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The Retiree Vote

June 20, 2022 pm30 6:03 pm

The May results from the United Federation of Teachers elections seem clear:

  • Unity won overall, but with a lower percent than in the past
  • The united opposition won the high schools (not a big surprise) and came fairly close in the middle schools (not a big surprise for me, but it may have been for others).

Analysis of in-service vote totals also seems clear:


But I have intentionally set aside the retiree vote. It is more complicated in 2022. There’s a few structural reasons:

  • Retirees are not involved in day to day union decisions. They are not (for the most part) in schools or classrooms. Arguments about MOSL or mayoral control are, for the most part, do not move retirees.
  • Retirees (I strongly believe) continue to vote or not vote, according to whether they voted or did not vote in the last election before they retired. (Turnout among retirees is inelastic.)
  • Retirees who vote continue to vote for the same group they voted for before they retired. (Preference among retirees is not elastic.)
  • The retiree voting pool shifts differently than in-service members. I will in the near future retire. I will join the Retired Teachers Chapter (RTC). I will start voting in UFT elections, probably as I have voted in past elections. And at some point, I hope several decades in the future, I will pass on.

There’s also more data:

  • There are retiree-wide elections in addition to the UFT’s general elections – the Retired Teacher Chapter (RTC) holds a full slate vote the spring before. I have data from 2018 and 2021.

And there’s something new for 2021-2022, the eight-hundred pound gorilla that Unity let into the room:

  • Medicare. Medicare Advantage. Medicare Advantage Plus. Mulgrewcare. For the first time – perhaps ever – there was an issue on the table that moved retirees.

The Data

A note: Retiree votes are “capped” by the UFT Constitution. It is weird (it is) that members who are not in-service have such a large say over what happens to members in service. Conversely, when there are big retiree issues – which are rare – but Medicare! – that’s when retirees should have much more of a say. In any case, even the writers of the UFT constitution (Unity) know it would look weird for retirees to dominate the voting. So they created a “cap.” Up through 2010, if retiree votes exceeded 18,000, then they would be scaled down to 18,000. Unity, which we think of as having a “lock” on retiree votes, raised the cap to 23,500 for the 2013 election.

For 2004 and 2007 I have the vote totals after the cap was applied. That means that the percentages are correct, but the raw numbers were proportionately a bit higher.

Here’s the percents:

Here’s the numbers (remember 2004 and 2007 I have scaled, no actual)

And here are the RTC 2018 and 2021 numbers and percents:

The graph initially looks a bit of a jumble:

By combining all non-Unity votes, things smooth out. We have 6 stable cycles.

Including the RTC numbers makes it look like there are jumps – but really it’s just that turnout is a bit lower for RTC elections. (although not that much lower)

Since there is overall stability, looking at percents is not misleading.

In fact now we see what we thought: Unity has won 82% – 89% of the retiree vote, until now. And they have usually been in the upper half of that range. They fell to 70-71 when the Medicare Advantage Plan was announced. They lost votes in the RTC election that Spring. Retiree Advocate members said that word had barely gotten out, and expected another jump this election. That didn’t happen. News about Medicare had an immediate impact on retirees who heard about it, and we seem to have seen most of that shift immediately, in the RTC 2021 election.

A little refinement: Since we have two RTC elections’ worth of data, can that be analyzed? It’s not really enough for deep analysis. But after the 2018 RTC, Unity vote rose 34% and after 2021 it only rose 19%. That’s about 2500 missing votes. So there is some additional underperformance on the Unity side in 2022 that this chart does not capture.

Some Guesses

What does it mean? I see Unity having “lost” 2600 votes in the RTC election in 2021, and another 1000 in this Spring’s election. United for Change/Retiree Advocate seems to have picked up about 3000 votes in the 2021 RTC election, and another 1000 or so this Spring.

Unlike the other divisions, there were a significant number of retirees who switched sides. There are also Unity voters who chose not to vote. And there were first time voters who voted for Retiree Advocate or UfC (and against Unity). I do not think there is enough evidence in the numbers to know how many Unity voters sat it out, how many switched sides, and how many votes RA/UfC picked up that were new voters, and how many we captured from Unity.

As a guess? Retiree Advocate and United for Change may have pulled in 2000 new votes, and taken 2000 votes from former Unity voters. Unity may have had about 1600 who did not send in ballots. Or it could be 1000 new and 3000 switches, with 600 Unity voters not voting. It’s hard to know without more data. Anecdotally, I know a significant number of first time voters voting for United for Change, and I know over a dozen former Unity voters who first time voted against Unity. I only know 2 Unity voters who did not vote. But my sample? These are people I know. Not a random sample.

Medicare Advantage – Lasting Impact?

More data, which will come with future elections, may reveal more of the picture. Future elections will also help us understand how permanent these changes are. Will retirees drift back to Unity? Or has their faith in the leadership been not only shaken, but broken?

For over a generation UFT retirees have not been strongly motivated to vote. What Bloomberg did to the schools did not affect retirees. Those with a strong political agenda – perhaps aligned with New Action, voted that way. Those with connections – perhaps a current or former job, or deep friendships and relationships within Unity, voted that way. But the understanding, the deal – retirees did not have to worry because the union would forever protect their pensions and their healthcare – that deal seems to have been broken.

Can Unity drop Medicare Advantage Plus, and convince retirees that this was all a misunderstanding? Can Unity force Medicare Advantage through, and will retirees find that the cuts are not so bad? (I can’t see that happening). Is there a way for Unity to win back the trust they violated? Those questions remain open.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sean I Ahern permalink
    June 21, 2022 am30 7:28 am 7:28 am

    Mulgrew explained his support for Medicare Advantage in terms of how it would influence upcoming contract negotiations. Apparently he hoped that by supporting a reduction in City costs for retiree health benefits he would be able to divert at least some of that $ to salary increases for active members. Now What? The city is stuck with the rising health care costs for retirees and will include this cost as part of the cost of settling a new contract. So health care costs are the hot potato that have landed back into the contract negotiations.

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