally confusing.

“Should I opt out of Aetna?”
I don’t know.
Different people may have different answers

Third, it’s a really important question, whether to opt out (waive benefits) or not. Read on.

“Savings” means taking money and services from regular people – and transferring it to banks and big business.
“Savings” is horrible, national, and bipartisan

There is a large battle taking place in New York City right now. It is part of a battle taking place across the country.

The financial branch of New York City government (appointed, not elected, and tend to stay in power from administration to administration) wants to pay NYC workers, and people in general, less. They call denying funding, denying support, denying assistance to regular New Yorkers “savings.” What does that mean? They close a library for an extra day. That “saves” the cost of heating and the cost of paying the staff – so that the money can be shifted to a big real estate developer for a tax abatement (fancy name for a hand-out). NYC “saves” money by denying service so they can “shift” the money to a big company. From the point of view of regular New Yorkers, the City closes their library. (No savings, and a loss of service). From the point of view of the library staff, the City pays them less, or doesn’t hire additional staff. (Not a savings). Which is a long around way of explaining: New York City’s financial handlers want to SHIFT money away from regular people, HAND it to bankers or big business, and CALL that SAVINGS.

It’s not just NYC. This kind of reverse Robin Hood math is taking place across the country. It has been going on, sometimes more actively, sometimes in the background, for a good 40-45 years. The election of Reagan in 1980 was an ugly milestone on this path. A lot of “public good” – physical infrastructure, programs, etc – were put in place during the New Deal, and then the Great Society. And there were plenty of state and local initiatives from those same periods. And the banks and federal government, and state government, and local government have been working to undo much of that public good. Sometimes they nibble around the edges. And sometimes they aim at the heart.

Medicare and Medicare Advantage

Medicare is a case a point. And it’s the case we care deeply about, today, now, because it is being threatened. At the federal level, we can just about ignore Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott. His open threat to Medicare won’t fly, even among Republicans. But pay more attention to Trump’s initiative to switch seniors from Medicare to Medicare Advantage.

Pause for a second. Medicare Advantage is part of the same law that creates Medicare. So what’s the big difference? Well, Medicare Advantage was not part of the original law that created Medicare. Medicare Advantage (with a different name) shows up in 1997 (Clinton). It gets its name in 2003 (Bush). Under Trump there were several initiatives to shift people out of Medicare, into Medicare Advantage, including big financial incentives, for, say, a large municipal employer, like, perhaps, New York. And Biden has doubled down on the Trump regressive reforms.

Medicare Advantage is not Medicare. It is part of the same law, sure enough, but Medicare is publicly funded and administered health care for senior citizens – the Medicare Advantage plans are private. I am going to baldly assert here that the privatization of public services is a Bad Thing, without arguing that MA is worse for the individual than Medicare is. (Advantage IS worse, I’m just not laying out the case here).

New York City and “Savings”

So here’s our specific story. The feds will reward New York City’s financial agencies and their backers for “saving money” (shifting money out of the hands of regular folks, into the hands of big business) – specifically if this “shifting” (which they call “savings”) involves giving retirees less health care. And the NYC financiers, and their bargaining agents in the Office of Labor Relations found willing partners in some of the leaders of big municipal unions, including my UFT.

And so for the last two plus years, OLR and the Municipal Labor Coalition (MLC) have been trying to shift municipal retirees out of Medicare, into Medicare Advantage. Opposing them have been regular retirees. We have slowed them down, stalled them, diverted them. At times it looked like we had them beaten. We want to stop this “healthcare savings” (taking of money away from our health care). But they fought back. Dirty, and hard. Today OLR and the MLC and the UFT leadership – it looks like they are winning the battle with retirees. And retirees are currently scheduled to be shifted to Medicare Advantage on September 1 of this year.

Should you fight against the NYC implementation of Medicare Advantage?

Absolutely. I hope you have been part of the effort – lobbying city council, contacting your union leaders, getting the word out.

And it’s not done yet. In the coming days, or weeks, or months, there may be further opportunity to fight, to reverse the current situation.

This is a fight about principle. It is a fight about our own personal health. We should all have been part of it. We should be part of anything that comes next. We should be shouting “No to Aetna/CVS!”

Should you opt out of Aetna/CVS? (waive NYC health benefits)

So while you should be part of the big fight, you should also be looking out to protect yourself. September 1 – we might be able to stop it – but right now it’s looming. And the “opt out” or “waiver” period is now – May 1 – June 30.

I think the process is a mess. I just heard that OLR removed its old form and has put out a new one. Soon, I hope, the UFT leadership will issue some guidance on filling this out.

But that doesn’t get to the decision. For each of us (well, not me. For each medicare-eligible retiree), you need to be preparing to make a choice. It is a personal decision, based on what is best for your health care and your family’s health care. The fight to stop this thing is collective, social. But this moment, the choosing, has fallen unfairly on medicare-eligible retirees as individuals.

I wish I could offer advice. I don’t know that I can. You need to know which doctors will accept which coverage, and which networks and which hospitals. It would be useful if this information was widely shared – but if it is not, you will need to do your best to figure it out. There is information about copays and coverage. You will have to read some of it. There are rules about giving up NYC health benefits, and then claiming them again. (I think I know how that works, but want to be certain before writing). There are rules about giving up traditional Medicare and then trying to return to it. These rules have exceptions in four states – New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine (again, I want to be certain before writing). There is the cost of lost reimbursements. There is the cost of different Medigap plans.

And I’m not going to start on drugs today – although I have big questions about Aetna’s drug plan that I want to ask.

There is a lot to figure out. And the opt out period has 7½ weeks left. (unless it is delayed, which it should be, since even OLR knows its first form was bad. And all of us know that there is not yet enough information). But as of today, 7½ weeks left. You should be supporting efforts to stop this – but today, you should also be doing research on whether to let them switch you into Aetna/CVS City of New York Medicare Advantage, or whether to waive NYC Health Benefits.

If you decide to opt out of Aetna/CVS, when should you do it?

I got a strange comment here two days ago. I have been reporting on problems with the process. I have not encouraged anyone to opt out. But Marianne Pizzitola asked me to stop encouraging people to waive their benefits. To be clear – I have never written anything to encourage anyone to waive their benefits.

You SHOULD be doing your research. But there is potentially more information coming. There is potential to delay the process. There may even be the possibility of upending this process. So do your research, but, if you decide that waiving benefits is your choice, I would recommend you wait before filing. Not until the last day – who knows what will go wrong with the form or the website or the phones – but until later in these 7½ weeks, to let any developments that may be coming, actually develop, and to avoid prematurely cutting off options.

Studying in Retirement – “Metrics”

May 7, 2023 am31 11:54 am

I am taking Point Set Topology. This is, for me, challenging math, and I’m liking it.

Last fall was my first “term” of retirement. (I was on terminal leave). In many ways it felt like an extended summer vacation. Fun. At first. But it got long.

So for the spring I committed to create a schedule for myself.

  • I was looking at forming a math reading group.
  • I wanted to pick up work one or two days a week – work with kids and math.
  • I wanted to regularize reading (I’d almost completely stopped reading my last years of teaching).
  • I wanted to regularize walking.
  • And I wanted to take courses – when I was on sabbatical a decade ago, I loved being a student again.

I had partial success.

  • Sue and I formed a reading group, which I have enjoyed, but has been irregular. I will try again, soon, to create a slightly larger group.
  • I didn’t get work for the spring, but landed something I am really interested in for the summer.
  • Reading has been mixed. I AM reading much more – both books, and making progress in my magazines (New Yorker, Economist, Scientific American) – but I have not succeeded in making a regular time – and I am uneven. I’ll take the progress, and work on more.
  • Walking has been good. I am out most days. There are hikes. There’s loops around the neighborhood (usually around the reservoir). And there’s days in the New York Botanical Gardens (the grounds are free to Bronx residents.) And there’s days in Van Cortlandt Park, which I love.
  • And I signed up for a course. Turned out to be a math course, Point Set Topology, at Queens College.

I scrambled in January – I got back from a trip January 6, and courses were starting in a few weeks. Out of lack of imagination, I chose mathematics. Cost pushed me to CUNY. I was divided between Lehman for distance and Queens for course offerings – and Queens was where I’d been on sabbatical. In fact, I’d forgotten, Queens had admitted me to their masters program. Now, do I want to earn another masters? I don’t know. But it made registration easy.

I love being a student. I like sitting in class. I do not have most of the right answers. This is challenging for me. But I get some of it right. There’s actually a freshman (this is mixed graduate/undergraduate) who runs rings around us (rings in the “runs rings” expression sense, not in the math sense, where I know what a ring is, but don’t know how to run one). A few weeks ago me and two people around my level formed an open study group – and it is nice to hang out in the library after class, and slowly go over ideas and problems.

Also, this is Queens College. The class, and the study group, are integrated. We have a fascinating mix of backgrounds. It reminds me of the high school I worked at, when it was just starting (not like today).

I’d love to tell you about the course. I got an okay grade on the first quiz. A perfect grade on the second. But if you’ve taught, you know. Getting a high grade << Being able to explain. And I am laser-focused on not being able to explain what Point Set Topology is. It is a goal. I cannot do it here, today. I mean, I could use the right words, maybe, and a math person would understand, and assume I really knew what I was talking about. But no, they would be filling in the blanks. I am not ready. I am not there.

But a few weeks ago we ran into a topic that I really did understand. So I’m going to share that with you.


Think of distance as a function – the input is two places – the output is a number – the distance between the places. “How far is it from the movie theater to the liquor store?” – we have “how far” and two places, the movie theater and the liquor store.

OK, good enough for math people? Nope.

Abstract rules (axioms)

First they need some abstract rules. And they always start with the things that are so obvious that there’s no proof of them. Math people call these “axioms.” And for distance they come up with three of them, plus an obvious fact.

  • Obvious fact: Distance is never negative.
  • Rule 1 without proof: If the distance between two places is 0, then they must be the same place.
  • Rule 2 without proof: The distance from home to work is the same as the distance from work to home (or whatever two places you want, they don’t need to be home and work)
  • Rule 3 without proof: The distance from home to work to the bar has to be the same as or more than the distance from home straight to the bar (could be from school to the skate park to your friend’s house, or really any three points)

I see other people describe these or break them up a little differently. I wonder what’s that about – although small differences do seem to crop up among math people about a wide range of things.

Not just distance, “Metric”

Math people need this to be more general. So I write distance(theater to store) = 8 blocks, or d(x,y) = 7 and say “the distance from x to y is 7”.

And we call a function that follows the same rules as distance “a metric.”

“Metric” sounds like “metric system” – and for good reason. “Metric” means of or related to the either the metric system, or measurement in general.

By the way, I am writing “distance” – but I mean regular, normal distance. Math people call this Euclidean distance or the Euclidean metric. I think when I come back to writing about this topic (I will!) I’ll start with Euclidean distance. (which is just regular distance).

“Not My King” – too easy?

May 6, 2023 pm31 11:28 pm

He’s not. Charles is an oafish doof. And not my king.

New Haven (my hometown) folk have had issues with kings named Charles. The first Charles – New Haven gave food and shelter to his executioners. We named streets after them. And we named other stuff after them too. I grew up there, without a king, and definitely without a king Chuck.

Three lived in New Haven: Whalley, bottom of the first column, right under his cousin, Oliver Cromwell. His son-in-law Goffe, third in the third column. And a minister, John Dixwell, next to last in the fifth column. They came to New Haven after having made sure that Charles I was nobody’s king.

The monarchy has not really held power since Charles I’s head rolled – but they have remained a symbol for the empire – including colonialism, slavery, exploitation, expropriation, theft of national legacies, imperialism.

Britain’s crimes continue. The lame argument that this is ancient history. When Elizabeth heard that her father had died, in 1952, she was in Kenya:

“During her reign, British soldiers committed widespread atrocities against Kenyans at the height of Mau Mau uprising between 1952 and 1960. Roughly 1.5 million people were forced into concentration camps where they were subjected to torture, rape and other violations.”

Ireland. Falklands. Junior partners to the US in Iraq, Afghanistan… Britain has troops in over 40 countries today – second only to the United States. And these exercises in neo-colonialism? In the name of the Queen. And now in the name of her son.

The waste of money on useless parasites bothers me. But just a little. The medieval ceremonies – the carriages and ridiculous clothing? The hearkening back to feudal times and lords and ladies (with most people peasants) – not something we should be looking to. Not my king.

What about us, at home?

But that’s easy. It’s easy sitting in the United States to poke fun at Charles the Gallant and his funny hat. What about our own archaic relics? Our symbols of an evil past? Our current antiquated institutions?

Now some will jump right on the Electoral College. And I agree, antiquated. But, if you were one of the people who went there – easy – too easy. Do you want to get rid of it because it is anachronistic and tied to the legacy of slavery? or because it helped Trump win in 2016? Don’t answer.

If we want to get rid of something outdated and backward with a reactionary history, try the states. Why do we have 50 states, with different laws, different education systems, different voting rules, different environmental rules, hell, different traffic rules? Why cross the border into Connecticut and pay different taxes. Or into New Jersey and lose rights around health care. Or into Massachusetts and into a better educational system. These are not separate countries – why should crossing from one to another entail changes like crossing a real border, except for passport?

Sovereign states have led to a war, and are leading the charge against abortion. There’s really no reason for them. They are not as embarrassing as Charles, but close enough.

Spring Blog Cleaning – Plus an Image Quiz

May 5, 2023 pm31 6:15 pm

In 17 years, this blog has accumulated quite a lot of “stuff.”

Blogging a bunch

I started writing in 2006. There was lots of union stuff, and math teaching and math puzzles, and some travel, and movies, and… well, a lot. And in 2007 I posted over 400 times. In 2008 and 2009 almost as much. I was getting some attention – from math education and puzzle people, from UFT people. The Manhattan Users Guide wrote a blurb about me. Some of my content got debated. My guide to Bronx high schools to avoid got lots of attention.

Petering Out

In 2010 my posting fell off – two reasons. First, as a co-coordinator of a UFT caucus I did not want my blog voice to contradict the caucus. And second, my involvement publicizing the abuse of teachers in Bronx Science led me to receive indirect threats that I could face discipline over my blogging; this did not stop me from writing, but did make me cautious, in a way that slowed down my writing. From 2012 – 2016 I was writing maybe 30 – 70 times a year. And in 2017, 18 and 19 – combined – there were 41 posts – barely one per month. If I couldn’t write, the thought occurred to me more than once, maybe I should formally shut it down.

Honestly, I shouldn’t have been scared by the implicit threats. And by the beginning of 2019 I had stopped working with New Action. But I was still barely posting. And that’s where I was when 2020 rolled around.

I’m back

Then the pandemic hit. Which gave me time. And motivated me to write. I was writing things that others were not. About policy – Mulgrew supporting Cuomo against de Blasio. The DoE not having a clue. About safety. About reopening. About scheduling a school. I was very busy in the first few months of COVID, and then a bit less, but this blog was breathing again. Another surge of writing around the UFT election. And again around the battle in the New York City Council, with the UFT leadership on one side, and the retirees on the other.

The Future?

I’m retired, but I’d like to keep involved with the union, and with union politics. And writing about those things. I have not gotten back to writing about mathematics and teaching math and puzzles, but that’s on my mind. And other things. Big Politics. Travel.

Now? Some cleaning

Through the years, I developed quite a blog roll. That’s the list on the right side, below the list of current posts. Those are blogs (and other websites) that you can click to right from here. Now, some blog rolls are quite selective. I once had a blogger write about the selective blog rolls, and the other kind, the kitchen sink blog rolls. I was his example of the kitchen sink.

Not only was my blog roll bloated, but it was, well, old. I hadn’t really maintained it since 2012. Actually, not sure I didn’t any real maintenance since 2007. In any case, this week I found the controls, and I dug in. There were pages that no longer existed. There were blogs that had been removed by their owners. There were pages that were now private. Several pages – the domains were now for sale. Others had been purchased – a gambling site, some sort of scam site… And there were quite a few that had not been updated since 2009.

So I removed the clearly dead, missing, and deleted blogs. I deleted most of those that had gone long without updates. But I didn’t prune for “relatedness” or anything like. I cut more than half, and it’s still badly bloated. 65 links. There needs to be a lot more pruning.

One link I added was for Retiree Advocate / UFT, a caucus I have recently gotten involved with. There’s a little bit to read there – take a look: Retiree Advocate.

Image Quiz

  • What is this?
  • Where was it taken?
  • Bonus point: anything particularly interesting about it? Think trivia.

And, should I keep it? I have better photos, but this one has been there for so long…

The process for avoiding Aetna IS tricky

May 4, 2023 pm31 5:25 pm

It turns out, NYC retirees really are confused about how to avoid being placed into Medicare Advantage. Read on.

New York City municipal retirees will be moved to Aetna/CVS Medicare Advantage CONY September 1, unless they opt out, which the NYC Office of Labor Relations calls a decision to “Waive (terminate) City health benefits.”

I described yesterday that the process was confusing for several reasons:

  • Calling it “waive” instead of “opt-out” is confusing. The form also says at the top that it is not an opt-out form.
  • The form was hard to follow, with key text buried, and things that should go together listed separately.
  • The explanatory page was laid out strangely, losing the opt out (waive benefits) part in the text, making harder to find than necessary.
  • Requiring a two step process is unreasonably complicated.

I should add “terminate” benefits sounds permanent. It is not. But the mechanics of leaving the NYC benefit system and coming back should best be left for another time, and probably another author. For now, OLR used the word “terminate” on the form to describe an action that is not permanent, which is misleading.

But let’s look at that last one. I described a two step process for avoiding Aetna Medicare Advantage. Check off the waiver box on the form. And call Aetna.

Was I correct? I had four sources for this (some overlap, but essentially two completely independent sources). I felt confident writing what I wrote.

But in the last 24 hours I’ve gotten a bucket-load of comments and correspondence, claiming I (and indirectly, my sources) had misread, and that the call to Aetna is not required.

That smart and well-meaning people are giving me different answers – it is quite clear that half of them are certain that they are correct, but are actually wrong. It is the process, the form, and the OLR explanation which is at fault.

Was there intent to confuse?

People often want to assume good faith. But this is the New York City Office of Labor Relations. We know enough about them and what they do to be naturally suspicious.

  1. The mistakes on the form, the confusing language, the capitalization errors, the bad spacing on the explanatory page, the ambiguity about the process (which may be a two step process) these may have resulted from rushed, sloppy work.
  2. The mistakes on the form, the confusing language, the capitalization errors, the bad spacing on the explanatory page, the ambiguity about the process (which may be a two step process) these may have resulted from incompetence or a lack of concern about ease of use.
  3. The mistakes on the form, the confusing language, the capitalization errors, the bad spacing on the explanatory page, the ambiguity about the process (which may be a two step process) these may have been intended to frustrate people trying to opt-out, in order to reduce the number of opt-outs.

I could be convinced of any of these, but I lean to #3. I think OLR wants as many people as possible in the Aetna/CVS Medicare Advantage. And I know from other dealings with OLR that there is very little that is beneath them.

OLR makes avoiding Aetna/CVS Medicare Advantage tricky

May 3, 2023 pm31 1:05 pm

[Note – There is a dispute about an important detail in this post. I have received comments saying that the call to Aetna IS necessary, and others that say the call to Aetna IS NOT necessary. Until I have a definitive answer, I will leave the post as is. It is, in the absence of a definite answer, safer to call than not to call – jd]

The battle over Medicare Advantage in NYC may be coming to a close. On September 1, municipal retirees who are Medicare-eligible will be shifted to the Aetna/CVS Medicare Advantage Plan. Unless…

That “unless” should be straightforward. But it’s not.

Unless they opt out. But the City has defined “opt out” to mean “switch to HIP VIP.” That is counterintuitive language. Instead, retirees who wish to opt out should “waive city benefits.”


Is there a form to “waive city benefits”? Sure. Right here. But notice, it says at the top “This is not an Opt-out form.” Is it just me, or is that intended to be confusing. In fact, the whole form looks more confusing than necessary. But at least a retiree just has to fill out the form and that’s it? Nope. There’s more.

A quick grammar-related excursion: the spelling of “Opt-out Form” including the hyphen and the capitalization is, well, weird. And if you want to insist that “Opt-out Form” is fine, or even normal, and that I should not question the smarter-than-me geniuses at OLR, look at the start of the sentence below the line: “Only Complete this application for any of the following reasons:” See that? Capital randomly appearing mid-sentence? Not sure how the author could have become an Ivy genius if they couldn’t have passed a third grade capitalization quiz. (Did they have those? Do they still? I don’t think I ever took a Capitalization Quiz.)

Aside from filling out the “Retiree Special Enrollment/Waiver Form” a medicare-eligible retiree seeking to avoid Aetna Medicare Advantage would have to call Aetna, or contact them online. See, it says so: “… you must contact Aetna directly…” It is the sentence after they write “This is not an Opt-out form.”

To “opt out” (which they call “waive city benefits”) a retiree would have to do both:

  • Fill out this form, and check off Part 3
  • AND contact Aetna by phone or online.

Doing one without the other won’t cut it.

Explanation Page

OLR actually has a page that purports to explain. It is called Responsibilities and Health Benefits Assistance. Here’s the key paragraph:

Retirees who do not wish to be enrolled in the Aetna Medicare Advantage PPO Plan or HIP VIP can waive City health coverage. Retirees must complete the Health Benefits Program Retiree Special Enrollment/Waiver Form to waive City health coverage. Completed forms should be returned to the Health Benefits Program….

Notice what’s missing? They don’t mention that you need to contact Aetna. Now, when you fill the form, if you carefully read the heading, you might notice. But I’m not sure that everyone will.

It gets worse. Here’s how the page looks:

See it? There’s a subheading for opting out of Aetna and going to HIP VIP, but there’s no subheading for opting out of Aetna and waiving City coverage.

See what else? New ideas are introduced with a larger space between paragraphs. There is not a larger space before the paragraph that explains how to opt out and waive City coverage.

OLR tries to trick our members

It is clear that the City has intentionally made it tricky to opt out

  • They call it “waiving benefits” instead of opting out.
  • The opt-out form says “This is not an Opt-out form.”
  • The instructions to contact Aetna on the form are not where we would expect them (part 3, with the waiver), but “hidden in plain sight” in a block of white on black text, after a discouraging sentence.
  • Next to the “waiver” there is no “hint” that Aetna must also be called.
  • Next to the “call Aetna” part there is no hint that the “waiver” must also be checked off.
  • The explanation page does not have a subhead for waiving coverage.
  • The explanation page does not help the reader find the paragraph on waiving coverage, but spaces the paragraphs inappropriately.
  • The explanation page does not indicate that the retiree must contact Aetna to waive coverage.

Look – I’m not advising anyone to opt out, or not opt out. Or waive, or not waive. Or whatever they want to call it. But for retirees who decided they don’t want Aetna, it looks damn clear that OLR has created an unnecessary two-step process to trip people up. It also is damn clear that OLR has organized the page and the form to obscure information, to maximize the chance that a retiree seeking to avoid Medicare Advantage makes a mistake.


UFT leaders, these are your members. They are not trying to violate the law. They are not trying to violate the contract. I know you would prefer that they get moved into Medicare Advantage – we’ve had a 2+ year fight over that – but now this is endgame – this is not the fight over setting up an MA.

These are your members. And they are attempting to exercise their rights. And the OLR is trying to trick them, block them, cause them to make mistakes. You have an obligation to your members.

  • The two-step process for avoiding Medicare Advantage is unnecessary. There should be one step a member needs to take. You should address this immediately with OLR.
  • OLR has issued a form that is counter-intuitive and that does not plainly give instructions. You should address an immediate revision of the form with OLR.
  • OLR’s instruction page has been organized to confuse members seeking to avoid Medicare Advantage. You should address an immediate revision of that page with OLR.

And if it takes OLR unreasonably long to make these changes, you must appeal to extend the “opt out” period past June 30.

In the interim, you should immediately set up a hotline for members seeking to avoid Medicare Advantage, helping them navigate this unnecessarily confusing process.

Again, you may not agree with the choice that some members are making – but these are your members, and they are making a legitimate choice, they are violating no rules or laws.

You have an obligation to represent us. All of us. Live up to it.

Being Retired – RTC meeting – info – Retiree Advocate

May 2, 2023 pm31 3:19 pm

Yesterday I went to my third Retired Teachers Meeting. I have class at Queens College, so I signed on remotely. It’s better in person. I like seeing people and talking to people. And I know if I have questions, I’ll find someone who can either answer it, or direct me to the right person. Last month I was in person. It was a lot more fun.

Plus, I had to sign off yesterday too early, so I missed most. I heard a presentation on avoiding on-line fraud. Then my class started.

There was a protest, one person held up one small sign, against Mulgrew’s Aetna/Medicare Advantage deal. The protest almost failed – no one at home could see them, almost no one (I learned later) in the room noticed them. But Tom Murphy to the rescue! He freaked out, screaming about the sign and demanding the member be removed from the hall – notifying everyone that there was a protest. Except me, I’d already signed off. But then I got texted (by someone who is NOT an opposition person) letting me know.

Getting Information

I stopped working in July, but only officially retired at the start of January. Being retired takes some work! And a lot of the work involves figuring out how to get good information.

I have had questions about health insurance (not this Medicare Advantage stuff, I’m too young), drug coverage, SHIP, Si Beagle. There are benefits, and I want to use them correctly. And I THINK I am figuring stuff out, but I don’t want to miss something, miss filing some form, and lose out on a benefit or a reimbursement, etc. Also, there’s retiree stuff, like recommendations for specialists, ideas about vacations, and how to get discounts.

Welfare Fund – mixed results. Even before I was officially retired, I’d had to reach out personally to get an issue resolved. And they were resolved. But the WF intentionally did not announce an increase in copays last fall. In retirement I had one question that got run through the Welfare Fund, and I got a completely wrong answer (later resolved, but not by the WF).

Main UFT number for retirees – they have to stop asking to update all my records before they will process a call. I don’t get why anyone puts up with the “call center.”

Pension – nothing but class here. Good, solid information. And follow up calls to make sure I was satisfied with the assistance I’d received.

Friends – this is hard. Some know the answers. Some think they know the answers. Everyone WANTS to be helpful. I’ll navigate better, with time.

UFT Official Retiree Facebook. OMG, the worst. The administrators have blocked me from asking questions, given me wrong information, stopped me from commenting, and refused to tell me who they are. I would have figured that this was a good place to get general pointers, and a good source for “who should I call if I have issue X?” But today, nope. This group should change its name, and let the RTC open a real Official UFT Retirees page. This one is an embarrassment.

Do I have a pension?

No. But soon. In the interim, I’m getting a check.

The check I am getting is called an “advance payment.” While they (TRS) are calculating my actual pension, they send me intentional underpayments, so that I am getting something. As far as I can tell, these payments are between 72% and 79% of what my pension will eventually be. It’s been enough to get by.

But it’s a little weird that it takes so long. I filed in December for a January 3 retirement. Advanced payments started February 28. And it looks like I’ll start with the actual pension May 31 (I hope). Taking five months seems like a lot. Except, it’s not really a problem. Just weird.

Once the pension starts, they will calculate the amount I should have been getting, and they will make the difference.

Also, once the pension starts, I should be looking for my first CAR payment – the sick days (half) and vacation days (all) that I had left when I filed. Those, afaik, come in three payments. I’m not sure how long I’ll wait for the first. Again though, not a problem. They will be nice as they arrive.

Back to the advanced payments/pension – these have many fewer deductions than my paycheck used to. Federal Taxes. UFT dues. Drug rider. That’s it. In fact, my net is over 80% of my gross. When I was teaching it was, depending on the year, and if I’d ramped up my TDA, I don’t know, 50%?

Chaz used to write about this stuff. I think many of us miss him, and his writing.

Retiree Advocate / UFT

I stopped working with New Action (over four years ago). Through writing and meeting I have had some contact with NAC, and with MORE, but I have not joined a caucus. During last year’s election campaign I got involved in the opposition coalition, and became the candidate for HS Vice President. (in the end, we won the 7 high school seats. And in my race, I won more high school votes than my opponent, but through rigged rules, lost the election).

In any case, I retired. And there is a retiree organization within the Retired Teachers Chapter that stands for more member voice and more progressive policies, and, frankly, for protecting retirees better. That is Retiree Advocate / UFT, and I joined, and have been participating.

Retiree Advocate has a website (it’s a work in progress). Take a look. It’s

Goodbye, Andy. NYSUT RA. Where’s the UFT?

May 1, 2023 am31 1:24 am

The New York State United Teachers leadership – the Representative Assembly, met this weekend. They passed a series of education-positive resolutions, and heard a bunch of speeches. This was, as far as I know, a feel good affair this year, with no major disagreements among delegates. That’s not a knock on the RA. I like those feel-good resolutions, and probably some of the speeches. Hell, I’d’ve liked being there, except, you know… My local, the UFT, uses winner-take-all elections to shut out anyone with a different opinion.

Andy Pallotta

The biggest news might have been the official retirement of Andy Pallotta, NYSUT President. You might have issues with Pallotta. He supported Unity, which I oppose. But within Unity there are people I like. He was one of them.

Andy was a District Rep in the Bronx when I was starting out. I appreciated the way he spoke to me. And he knew that I strongly supported doing more work in the field, and shared with me on several occasions how frequently he got into his schools. This is District 10, the Bronx, a huge district. Do I know how he was in the schools? No, though I assume he was better than just ok. But I know that his intentions were to get to where the members were, and those intentions are important.

One day he was organizing a march and rally to save a local middle school, and I joined it, not because it was my highest priority, but because Andy asked me. And it may not have been the best march I was on, it was pretty good, but for the UFT it had a damned good slogan: “Shut Down Klein, Not 399.” After Andy went to Albany, when I ran into him, I tried to bring him some update on one or another of his old District 10 schools (not such a stretch, since I live in the middle of the district.)

In NYC today UFT District Reps are the connection between the top leadership and the chapter leaders. They mostly answer to Mulgrew, and give directions to chapter leaders.

But NYSUT is different. It has a large bureaucracy (really, staff), but NYSUT RESPONDS to local presidents. As NYSUT President, Pallotta represented locals throughout the state. And Andy was good at being responsive to locals. This is a combination of structural (NYSUT is more responsive) and individual (Andy, even in the UFT, was more responsive than most DRs). This meant that NYSUT did things that the UFT does not, and projected a more “union” attitude. Over the years I have noted differences in endorsements, in openness, in supporting opt-out, and more. And during the pandemic, Andy’s NYSUT got the messaging better than Mulgrew’s UFT.

To read the article and play the video: Andy Pallotta delivers farewell address at

I wished Andy well months ago when I heard he was retiring, and I do so again, today. Good for him, these last six years, and leaving on his own terms.

Jolene DiBrango, NYSUT Executive VP, is also leaving. I can’t figure out if she is retiring or stepping down, but I think the latter. The little I’ve seen of her, she’s been a fine VP. And, like Pallotta, she was a real local leader. Unlike him, it was in a small district, and she spent a bigger share of her time before NYSUT in a classroom.

Net Minus

I underline that both Jolene and Andy were local leaders who were responsible to their members, and local leaders. They were elected to local positions (with the UFT it’s more complicated, since Unity suspended the election of District Reps, but I think Andy was an elected chapter leader, and he may have been elected DR before Randi pulled the plug on elections). But ok, both local leaders, both served members directly, both had significant classroom experience.

I am disappointed that their replacements, one never worked as a teacher, the other never served as a leader, neither has been directly responsible to the people they serve. Which makes it likely that they will misunderstand service – and think that local presidents and NYSUT members serve the NYSUT officers, and not the other way around. Melinda Person, new NYSUT president, worked in government and then political action for NYSUT. She’s never been a local president, district rep, chapter leader, or teacher. Jaime Ciffone, new executive vice president, was a teacher for a few years (less than ten minutes from my house, but District 11, not Andy’s district) before getting a Teachers Center job, also was never an elected leader, not a chapter leader, not a district rep. It’s as if the people making these choices went out of their way to devalue teaching and local leadership experience. Disappointing.


I don’t have a list, but from social media, it appears, embarrassingly, that in the spirit of devaluing the classroom, the UFT’s delegation was disproportionately full time union staff. I’ve talked about this before.

In the recent election, when I pointed out how few full-time teachers Unity was running for executive board, Unity got worked up. But that was a few seats. The NYSUT RA is a huge delegation – and teachers – again, from social media posts – seem to be a tiny minority. But looking at delegations from other locals – nope. It’s not “but everyone does this” – this devaluing of teaching is a UFT issue. And the Unity delegates who are still teachers – most seem to have some sort of union part time job – looking for full time. For me a union is something important, something I am part of, something I participate as part of. I never saw it as a path out of the classroom. I guess I was never really “Unity material.”

Along with that comes another problem. Assembled in Albany, at the RA, were UFT staff, UFT representatives. But many of them, not all, but some, maybe most – they call themselves “the UFT” – as if the UFT were the non-teachers in the offices, and the members are somehow below them. That’s a bad take, a bad way to think.

At the DA, or the Exec Board, members ask “what will the union do about this [whatever situation they just described]” And Mulgrew or whoever will chide them for asking what the union will do “You are the union.” In theory this is true. But in practice, it’s not how they act, not how they speak. And it’s been a problem for a long long time. Here’s the first time I wrote about it – the Bronx Office, by itself, chanting “who are we? UFT!” – no, no, no, you are staff. The UFT is the members. And they are not here.

I wish we saw some effort within Unity to reorient towards the schools. Is there any movement to recenter the work of our union around in-service members? What is the role of teachers, today, in this teachers union?

Where’s the UFT?

A few score staffers, and a handful of teachers, spend the weekend up in Albany, listening to speeches, and having a drink. They are by the rules our representatives. But they are not us. The UFT, in the majority, is at home, end of the weekend, hopefully having relaxed, getting ready for work Monday.

Remember Hochul’s LaSalle Nomination?

April 29, 2023 pm30 5:38 pm

The New York State Budget has dominated Albany reporting the last few weeks. A budget deal was reached Thursday. I’m not going to run the details – but it’s a good moment to step back.

Framing the budget as a “win” or a “loss” misses something – since last summer there’s been a major power play – Hochul vs progressives – that’s been playing out, in front of us, in real time.

Background – Cuomo, anti-progressive bully

Before Hochul, Andrew Cuomo governed by intimidation – that’s true. He was a bully. Petty, mean, made you feel his power (just like he made so many people feel his hands creeping over them). But Cuomo also governed by forging a coalition – Republicans, center (anti-progressive) Democrats, real estate developers, prosecutors. Cuomo thrived with a divided legislature – Democrats in the Assembly, Republicans in the Senate. And when Democrats won the Senate, Cuomo contrived to shift a few Democrats to ally with the Republicans to keep control in Republican hands. That’s what the IDC was.

By the time he resigned in disgrace, Cuomo was leaning heavily on real estate money and bullying. His IDC project had been thoroughly defeated. But he left us with, among other things, a court system littered with his appointees – many of them anti-defendant, anti-tenant – including a bloc of four judges who controlled the Court of Appeals (New York State’s highest court).

To think about – this can happen in New York. It really happened. But was it a fluke? New York State is very “blue” (votes Democratic). But New York State is not very progressive. The Cuomo coalition remains at least potentially viable – and is an ongoing problem for New Yorkers who want to make the state a better place.

Background – Court of Appeals

The control of the Court of Appeals is a big deal, even if most New Yorkers have never heard of any of the seven judges. And Cuomo’s four were making a mess for decent people. Aside from countless decisions in favor of big real estate interests, and against civil rights and due process, the court, the New York State Court of Appeals, Cuomo’s court – had a major role in striking down New York’s redistricting plan – which contributed to the Democrats losing four seats in NY State, and handing Republicans control of the House of Representatives in Washington. Cuomo’s court did that.

Chief Judge was Janet DiFiore, who resigned suddenly last summer, under an ethics probe. And that’s where the story begins.

DiFiore’s Replacement

Legislators and progressives approached now Governor Hochul. They did not tell her who to nominate for Chief Judge, only that it should not be a prosecutor. Bail reform may have been foremost on their minds. And image. Bail reform is a big deal – cash bail leads rich people to post bond to stay out of prison – but cash bail can leave poor people stuck in jail – which can lead to lost jobs and other hardships. It can have longterm and catastrophic consequences. It is punishment on an allegation, and on the whim of a judge. And cash bail falls disproportionately on Black and brown defendants. So the “not a prosecutor” ask was meaningful

Elections November 2022

As the elections approached, Lee Zeldin’s republican campaign, with racist dogwhistles, was gaining strength. Hochul actually turned to progressives – who she had quietly shunned – to get them to help her get out the vote. We saw AOC campaigning with the governor on the last day. Looking back, the Working Families Party seems to have helped save Hochul’s ass.

In the event, Hochul won, although a surprisingly small 6 point victory. But it was hollow. The GOP took all four Long Island house seats, and several other seats (prominently a mid-Hudson one). They would not have taken the House of Representatives back from the Democrats without their sweep in New York State.


As an immediate sop, Hochul approved a raise for law-makers. And now, having leaned on progressives to eke out a win, reputation damaged by the unimpressive vote, but feeling good about raises, she turned to the vacant chief judge of the court of appeals.


Recall, legislators had not specified who they wanted, just not a prosecutor. Certainly Hochul was thinking about that when she nominated Hector LaSalle, a former prosecutor.

The reaction was immediate, and fierce. One after another Democratic state senator declared they would be voting no in committee. The committee vote was shaping up to bad for LaSalle. And then the Democratic conference added a few new members to the Judiciary Committee – all anti-LaSalle. It looked like this one was sealed.

The opposition seized on an article about three bad LaSalle decisions: wrong on a labor issue, wrong on an abortion issue, wrong on procedure. With time more problematic decisions turned up – not a surprise. These included issues of immigration, victim’s rights, consumer rights, civil rights, and prosecutorial misconduct. And that last one was the real point: people seemed to be arguing about anecdotes – there were plenty of bad anecdotes – but they were really arguing over whether they wanted a prosecutor as chief judge.

With the Judiciary Committee opposed (confirmed by a 10 – 2 vote, with 7 not recommending) the story would have seemed to be over. Not so fast. The governor and the Republicans acted separately to bring LaSalle to a floor vote.

New York State Constitution

This section is garbage. There was a phony constitutional battle. Does the NY State Constitution say that every candidate gets a vote of the full senate, even if rejected in committee? Every single person arguing yes was actually in favor of LaSalle. Every single person arguing no was opposed to LaSalle. This is garbage. It is fake. No one believed what they were saying. Everyone just wanted to win.

However, some Republican got the case brought to a Republican judge, and it was going to go well for Hochul and LaSalle, and poorly for progressives. Before the case could be heard the NY State Senate held a quick full floor vote, and rejected LaSalle 39-20.


Hochul nominated Rowan Wilson to move from associate judge to chief judge in early April. Rowan was one of the liberal judges on the court, keeping the balance 3-3. Hochul simultaneously nominated Caitlin Halligan to be the sixth associate. Halligan will likely fall dead center, so 3-1-3. This was not what Hochul wanted – the Democrats in the Senate stopped her – but it was less than they thought was possible.

Albany watchers have noted that this was a war that Hochul chose. And if the initial choice had been a stumble, she had plenty of opportunity to undo it. Instead she went all in. And it turned out, on the nomination, to be a real loss for her. On the other hand, if her goal was to signal to the human filth that loved Cuomo that she would fight just as dirty, this might be in the longterm a win for Hochul.

Indeed, in the aftermath we learned that Michael Bloomberg is now in Kathy Hochul’s corner, with wallet open. The New York Times gives her its full-throated support. And Republicans are not speaking about her as if she were THEIR standard bearer. Seriously, let Kathy get “handsy” with a few aides and no one would know that Andrew Cuomo had ever left the Governor’s Mansion.

The Budget

I said I was not going to analyze the state budget (just concluded) but can I suggest that we look at it through a “LaSalle” lens.

There were so many items in dispute, but this story suggests that bail reform was central. I know that those who followed some other issue (lots of teachers looking at charter schools) may disagree – but bail reform is the one point that shows up in each confrontation between Hochul and the progressives, it is the connection between each of the fights.

The Bloomberg/NY Times narrative is that bail reform lost votes. That’s Hochul’s position. Lee Zeldin campaigned on it. But what the Times and Hochul and Cuomo leave out is that Zeldin’s appeal was pretty blatantly racist. Of course the Times is for ending racism, but not now. The Times is always in the “not now” crowd. Bloomberg too. Not now. Not ever.

This was the heart of the LaSalle fight, and the budget fight.

In both cases Hochul failed to defeat the progressives. But in both cases she got something. This may be a bruising few years in Albany.

Notes from the last week, April 9-16, 2023

April 16, 2023 am30 11:09 am

I write, when I write, blog posts focused on one topic. But sometimes I go for a while without writing. Today I’m trying to leave notes – too short to be articles – interesting items to share – or placeholders for fuller articles to come. Let’s see how this goes.

Photo, borrowed, shared a lot

I found this great photo, placing the Justins from Tennessee next to John Carlos and Tommy Smith. It IS a similar pose, right? Anyway, I made it shareable, and posted it on old people social media, and it got shared 128 times, and then reshared 80 times that I can see, and probably at least 80 more, and there’s probably shares of shares. In the world of “influencers” and “viral” this is nothing, and yet it is a lot for me, and it IS a cool photo. Feel free to repost.

Walking, Outdoors

Mostly urban walking this last week. Got to Rockefeller Preserve. Visited a community garden. But no Van Cortlandt Park or NY Botanical Gardens this week. Here’s a few from the Ujamaa Northeast Bronx Community Garden:

Medicare Advantage – how to choose?

For two years the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) leadership has been locked in a battle with retirees over healthcare. But this note is not about rehashing the battle. As of today the likeliest course of events is that Medicare-eligible retirees will be switched to Aetna/CVS on September 1, unless they choose to stay in traditional Medicare – but that involves leaving the City health plan, and losing some benefits. Also, the time for choosing – I believe – begins May 1 and ends June 30.

People like me don’t like Aetna Medicare Advantage – which colors our answers. The UFT leadership (mostly) have been acting like used car salesmen – the plan is great – better than before – everything will work perfectly. But for retirees who need to choose, neither one of those will do it. They need facts.

I spoke to a retiree yesterday. “Before all this I would have called the Welfare Fund for answers. But today I just do not trust them.”

The Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the union of CUNY professors (and others) has sent out a neutral fact sheet to their members. But the answers for UFT members will be at least slightly different, and no one trusts the UFT leadership to be neutral at this point. They have a lot of work to do to rebuild trust.

So I will try to devote several posts over the coming weeks to the kind of questions I am hearing. How can you find out if doctors will accept the new plan? What about SHIP? What about the Welfare Fund? What about drug plans? What about drug reimbursements? What’s the deal with prior authorizations? IRMAA? Part B reimbursement? Hearing aids? Can I move from Aetna to real Medicare? Can I move from real Medicare to Aetna?

Secret Decision

Last note for this week. My friend Arthur, a UFT leader, a former chapter leader, a former Executive Board member, got a threatening letter from… the UFT’s attorney. He wrote a parody of Mulgrew, a letter from Mulgrew to members, describing to members how he’d screwed them on health care, while boasting how the deal would benefit mayor Eric Adams.

Even though it was clearly a parody (including lines such as: “The quality of this health care may not be all that great, but on the bright side, cutting costs and services saves Eric Adams a shit ton of money.”), the UFT leadership accused Arthur of impersonating Mulgrew. Ridiculous.

More seriously, someone in the leadership decided to threaten legal action against a leader of this union. That’s a pretty extreme step. It did not come up at the Delegate Assembly – the highest decision making body of the UFT. It was not brought forward as a proposal at the Executive Board, which makes decisions between Delegate Assemblies, and refers proposals to the Assembly. It does not appear in the Administrative Committee (AdCom) minutes. Suing union members, or threatening suits, is a big deal – there is no way the lawyers decided to do this on their own.

So where was the decision taken? And by whom? And why is there no record? Secret committees and backroom decision-making should not be the norm in our union.

Some Anniversaries

March 28, 2023 pm31 2:39 pm

COVID shuts down NYC schools

(with help from parents and teachers, resistance from de Blasio and Cuomo, and a late, partial assist from UFT leadership)

March was the third anniversary of COVID’s explosive spread here in the US. It was scary – a new disease – it was killing a high percentage of those who got sick – in mysterious ways. In NYC schools we were worried. By Monday March 9 it was dominating conversation. We watched Cuomo and de Blasio bicker over who had the right to close schools – as they left schools open, with the virus spreading. Early in the week there were petitions and pleas from parents and teachers to shut the schools. Teachers and parents were ready, where were the politicans and the UFT? The voices got loud. A rumor of a sickout planned for Monday March 16 grew – it became more than a rumor. MORE was heavily involved. The UFT leadership’s actions were slow. On the one hand they pushed back against the sickout. On the other they finally spoke out about closing schools – but this was Friday – most members had decided schools needed to be shut earlier in the week. In the event, de Blasio announced on Sunday March 15 that schools would be closed for kids starting Monday, but that staff had to report three days the following week for “training”

In retrospect, it is clear who was right, who was wrong, and whose (Michael Mulgrew) foot-dragging is a horrible embarrassment. We were at the start of “the pandemic” – the health event – for many of us, of our lifetimes. Cuomo cost lives, and de Blasio contributed. And Mulgrew’s slowness to act is unbecoming of a UFT president. We serve our members, not the politicians, that’s how I think of being a union leader; that’s what we should expect from union leadership. Mulgrew thinks differently. All the time? I don’t know, maybe. But when it mattered? Absolutely – first thought should have been protecting members – and he did something else.

We also got a foreshadowing of how Mulgrew was going to play politics the next few months. MORE’s petition was directed at Andrew Cuomo, who had blocked de Blasio’s order to “shelter in place.” When the UFT leadership joined in, it was with their own petition, addressed to de Blasio. For the rest of the spring Mulgrew slammed de Blasio, and curled up sniveling at Andy’s feet. All of us remember the UFT filing an arbitration over the loss of spring break days, right? But please do not forget, when Cuomo canceled spring break, Mulgrew said “we are supporting the Governor’s decision to continuing teaching during the Spring Break” Your first responsibility should be to your members. But at the most important moment, his loyalty lay elsewhere.

Me? The week of March 9 – 13 I was actively petitioning and engaging my members (I was chapter leader) in efforts to get the schools closed. Our PTA submitted a petition as well. As programmer I was planning for a reduced schedule for the following week. I was watching the sickout, listening to folks. As interest rose I considered supporting it – but I sensed hesitation Friday, and held back. There were schools with cases that were not being closed and cleaned, and I was having trouble getting clear answers from our union. I was out for a walk Sunday March 15, coming down Bainbridge towards 204, when I heard the announcement that schools would be closed Monday. I don’t know what the weather really was, but in my mind it was warm. Maybe just the moment was warm. On Tuesday I went to school. I think our jobs were “set up your remote classroom, and figure out what to do.” On Wednesday and Thursday I finished (well, it was a work in process, we kept rebuilding as we went) my preparation at home. And then I decamped to Essex County, 1 mile from Lake Champlain, and 60 miles south of the Canadian border. I stayed there, except for two quick runs south, until July.

COVID strikes New York – it was personal

March was the third anniversary of COVID exploding in New York City

It wasn’t just disruption to work – right? Each story is personal, but COVID harmed people and killed people. My school had a “Spring Fest” on Friday March 13, and, textbook, the “karaoke room” created a superspreader event (although we didn’t know until comparing notes later in the Spring that this was what happened). Thankfully all recovered, although there was at least one case of long COVID. Two weeks later a colleague, Denis Murphy, visiting an older friend, isolated by the pandemic, died in an auto accident. And late that month, my second cousin once removed, Moishe Kwalbrun, died of COVID. This was a scary time. I don’t think we were fully aware of how bad it was getting. In some ways, April became scarier.

US Invades Iraq

Twenty years ago, the US invaded Iraq

The New York Times and the White House lied about “weapons of mass destruction.” The New York Times should face liability for printing war propaganda.

The US has been eversince in a permanent state of war – “legalized” by the Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution. Voted for by Crowley and Engel and Schumer and Biden. In fact, Democrats were divided down the middle, Republicans were overwhelmingly in favor.

It’s not like the US didn’t find ways to go to war without declaring war before. This just made it easier. And now it is constant.

There were thousands of US deaths, and tens of thousands of injuries. There were hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths.

The invasion has led to insecurity and instability and destruction in Iraq, and the region.

The Clinton-era (get that? – Bill Clinton (D)) policy of extraordinary rendition – that is, the US captures someone, and doesn’t treat them as a POW, nor as a regular prisoner – got a big boost. Guantamo – you get it.

By the way, you know that De Santis watched prisoners being tortured at Guantanamo. He was a lawyer. He was there to tell the torturers that what they were doing was A-OK.

I remember – I was at a new school in March 2003 – what horrible pushback I got for opposing that war. Listen – you can’t say, at least anymore, “I read it in the Times” without also owning “and I know they lie and I trust them anyhow because it is inconvenient to deal with the truth.”

I spoke at graduation 2007. I stated my opposition to the Iraq Invasion. I got a few heckles just for calling it an “unjust war.” Honestly, stronger language was called for.


Fifty-nine years ago. February.

I was all hyped for a cool low-key celebration. Non-celebration? Nah, I like something. Big party? Nah, not for me. This year I was going for a walk.

I reached out to a bunch of people – walk for my birthday in Van Cortlandt. I figured the walk is a weird and slightly big ask, I would get maybe 1 in 4 people saying yes. As it turned out, it was more like 3 in 4. I was worried about the noise a crowd (two dozen?) tromping through the woods would make. And then…

There was a weird blip on the weather report. And instead of going away, it became more intense. My birthday would happen as an Arctic chill was driving Bronx windchills well below zero degrees. A friend messaged me, to cancel. I waited one more day, and then started to reach out.

But the strangest thing happened. Someone said, no, they still wanted to walk. And then another. And another. And I celebrated my birthday with a frigid walk – I think it was in the teens when we met up, with wind gusts in the 25mph range. In any case, once we were moving it was not so frigid. It was about 3½ miles through Van Cortlandt Park.

It began with homemade carrot cake cupcakes (across from Lloyds, but not Lloyds), lighting a candle, and “Happy Birthday.” Then the walk – Tortoise Hare to John Muir to Aqueduct and back through the Wetlands. Then the Van Cortlandt Mansion. Then lunch, delicious, at Com Tam Ninh Kieu. Then everyone else went home and I went for a haircut and shave, and when he heard it was my birthday, my barber refused to charge me.

left top Homemade Carrot Cake Cupcake with Candle; left below Gathering at the Starting Point;
center top Aqueduct Trail; center bottom Van Cortlandt Mansion; right Birthday Haircut and Shave

When we were kids, my birthday would come each year, one day in February. My birthday is at the start of the month. My sister, on the other hand, younger, had her day at the end of November. But come November first she would demand recognition. She milked the entire month of November as her birthday month, while moaning about getting cheated by Thanksgiving. It was a cheap trick, to make a birthday last four weeks. But this year I tried something like it. I couldn’t match the nerve of my pre-teen sister. But I did drag out my celebration this year. ran “celebration” stuff for about ten days… The events were low-key… but I liked how it went. I won’t get away with next year – that’s a bigger number that will be “marked” – but this was just 59….

Some Thoughts During the Pause: NYC Retiree Healthcare

March 21, 2023 am31 11:22 am

We are at a pause. New York City and the Municipal Labor Committee (the leaders of the city unions) have agreed on a plan with Aetna/CVS. They intend to move all – well most – city retirees into Aetna’s Medicare Advantage on September 1.

And we have, for a moment, a pause in the battle, the battle over retiree healthcare in New York City.

The Parties – Labor/Municipal Gov’t vs Labor (w/ Local Gov’t in the Middle)

There has been almost two years of wrangling. We know the parties. The City of New York (Mayor Adams, for short) on one side. They are usually represented by the Office of Labor Relations. The Municipal Labor Committee, strangely enough, on the same side. Harry Nespoli from the Sanitation Workers (a Teamsters Local) is the nominal head of the MLC. Henry Garrido of District Council 37 and Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers are also parts of this crew. Might as well mention an arbitrator who often works for the UFT and OLR (and maybe the other unions, I am not sure) Martin Scheinman, who is being employed as a consultant, but has waved around his arbitrator’s credentials to confuse retirees and politicians.

There is a judge, Lyle Frank. Who heard of him before? Who will hear about him after? No matter. For this issue he has played a role.

There’s the New York City City Council. Usually they are not central to much, but by declining to act, they blocked one major Mulgrew/Adams play. And by declining to act just last week, they may have blocked a retiree strategy.

Retirees have activated around this issue. There are thousands of retirees who generally ignore this sort of stuff, but were drawn in because their own health care was at stake. There is the New York City Organization of Public Service Employees (for the preservation of benefits), widely identified with Marianne Pizzatola, previously associated with efforts to get 911 workers healthcare. There is the Cross Union Organizing Committee (CROC). Some individual unions have retired worker groups that have activated around this. Among them, Retiree Advocate, a caucus of retired UFT members stands out (I am a member of Retiree Advocate). Also vocally on this side has been the leadership of the CUNY workers union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC).

That is a strange cast, and a strange line-up.

The Plan – As of Today – Aetna/CVS MAP Starting September 1

The Aetna/CVS plan is Medicare Advantage PPO, specifically negotiated in NYC. It will certainly be better than the first Mulgrew/Adams plan ‘The Alliance’ but it is still Medicare Advantage.

Opt out means total opt out, no City support. No reimbursement. No coverage for dependents. It will be a very expensive option – which means for most retirees it will not be an option.

Is This Done?

Nope. I expect there will still be challenges. There will be at least one lawsuit. Mulgrew and Adams will make at least partial revisions to the plan. Mulgrew and Adams are likely to find a way to offer at least one opt out that somehow fits within the rules.

Listen to the Aetna Webinar – especially if you think you don’t need to

But look – right now, if nothing stops it, it will be the plan most NYC public service medicare eligible retirees will be on come September. Even if you know it definitely will suck, because it’s Medicare Advantage, or even if you know it will be wonderful and you wish you could have joined earlier, because Michael Mulgrew told you so, and he knows so much and never lies, you have an obligation to yourself and your dependents, but also to your friends and former colleagues. Learn more. It’s not good enough to think you know. Aetna/CVS is running webinars. Yes, I know there will be a propaganda aspect, but in a way it does not matter. You should sign up. You should listen.

I will sign on, if I can (not medicare eligible, not sure). I would certainly prefer not to spend the time with a pitch. But I know it is important to listen to what they are saying.

What Did They Want?

By ‘they’ I mean Mulgew/Adams/Scheinman/OLR/MLC etc. Those guys.

Through all the twists and turns, and different sides arguing different things, there has been one constant: The Mulgrew/Adams side at each turn has intended to move retirees onto a Medicare Advantage plan. That’s where this started, when the news broke in the Spring of 2021. They never moved off it, even when they gave up on ‘The Alliance,’ it’s in every Scheinman document, and it is what they decided to move forward on, with a key vote taken earlier this month. It is also the plan that they have in place, as of today, for September 1.

They argued about options, and opt outs. They argued about additional choices. But their eyes never left their prize:

Mulgrew’s Prize
Medicare Part C
for you and for me

Privatized Medicare.

Where Will the Savings Money Go?

I think this is an important question. “Savings” come from providing (you and me, eventually) less medical care (eg, denials), and making the patients (you and me, eventually) pay a larger share of the care we do get (eg. copays). But where does the benefit accrue?

Directly to the City? That’s not how our health care is funded – I don’t think.

Directly to the unions? Nope. At least I don’t think so.

I think we need to look at the payments into the Stabilization Fund.

Stabilization Fund Almost Broke?

No matter what happens next, the Stabilization Fund will be involved.

There were claims by the Mulgrew/Adams side that the fund is broke, or about to be. There were people on my side who said it’s not. There were arguments about how broke it is, and how broke is broke.

I’m not engaging in that argument. It seems to me that the fund is in bad shape. It is not so important if the crisis has already been reached, or is on the horizon. The future of the fund was clearly (to me) in jeopardy.

In fact, it seems like Mulgrew was highly motivated by a need to protect this fund. Mulgrew acted like he was more concerned with the health of the fund than with the health of the members.

Stabilization Fund

But we know very little about the fund. And we should know more.

  • Who runs it? Organization + Names.
  • Which unions have a role in administering it? Or is it just the City? (I doubt that)
  • How is it funded?
  • Where do the funds come from?
  • Is there an accounting of the funds it takes in?

And on the other end, I have even more questions. We all should.

  • Does the fund employ anyone directly?
  • What is the money spent on? (some of these items will be obvious, others, no)
  • Does each union participate equally in drawing from the fund?
  • Does the fund pay salaries? How many? Whose?

Big picture: right now the Stabilization Fund is a black box. I think there’s never been an audit. I have been unable to look up even basics of it online, through New York City government pages.

The fight over Medicare Advantage may turn out to have really been a fight over the Stabilization Fund’s health. In that case we really should know a lot more about the patient.

Math Puzzle: Defective Question?

March 11, 2023 pm31 9:54 pm

McRib doesn’t do counting, so when a student brought him this tricky counting question, he asked me. And I thought his wording was ambiguous, so I asked him to get me the actual question. Now, a few weeks later Math Counts released the question, and he sent it to me. Take a look:

You might want to play with it before you read on.

I think there are two issues. One of them we might overlook – I often complain about it, and people usually tell me that we know what they meant. The second, though, looks to me like the author/editor had not sufficiently thought through their question.

See what you think.


There is an implied event here (George starts drawing segments until each point is doubly connected), but they don’t bother saying that. They don’t say that each “outcome” is equally likely. They don’t say that each possible segment is equally likely. I guess we could assume the former (and whether the latter is true or not we don’t really need to know) – but why not state it? Further, they really want to know how many convex hexagons George might get out of how many total outcomes George might get. They wrote “probability” but they really meant it in the A out of B sense. They just wanted a fraction.

What’s the event?

“If George draws line segments connecting pairs of points so that each point is connected to two other points” describes an event with many (how many?) possible outcomes –

“the resulting figure” describes a subset of those outcomes.

“a convex hexagon” describes a subset of those outcomes.

What did they miss?

When George follows their directions, he can create a loop, cycling through the 6 points. But he can also create two triangles.

But “the resulting figure” seems to exclude the cases with two triangles.

Work towards solution(s)

(I have put simpler work at the bottom – with nicer explanations)

Label the points U, V, W, X, Y, Z. Starting from U, George can connect to 5 points, then 4, then 3, then 2, then 1. 5×4×3×2×1= 5! But for every route, eg U-W-Z-V-X-Y there is its reverse U-Y-X-V-Z-W. So 5! counts each loop twice – there are only half that number of loops: 5!/2, or 60.

But nothing in the initial instructions stops George from connecting U to V, V to W, and W back to U. Kind of cool here, once he’s done, we know what his next three steps will be (X to Y, Y to Z, Z to X) – we don’t even have to map them out. So how many triangles can George make starting with U? He’s got 5 more points. He needs to take 2 of them. And {}_ 5C_{2} = 10.


Since they ask about the “resulting figure” (singular) it would seem they overlooked the triangles. So the answer might have been 1 good hexagon out of 60, or 2 good hexagons (one forwards one backwards) out of 120.

But if they meant for the triangles to be included, things get messier. I could claim the denominator should be 60 + 10 = 70, but there is more here than that.

Will we count ∆UVW and ∆XYZ as distinct from ∆UVW and ∆YZX? We can arrange all these letter twelve ways, fixing the U first. Will we count U-W-Z-V-X-Y and U-Y-X-V-Z-W as distinct? Should this be 10 and 60? or 120 and 120? Or something else?

And if we think about George’s process, is he arbitrarily making connections? If so, what happened when he reached U-V-W-X-U? Did he toss that out? Or are there decisions that we assume he is making along the way (He will not complete a 4 cycle, but a 3 cycle is ok).

As the question is written, we do not know.

Work, explained

Assume for the moment that the only possibility is one continuous loop through the six points. Think of the points sitting down around a circular table. We win if they sit U-V-W-X-Y-Z or U-Z-Y-X-W-V. But how many ways can they sit around a table?

Let’s solve an easier question.

  • Me and Kim sit around a table. She’s to my right, and to my left, no matter how we sit. That’s just one way to sit.
  • Now me, Kim and Laura sit around a table. I can be on Kim’s right, and Laura on Kim’s left. Or I can be on Kim’s left, and Laura on Kim’s right. That’s it. Two ways.
  • Now me, Kim, Laura, and McRib sit down. Seat Kim first. Laura can go across from her. Then it’s McRib left, me right, or McRib right, me left. That’s two ways so far. Laura gets up. Now McRib sits across from Kim. Me on Kim’s left, Laura on Kim’s right, or Laura on Kim’s left, me on Kim’s right. That’s two more ways. Finally, McRib stands, I sit across from Kim. McRib can sit on Kim’s left, with Laura on Kim’s right, or Laura on Kim’s left, McRib on Kim’s right. That’s two more ways, or six altogether

In general, we are plunking one person down, and then putting the others in order. I see the three examples above as 1×1, 1×2×1, and 1×3×2×1. If we want to generalize, the biggest number is one less than the number of people, so with n people our biggest number will be n-1 and we multiply 1×(n-1)×(n-2)×…×2×1 – or, in a formula, 1×(n-1)! or simply (n-1)!

These are called circle permutations.

How many pairs of triangles can we make out of 6 points?

  • ∆UVW ∆XYZ
  • ∆UVX ∆WYZ
  • ∆UVY ∆WXZ
  • ∆UVZ ∆WXY
  • ∆UWX ∆VYZ
  • ∆UWY ∆VXZ
  • ∆UWZ ∆VXY
  • ∆UXY ∆VWZ
  • ∆UXZ ∆VWY
  • ∆UYZ ∆VWX

It’s easier to use a formula than to make a list – but which formula? Problem is, every formula gives an answer – but none of them also tell you if you used the right formula. And that list? Not so long. And it’s pretty well organized. See if you can find a missing pair. I don’t think you can.

But now that we have the list, we can make a formula. Make one triangle, the second falls into place. Start with U, U has to be in a triangle. Then pick a second point (5 choices) and then a third (4 choices left) and that is almost the end, because the three remaining points will make the other triangle. But hold on: multiplying 5×4 we counted UWZ, but also UZW. And they are the same triangle. So divide our total, 5×4, by 2, and we get 10, which is the number of pairs in the list.

Protecting the fund or the members?

March 9, 2023 am31 11:19 am

I think CityMD was billing our insurance too much. UFT President Michael Mulgrew said that about some company, and that copay increases were coming, and I learned from Nick that there are CityMD copay increases. So I figure that Mulgrew was talking about CityMD. And I believe him.

CityMD is an urgent care – I think it has by far the largest network of storefronts in NYC. Members use CityMD a lot. Not me. Used them once. Negative experience. Never went back. But other members do use them. There was a trend to pop in for small stuff – no need for the emergency room. And then we were urged to use urgent cares instead of emergency rooms, and more people switched.

Here’s what Mulgrew said. I think he was talking about CityMD. It was at the Retired Teachers Chapter meeting on Monday:

Now of course if I go to in-service today – we’re going to increase one copay because it’s a bad actor, they would vote no – what they don’t understand is the bad actor is causing us millions and millions of dollars, which is going to hurt us in the long run and we’re trying to avoid premium healthcare for anyone.

And so there is a copay increase, from $50 to $100, just on CityMD. CityMD will not pay bigger copays. Mulgrew figures fewer of our members will go there, and CityMD will lose patients.

Who is paying the extra copay? Us. And what choices do we have? There are other urgent cares, but none with this big a network. There might not be another anywhere near where you live. You might pay the $100 – something really hurts, or is clearly wrong. Or you might skip the doctor, not at $100, maybe it’s not that serious. And depending on your pay, $100 might be a nuisance fee, or it might be a substantial chunk of money.

The options, essentially, are change provider, which might not be so easy, pay more, or forego healthcare.

CityMDMembersStabilization Fund
Find another urgent carelosesneutral, or hard to locate, not close, inconvenientsaves money
Pay the $100winslosesaves money
Forego treatmentlosesI hope it turns out to be nothing,
but we know that some members who need care won’t get it
saves money

It’s legit to want to protect the fund, but not on members’ backs. Not by putting our health at risk. How else to deal with the overcharges. Negotiate? Lower the copays on the other urgent cares? Explain to our members what is happening, and urge them to use a different urge care, if available? But that requires treating members like colleagues, with respect, and not as pawns in some market-based scheme.

See also:

Q: Can Retirees Vote on Their Health Care? Mulgrew: No

March 8, 2023 pm31 10:12 pm

Tom Murphy: We have two more questions, and then we’re going to go back and forth. So a member of our diverse health committee, Gloria Brandman. Gloria. [pause locating for Gloria] Remember while she’s getting ready that the rules are: Two minutes, my colleague Christina will hold up a 10 second sign if necessary, and no passing the microphone to anyone else. Ok, Gloria.

Gloria Brandman: Ok. Hi. Thank you. Thank you, Thank you for the presentation Michael,

Michal Mulgrew: You’re welcome.

GB: it was very thorough. And this proposed change for healthcare, moving us into the Aetna/CVS PPO Medicare Advantage plan is really significant to our lives, and to our health especially. And I just heard that it would end the end the subsidies and reimbursements…

Michael Mulgrew: no.

GB: possibly

MM: No. It’s if you choose to go to traditional Medicare route

GB: If you choose to remain in the…

MM: If you choose to opt out [hard to hear]

GB: Yes, exactly, right. So my understanding is the vote is going to be taking place this Thursday by the Municipal Labor Committee

MM: yes

GB: where the UFT has one of the largest weighted votes right now. And my question is this: since the UFT is designed to be a democratic union, and generally we are, often, why can’t retirees vote on this change? (emphasis mine – jd] [applause and cheers] We are the ones, we are the ones to be affected. And our rep, our rep on the UFT is yourself I think, and you have a very big weighted vote on it.

MM: Ok.

GB: So,

MM: Let me answer your question. You asked a question.

GB: That’s my question. But I also just heard – and I just had another question. If you’re going to make a decision after this vote to allow for possibly some Medigap plan for us to buy, how can we even vote now, how can we make a decision to opt out now, if we don’t know that we will even have that possibility.? So it’s really two questions, thank you.

MM: Ok. SO the first question is, we make changes in health care constantly. We negotiate health care on a daily basis, all the time. Let’s just… I’m giving you the answer. We do this all the time. We did all of those changes on in-service. We did them all. OK. That was part of supplementing senior care. We’re not going to move forward – we do it – and this is what – this is what you need – I don’t know how else to say this. This union only moves forward if it is sure it’s protecting everyone and taking care of them. Change is not easy. You could say – do whatever you want in terms of that. But I take that very seriously. And when people say – like right now there are people at the MLC who would have gone along with this plan before we got all of these things put into it, and we were the ones who stopped it. It was the UFT who said they would continually vote no. It was me who was called into City Hall because I was sabotaging the plan. I said “I’m not sabotaging anything. I’m not going to move forward unless it’s as good as or better than what currently have.” And I’m still not done, as I just iterated. There’s still more to go. There’s still small issues that I feel very strongly about. So that has been our process throughout.

MM: Now of course if I go to in-service today – we’re going to increase one copay because it’s a bad actor, they would vote no – what they don’t understand is the bad actor is causing us millions and millions of dollars, which is going to hurt us in the long run and we’re trying to avoid premium healthcare for anyone.

MM: And in terms of the Medigap plan, you know, we tried very hard to keep the Senior Care option. We were not able to get City Council to change the Administrative Code.

[shouts from crowd]

MM: Very simple thing. Stop it. Listen folks. You can. No no no no. Because this is really simple. I’ve told you this from the beginning. The court ruling saying that the City only has to offer one option.


MM: One. Yes it does. Alright. We are going…We have too many people on line. It said you can offer multiples, but they only have the responsibility to offer one, but they can offer multiples. It does say that. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I actually sit and read it, and sit with our lawyers, and I don’t get it off the internet. So I’m sorry if we are going to agree to disagree.

Voice: You are talking to reading teachers.

MM: OK. Agree to disagree.

MM: So, in terms of the – let me finish the answer – I just said. We are following all of our past practices on how we change our [medical? – unclear – either “medical” or “medical care”]. And we do not bring those things to a vote. [emphasis mine – jd] We present it to our folks. If we feel it is not in the best interest of the members we would never even bring it forward.

MM: And in terms of the MLC, this union doesn’t have a weighted vote, we have the appropriate vote. We, yah, no, it’s called appropriate, because I’ve also heard throughout this process how certain folks inside of the UFT are working with other unions because they don’t want us to have our authority in terms of our proper vote. We do this by headcount. And we’re not going to diminish the authority of the UFT, because it’s not our authority, it’s actually our size. And we’re going to continue to use that. And I will not to entertain any discussions that we are going to lower the – our actual – say all of our members don’t count we want to lower our authority within the UFT. That’s not going to happen.

A little commentary

So it was a project for me to type up these five and a half minutes, because, well, you know how Mulgrew talks. I cleaned it up some, although I probably could have cleaned it up more.

He says

  1. We make lots of health care changes
  2. I (Mulgrew) make good deals for our members
  3. If we brought a new copay to our in-service they would vote no, because they don’t see the big picture (we need to return to this – he was talking about the CityMD 100% copay increase)
  4. We tried to keep Senior Care. But City Council did not change the Admin Code (I’ve written about this – but UFT leadership did try to keep Senior Care – as an option when Medicare Advantage comes in, if it comes in. They did not attempt to keep Senior Care as is)
  5. We do not bring health care changes to a vote (and essentially says votes aren’t necessary because we know what’s best)
  6. The UFT does not have a “weighted vote” at the MLC, but an “appropriate vote” and we are going to keep it. (In fact, that’s exactly what a “weighted vote” is, and that’s exactly what Gloria meant – which I know because I was emailing with her the evening before and I, ME, I introduced weighting in the context of emphasizing how important the UFT vote at the MLC is.)

Can retirees vote?

The word salad makes it a little challenging to pull out the question and answer:

Gloria: Why can’t retirees vote on this change?

Michael: We do not bring medical care to a vote.

Notice he supplies no reason.


It is hard for a speaker to gain traction, to keep speaking, and be mindful of time (remember, Gloria was limited, Michael was not) while being interrupted by the guy with the microphone. Even his “your welcome” is designed to put the questioner off balance. I see him do it at Delegate Assemblies, where he waits for a speaker to get about two words in, and interrupts with “how are you?” – normally a pleasantry, but it disrupts the rhythm of someone who may actually be quite nervous about speaking. In this case, he interrupted Gloria seven times in two minutes. But Gloria’s a pro.

I wasn’t in the room, so I don’t know how distracting the audience was. But yes, Mulgrew was interrupted, too. But 1) it’s a different power relation and 2) I can’t figure out why he responded.


Gloria mentioned weighted votes at the MLC. But she did not complain about them. Me? I think weighting is fair (though I would consider some minimum number of unions on-side, so that it is more than the three largest – think “50% + 1 of the weighted vote, with at least 25% of the unions voting in favor” – something like that – but that would not affect this vote).

So why did he go after Gloria for something she didn’t say? Either he had this as a prepped line, heard her say “weighted” but did not follow her sentence, or he just threw it in, so that the answer had more stuff in it, making it harder to notice that he said that retires won’t vote on this because we do not allow it.

Resolution that was not introduced, but I wish it was

For a UFT Retired Teachers Chapter Vote on the Proposed Health Benefit Changes

Whereas there is nothing so important to United Federation of Teachers retirees as our pension and healthcare, and

Whereas there is a proposal to significantly change our retirees’ healthcare, moving most of our retirees to an Aetna/CVS PPO Medicare Advantage plan, and

Whereas the proposal would eliminate all traditional Medicare supplemental plans from the NYC Health Benefits Program (such as GHI Senior Care), and

Whereas the proposal would end all NYC subsidies and reimbursements to municipal retirees who choose to, or need to, stay on a traditional Medicare + supplemental plan, and

Whereas a vote will be taken to make this move to an Aetna/CVS PPO Medicare Advantage plan at the Municipal Labor Committee, and

Whereas the votes will be weighted votes, and the UFT has one of the largest weighted votes in the MLC, and

Whereas the UFT is in concept and design a democratic organization, therefore be it

Resolved that the United Federation of Teachers will conduct a secret ballot vote among the UFT Retired Teacher Chapter, in favor of or opposed to the move to this Aetna/CVS PPO Medicare Advantage plan, and be it further

Resolved that the UFT representatives at the MLC will not cast their votes until the result of the RTC vote is announced, and be it further

Resolved that the UFT representatives at the MLC, when the result of the retiree vote is announced, will faithfully vote in accordance with the wishes of our retirees.

My First UFT Retired Teachers Chapter Meeting

March 6, 2023 pm31 12:55 pm

This will be my first meeting as a United Federation of Teachers retiree, this afternoon. I have been working on being a good retiree – attending workshops – learning about benefits. I joined the RTC. I paid for SHIP. Asked questions about orthotics and dental. I even thought I’d sign up for a Si Beagle trip, but missed the deadline. (And I wish they had some math and science). I’m waiting patiently for TRS to calculate my check, and not freaking out about the underestimate they are sending for now. And I’m looking forward to eventually getting partial payout for my CAR days. But…

But 1. But I can’t be in person today. That sucks. I want to actually see people. But this morning I had a test, and this afternoon I will have another one, out in Queens, and no way to get into 52 Broadway in between. I’ll join on the computer instead. Next time I will absolutely attend in person.

But 2. This will be no ordinary RTC. Mulgrew will be announcing and explaining the Medicare Advantage plan that the MLC, UFT, and OLR (office of labor relations, the City agency we deal with) have agreed to with Aetna. Their intended timeline is to vote on the agreement at the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) in a few days, and shift most of our Medicare-eligible retirees into the plan September 1.

Most retirees are not very unhappy about their current plan. Most retirees, understandably, worry about change. Most retirees, justifiably, have serious qualms about ANY Medicare Advantage (privatized health care) plan.

So we have a leadership that’s decided to change retiree’s health care. And retirees, who for the most part do not want their health care to change.

Ingredients for an interesting meeting.

Alternate Reality

Mulgrew gets up. Says Medicare Advantage is not as good as what we have. But we are in grave financial difficulty. If we switch to Medicare Advantage, the feds will give the City more money, and the City promises to replenish the stabilization fund. We are in a jam, and this is the only way out. So we spent time trying to mitigate the problems. We went after some specifically challenging details, including the number of prior authorizations, and how widely doctors would accept this, and made real progress. This is much better than the first deal we negotiated. But it is not as good as what we have now. We get it. This is a hit we have to take in order to keep something close to the healthcare we are used to and entitled to. This is not fair. We know that. But in the circumstances it was the best we could do.


Mulgrew will get up and imply that this deal is better than what retirees have now. He will lie (by omission or implication).


Look, I don’t know how understanding retirees would be with the Alternate Reality. But I guarantee you that there will be real unhappiness over the Reality. Think about it. He could deliver bad news. Or he could deliver bad news and lie about it. Which way would play better?

Me? I don’t know that I would be convinced by that Alternate Reality. I don’t think so. But it would make it possible to have a conversation. That’s just not the case when you open by insulting your members’ intelligence.


There’s a lot of them. They belong to the discussion. But not here.


There are six months until September. The Aetna agreement is not finalized. And this affects retirees, big time. Pension and Health Care are the two biggest retiree issues. Retirees should be asked to vote. The MLC vote can be delayed (as we’ve seen multiple times over the last two years).


For a UFT Retired Teachers Chapter Vote on the Proposed Health Benefit Changes

Whereas there is nothing so important to United Federation of Teachers retirees as our pension and healthcare, and

Whereas there is a proposal to significantly change our retirees’ healthcare, moving most of our retirees to an Aetna/CVS PPO Medicare Advantage plan, and

Whereas the proposal would eliminate all traditional Medicare supplemental plans from the NYC Health Benefits Program (such as GHI Senior Care), and

Whereas the proposal would end all NYC subsidies and reimbursements to municipal retirees who choose to, or need to, stay on a traditional Medicare + supplemental plan, and

Whereas a vote will be taken to make this move to an Aetna/CVS PPO Medicare Advantage plan at the Municipal Labor Committee, and

Whereas the votes will be weighted votes, and the UFT has one of the largest weighted votes in the MLC, and

Whereas the UFT is in concept and design a democratic organization, therefore be it

Resolved that the United Federation of Teachers will conduct a secret ballot vote among the UFT Retired Teacher Chapter, in favor of or opposed to the move to this Aetna/CVS PPO Medicare Advantage plan, and be it further

Resolved that the UFT representatives at the MLC will not cast their votes until the result of the RTC vote is announced, and be it further

Resolved that the UFT representatives at the MLC, when the result of the retiree vote is announced, will faithfully vote in accordance with the wishes of our retirees.


Who knows? I’ve never been to a Retired Teachers Chapter meeting. But I can’t imagine Mulgrew allowing the issue of voting to come up. What’s he going to do? Say this decision really should not be in the hands of retirees? I can’t see him addressing the question, since it is lose/lose.

And after that?

I really do look forward coming to the RTC in person. To talking to people. Catching up. Maybe next month, when I make it in person, there won’t be such a hot burning issue in front of us, and there will be more time to relax.

Senior Care vs Aetna Medicare Advantage PPO

March 5, 2023 pm31 6:34 pm

The UFT published a chart comparing GHI Senior Care with Aetna Medicare Advantage. In 15 categories the plans provide the same benefit at the same cost. In 25 categories Aetna is better. In no categories is Senior Care better.

I think Unity knows it is more complicated. I think they know that MA is the worse choice for some members, maybe most members. Let’s dig in.

Aetna Medicare Advantage PPO is the health insurance that most of our Medicare eligible retirees will be transferred to in September. That is, it’s the plan they will be transferred to if the current Office of Labor Relations/Municipal Labor Committee/UFT plan goes through,

Aetna 25, Senior Care 0, with 15 ties

And reading the chart, it’s a no brainer. Aetna 25, Senior Care 0, with 15 ties.

The actual situation is more complicated.

It’s more complicated

The chart does not include any information about how widely Aetna is accepted. The current claim is with 94% or 95% of the doctors who take Senior Care, with some provision for the others, but people are nervous about provisions to take care of something that before Aetna did not need to be taken care of.

The chart does not talk about changing plans. But once in a Medicare Advantage plan for a certain period of time (is it 6 months?) it either becomes difficult or impossible (I don’t know the precise mechanisms) to move back to a traditional Medigap.

The chart does not include information on prior authorizations. A separate email compares prior authorizations under the Aetna Medicare Advantage PPO with prior authorizations under the previous OLR/MLC/UFT Medicare Advantage plan (the “Alliance”). Aetna’s prior authorizations are more limited than the Alliance’s would have been. But there is no comparison of prior authorizations under Aetna vs prior authorizations under Senior Care. There really is no comparison – Aetna will introduce many prior authorizations that UFT retirees do not currently have. And people are right to suspect that more prior authorizations means more denials of care.

At the City Council hearings on the Administrative Code, five people, two former UFT officers (Unity) and three other Unity members, testified that they did not want to move to a MA plan (they were not arguing against MA in general, just for themselves.) Obviously even those in favor of this plan know about its limitations. But our union leadership is choosing to leave that out of the current – I don’t know – discussion? – debate?

Chart vs Trust

Look, all of this should require careful discussion. But it is really hard to talk to the people responsible for publishing that chart. The chart is deceptive, by omission. The chart undermines trust. The chart is part of a sales pitch, not a discussion. That chart is not part of a respectful exchange of views.

ps – I notice that the author of the chart (meaning the organization that produced it) is not indicated. But is on the UFT website. And it is linked in emails under Mulgrew and Murphy’s names.

The Problem Was the Plan, Not the Details

March 5, 2023 am31 2:09 am

UFT retirees did not like Mulgrew’s Medicare Advantage plan in the Spring of 2021. Now he is announcing a new Medicare Advantage plan. Details have changed. But it is still Medicare Advantage.

The problem was Medicare Advantage, not the details.

Mulgrew is announcing a new health plan. This is for Medicare-eligible retirees. It will take them out of our medigap plan (GHI Senior Care) and move them onto an Aetna/CVS Medicare Advantage plan that the UFT’s Unity leadership had a direct role in negotiating.

Is Mulgrew’s New Plan better than Mulgrew’s Old Plan?

Yes. It is. There are details that are improved. There will be fewer prior authorizations. And maybe more doctors will take this one – though – and this is true, not a cheap shot – he boasted with the old one that all the doctors would take it. That was clearly not true.

If the New Plan is Better, What’s Wrong?

Back in the spring of 2021, when retirees found out that Unity and the MLC were secretly negotiating for Medicare Advantage – whoa – people got angry.

At first Unity lectured them like misbehaving 3rd graders. According to Mulgrew, the people who were upset, our retirees, they were the ones who were wrong. Prior authorizations – according to Mulgrew, Sorkin, Murphy, etc – were just to stop abuse. All doctors – the same folks claimed – would take the plan. This was good. Better than good. Better than what our retirees currently have. People should stop whining. Silver Sneakers! I wish I had saved the recording of Mulgrew’s first zoom with retirees. The UFT removed it from the website. He berated people who were rightfully suspicious of Medicare Advantage, he talked down to retirees who clearly knew more than him.

At some point Unity figured out that having Mulgrew talk down to members was not working. Why, they wanted to know, were people unhappy with the first Mulgrew Medicare Advantage plan?

The answers did not help Unity.

  • People were angry that Mulgrew had deceived them by negotiating without warning them. It was, after all, another union that let our retirees know this was going on. (Unity often says they do not negotiate in public – which I think is a mistake – but this time they not only negotiated secretly – they hid from our members that there were even negotiations going on at all.)
  • People wanted to keep their current health care (GHI Senior Care).
  • People did not want Medicare Advantage.

How could Unity address any of this? Members were saying “just don’t do what you are doing.” I mean, Unity could have apologized for sneaking behind retirees backs. I thought they might. They did not.

No Really, What’s Wrong?

As Unity pushed for answers, they turned to trying to find specific problems with the Medicare Advantage plan they had negotiated. They did not get straight to this, since they insisted for quite some time that it was the Best Possible Plan. But eventually they pressed the conversations, and got responses. They were still tough for Unity to work with:

  • Don’t want to change our current plan
  • Don’t like Medicare Advantage
  • Don’t trust privatization
  • Not able to return to Real Medicare if this plan doesn’t work out
  • Not enough doctors
  • Not accepted anywhere
  • Prior authorizations
  • Denials

See What We’ve Got?

I see it. You probably see it. Unity did not see it, or could not allow themselves to see it.

  • Don’t want to change our current plan
  • Don’t like Medicare Advantage
  • Don’t trust privatization
    • Not able to return to Real Medicare if this plan doesn’t work out
    • Not enough doctors
    • Not accepted anywhere
    • Prior authorizations
    • Denials

Retirees did not want to change. They didn’t like Medicare Advantage. They didn’t trust privatization. That’s where the objections lay.

Pressed for more details, retirees supplied something about doctors or coverage or preauthorizations or moving back. But the chief objection is about Medicare Advantage itself.

What did the MLC, OLR and Unity do?

Unity eventually went back to the Municipal Labor Committee and the Office of Labor Relations, and said that they could address member concerns in the negotiation with Aetna. And they did address retiree concerns – some of the secondary (important, but secondary) concerns. They could not address the main concern without giving up on Medicare Advantage.

And Now?

We will see. Mulgrew did nibble around the edges. There are many more preauthorizations under his second Medicare Advantage plan than there are today, but fewer than under his first Medicare Advantage plan (which Unity told us was fine). More doctors will take this one, but not as many as today. There’s a workaround for some denials – a workaround that is not necessary today.

Better than his first try. That’s true.

In fact, in the days leading to the announcement, more thoughtful Unity people were advising retirees to wait to see the details. And some of the details, it turned out, were at least somewhat improved.

But we all know what’s wrong. It’s a Medicare Advantage plan. Privatized Health Care. While our current plan is fine. Many retirees, probably most, will not be ok with this.

We heard you loud and clear

March 3, 2023 am31 1:01 am

Mulgrew wrote to retirees today about the Aetna Medicare Advantage Plan. Or Mulgrew and Tom Murphy did. Or someone did, and put Murphy and Mulgrew’s names on top.

Maybe I’ll write something big about the note tomorrow or the next day. But tonight? A few thoughts.

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

They wrote “We heard you loud and clear” – and went on to explain that “Aetna agreed to significantly reduce the number of services requiring prior authorizations with this new plan.” In fact, it looks like Aetna would, if they become your provider under this plan, require fewer preauthorizations than the “Alliance” would have.

They heard the complaints about prior authorizations, and reduced them.

Good, right?

End of story? Nope. Let’s try again.

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

They wrote “We heard you loud and clear” – and went on to explain that “Aetna agreed to significantly reduce the number of services requiring prior authorizations with this new plan.” In fact, it looks like Aetna would, if they become your provider under this plan, require fewer preauthorizations than the “Alliance” would have.

Loud and clear. So that’s better, right?

Loud and clear? Who cut the original with Emblem with all those prior authorizations? Mulgrew and Murphy and the MLC.

So when we sent them, loud and clear, the message that we did not want more preauthorizations – it was because they had not heard us. In fact, they spent almost two years arguing that prior authorizations were not such a big deal. They spent two years arguing that they knew – better than us – what we need for our healthcare. They were wrong. We were sure to deliver that message, loud and clear.

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

This is the “nuclear option” – Mulgrew and the City and Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) want so badly to force retirees onto privatized Medicare Advantage that they are proposing taking away all other health care options, except HIP VIP.

The plan most retirees have, the GHI Senior Care medigap, under the Aetna/Unity plan, it would be gone. Mulgrew is planning to end it. The email doesn’t mention this. You can find it between the lines – but Mulgrew was hoping you didn’t.

Do you remember back in 2021 when we found out that the City and UFT leadership had been negotiating this, without telling us? Do you remember how angry people were, about the plan, sure, but also about not being told that the talks were going on. Deception by omission. It’s a form of lying. And members were enraged. Boy, did the leadership hear it. They heard us loud and clear. Members, retirees, were furious at them for their deceit.

But “The Aetna plan will replace Senior Care” is a sentence that is not in Mulgrew’s email. If they heard us loud and clear, why do they still try to deceive by omission?

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

Not so fast.

This may be the deal. We may be stuck with it. Unity, the MLC, the City Office of Labor Relations (OLR) and Mulgrew may be one step away from shutting down Senior Care and forcing most of our retirees into Medicare Advantage.

But they have come close before. And been stopped.

Expect various retiree groups to stand up and fight back. There’s the New York City Organization of Public Service Retirees (for Preservation of Benefits), there’s the Cross Union Organizing Committee (CROC), and there is the UFT’s own “Retiree Advocate”.

We stopped OLR and the MLC before. We will at least try to stop them again.

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

Who is deciding what?

Mulgrew was pretty clear, retirees will not be allowed to vote on the changes. It’s not about enough time (Unity may say they are in a rush, but after two years we know damned well that the deadlines are real until they move them, again and again and again.) On principle the UFT’s Unity leaders feel entitled to vote on behalf of retirees without even polling retirees.

But who decided to take away GHI Senior Care? Was that Mulgrew? Adams? OLR?

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

Who knew what, and when?

That’s not a real question.

But this is.

If the deal was negotiated between Mulgrew and Aetna, why was Aetna making the presentation to the MLC? Why wasn’t Mulgrew, or Sorkin, or one of the UFT’s attorneys taking responsibility for the deal they brokered?

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

Loud and Clear. One last time.

They heard us loud and clear.

“We heard you loud and clear”

And, according to Mulgrew and Murphy, they went for a better deal, based on “hearing us loud and clear.”

Mulgrew and Murphy say this one is much better than they one they tried to jam down retirees’ throats in the spring of 2021.

They heard us loud and clear.

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

You know who they did not hear “loud and clear”? They did not hear Unity members, who either believed every falsehood being put forward, or stayed silent. Sure, there were some who grumbled a bit privately. Some grumbled more than a bit.

And some actively shilled for the campaign to force our retirees into privatized Medicare Advantage.

The other day I read on social media a Unity member who promoted Mulgrew’s position every step of the way these last two years saying “The UFT and MLC have been working to make sure that all of us are protected under any new plan and the concerns that we have had regarding the Network of Doctors, Preauthorizations and Copays are addressed to our satisfaction. They heard all of us and continue to negotiate these concerns with Aetna.”

You are not one of us.

(And I thought copays were out? How come Aetna and Mulgrew (and the rest of Unity and the MLC and OLR) are trying to bring them back?)

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

So, who did they hear? Who gave them this valuable feedback?

They heard from all of us. Retirees were not happy. Upset. Angry. Furious.

They heard on the blogs. They heard on twitter. They heard from politicians. They heard in emails. They heard in phone calls.

And they heard at the Exec Board, starting this September, when newly elected non-Unity reps started asking hard questions.

And they heard, loud and clear, from Retiree Advocate, an organization of retirees who are against prior authorizations.

Retiree Advocate won 30% of the retiree vote. And they provided this valuable feedback.

Loud and clear? We forced the leadership to hear us, loud and clear.

The Unity leadership tried not to listen, but they could not avoid hearing us.

Do Mulgrew and Unity like hearing “loud and clear”? Nope. Retiree Advocate, 30% of the vote, no voice in running the Retired Teachers Chapter, no voice at the Delegate Assembly, no voice at the NYSUT Representative Assembly, no voice at the AFT Convention.

That’s the way Mulgrew and the UFT leadership like it – not having to hear our voices at all.

But we will continue to make our voices heard.

Loud and Clear.

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——————— ————- ——– —– — — – –

A quick negotiation

February 17, 2023 pm28 10:02 pm

1. Boss and union meet up. Boss says “here’s what I’m giving you” and mentions a dollar amount. Union says ok. Negotiation is done.

2. In the real world things are more complicated. Boss and union meet up. Boss says “here’s what I’m giving you” and mentions a dollar amount. Union says ok. “And also,” Union asks, “is it ok if we work on how to cut up this figure? Some for raises. Some for upfront money (signing bonuses) which help secure a bigger yes vote. And then a little for these side projects of ours? Boss says “OK, take some time, but not too much. And I have to approve of your plan – wink, wink.” Negotiation is done.

3. In NYC it’s even a little more complicated. Boss and union meet up. Boss says “here’s what I’m giving you” and mentions a dollar amount. Union says ok. Boss says, “And, we are going to reduce how much we pay for your members’ health care.” Union says “ok, but we need a little time” and the boss says “fine, as long as we can pay less for your members’ health, you can have time to sell it.” “And also,” Union asks, “is it ok if we work on how to cut up this figure? Some for raises. Some for upfront money (signing bonuses) which help secure a bigger yes vote. And then a little for these side projects of ours? Boss says “OK, take some time, but not too much. And I have to approve of your plan – wink, wink.” Negotiation is done.

Is that an outrageous misrepresentation? Sadly, no. Let’s focus today just on the opening shot.

Does the City offer a specific amount of money, and the union just says yes?


I know this is what we have done in the past. “The package is the package” a retired Unity leader told me. And that is how they have been handling negotiations. Most of “negotiations” has been deciding where the money in the package should go – raises for new teachers, raises for veterans, signing bonuses, pet projects, special programs. The City says “here’s the pie” and Mulgrew, and before him Weingarten, accept the pie as is. They do not ask for more. No Oliver Twist on the steps of 52 Chambers. The rest of negotiations, for them, and because the leaders are in charge and decide, for us, is an exercise in dividing that pie in a fair or unfair way.

That’s in the past. This time? Yup. Here’s what Unity says about DC-37s deal:

See that bit? “We will be closely analyzing the tentative agreement to determine its full value and see how we can maximize that financial package to get the most for our members in our own negotiations”

For those of you saying – “The DC 37 deal was way way below inflation. We should get more” – you need to read our leaders’ words: “see how we can maximize that financial package.” They are accepting the City’s offer without asking for more. Mulgrew does not intend to ask for more. This is #2 (above and below). Union takes what’s offered, and asks for permission to decide how to dole it out.

Here’s a link to that UFT tweet.

But of course this is NYC. And the municipal unions through the MLC, including centrally the United Federation of Teachers and Michael Mulgrew, have been working hand in hand with the City to reduce how much money the City pays for our members’ and retirees’ health care. The big public fight is over using Medicare Advantage to limit how much health care retirees receive. And there is an agreement that they will try NOT to put in front of the members, but it will be understood as they finalize a UFT contract, that the UFT will allow the City to pay less for our healthcare. And that’s version 3.

Is there a way out?

It is tough. The leadership, whether we like what they do or not, speaks for the union, and members who do not pay a lot of attention tend to accept their word. And they WILL decide how to carve up the package and they WILL load up a hefty signing bonus. “Sucker money” I call it – but I know the lure – when things are a little tight, and someone offers you a thousand… or two…. or three… or five… today, without explaining what you are giving up in the long run. Pay day loans are the same sort of raw deal.

But there is an argument.

  • The package is way way below inflation. We should reject the package.
  • And health care should not be on the table. No cuts (which Mulgrew calls “saving”).

I wonder if the negotiating committee discusses such things. And if it doesn’t, then we will probably face a highly problematic contract proposal.

Let me ask you

The way I see it, after decades of UFT leaders saying “the package is the package” the City has learned that it can lowball the package, and that the union will just say “ok.”

Do you see it differently?

And they’ve learned they can lowball us with no consequences. Isn’t accepting the “package” just reinforcing the bad-faith bargaining?

Is there a reason NOT to break this cycle?

Will there be enough of a concern about way sub inflationary raises, when we are feeling inflation all around us, to get members to want to break this cycle this time?