Food for Thought: Retiree Leaders Speak Out
August 2012, Viewpoint,
Publication of NYSUT Retiree Council 5
No Matter, Nothing’s Changed!
Tony Montanaro, RC 5 President
…you were an in-service (active) teacher?
…you were called on regularly, as a member of NYSUT and your local, to stand up, be counted, and fight for your rights?
…all could have been lost without your support and your involvement in your union?
Well, nothing’s changed!
We retirees continue to hear and read that we are the problem. Our pensions, our health benefits, our right to negotiate, our very right to even belong to a union, are in jeopardy. Controversy surrounding these issues is rife with lies and misrepresentations.
We NYSUT retirees are an important factor in the fight to “set the record straight” and to safeguard what we have.
We, each one of us, need to show our solidarity and resolve by writing letters or emails, making calls, arranging meetings etc. with legislators, organized groups, and individuals, to get our message across, to counteract lies with facts. Let’s get one thing straight: all of this is political.
We must know and understand the issues and help elect politicians who believe in us and are willing to support us.
We cannot indulge in the luxury of ignoring the negative environment surrounding public employees (in-service and retired), unions, schools and education in general.
If you have a NYSUT retiree chapter, I am asking you to stay in touch with your local retiree chapter representative(s) for updates and pertinent information.
Also, NYSUT has created an excellent source of information, contacts, issue analyses and much more to make our advocacy successful. It is called the NYSUT Member Action Center. MAC is an online tool to connect the grass-roots community of activists interested in education, health care and other issues affecting working people and families. The MAC can be found at https://mac.nysut.org.
As President of NYSUT Retiree Council 5, I strongly urge you to become an active NYSUT retiree and do what you have done many times before…advocate.
In the words of NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue, we must stand “strong and united in the face of ongoing attacks.”
A Message from RC 10 President David Golden,
RC 10 Newsletter ISSUE # 5 for 2011-2012
From Your President:
There is a lot of reluctance we all share to confront unpleasant news and even more reluctance to accept a truth that makes us uncomfortable be-cause it conflicts with what “we know.”
Colin Powell has written a new book, It Worked for Me, in which he offers some points to ponder. “Tell me what you know. Tell me what you don’t know.” Colin Powell said, “Tell me what you think. Always distinguish which is which.” These points are worth remembering as we approach the end of the legislative session, fall elections, and the deluge of “fact” that will be poured over us aimed at getting our agreement. He especially got hard lessons in this when he was assisting President Bush during the Second Iraq crisis and war.
His caution is aimed first at the reliability of sources and the problems it created. He said; “You can’t make good decisions unless you have good information and can separate facts from opinion and speculation. Facts are verifiable information that is presented as objective reality. “If someone is telling you a fact and then qualifies it with something like “My best judgment,” or “Usually reliable sources,” or “For the most part we have been told,” that is opinion, not fact. The failure of subordinates to do that got Powell in trouble with his famous UN speech about WMD in Iraq. Subsequently, Powell learned that there was one non verified source for this erroneous claim and no one had checked it out. No one wanted to tell the boss that there were problems with the facts of the matter.
Recently I had a note from the spouse of a member who took exception to a column I had done about the possibility of attacks on our pensions harming us now and in the future. He did not believe that there was any chance of this occurring. Times were tough and saving money was a paramount concern to him. We should not oppose changes in pensions being proposed because we all had ours and nothing could reduce our benefits because of the constitutional protection afforded such benefits. He did not feel that facts supported my concern or that facts showed any real danger facing us. So, is there any truth out there about the dangers facing us?
At the last meeting of the RC 10 Board of Directors, I got some fact verification that I would rather have proven me wrong but proved me right. There was a steady drumbeat of stories from several of our Ambassadors who recounted how their pension benefits were being threatened or diminished. Guarantee of no co-pays for life were being done away with. Scopes of coverage of insurance plans were being narrowed. Efforts were emerging to strip some medical coverage from retirees in some groups of schools who shared benefit packages etc. It was not all claim of danger without a lack of real danger. It was, as others attested, a fact.
One of our past officers recounted how her medical coverage guaranteed for life had simply been eliminated by dropping that kind of coverage policy. She could not be covered by a plan that no longer existed. The new plan had different coverage and cost. Prescriptions that had cost a dollar or two were now costing her $25-$75 each! Others confirmed her experience! It was a fact! Yes, her pension checks still came in, but the district had put its hands in her purse and taken money out just the same. As she noted, 2 her income had not changed in the past 10 years, but she had less money just the same. In effect, her pension had been reduced.
Another ambassador recounted the impact of new Medicare Advantage coverage plans pulling the healthiest members out of the district basic plan. The Advantage plan is related to the basic plan and their coverage coordinated. That loss of members raises the cost of the base plan for those who remain. That makes it less likely that the retirement benefit assured to all their members’ benefits under that plan will continue to be offered. When it goes, then what? Who can use a guaranteed benefit that does not exist any longer?
Still another ambassador recounted how they had been given a generic drug and then charged much higher co-pay because it was more costly. It produced some side effects that raised new problems for her health. When she asked the pharmacy to go back to the brand name she was told that she had accepted the substitute once and thus was not able to go back to the less expensive form. Generic is not a synonym for cheaper and did not protect them from the new side effects. Facts are not “what everybody said.” If you want to reduce or eliminate benefits to retirees, you can directly move to eliminate them or you can tinker with the elements of those programs to cut the value of the benefit or even eliminate it. It can all be legal and not run afoul of the New York Constitutional protection from which we all benefit. You can also do both at once! The significance of the former is harder to see and understand than the latter, but they both do get the job done. They lay the groundwork for the final coup de main that will finish off the target. When the targets are tired, dispirited, weakened and divided, it is easier to finish them all off. These attacks on elements of our retirement packages are aimed at just that. They seek to convince the public that it is all necessary and bearable. It is all we can afford. Who in the general public, let alone the members, sees or knows what the impact of small changes in a health plan packages or co-pay rates really amount to?
Powell also points out that folks in an organization are often reluctant to pass along bad news up the leadership line. We are the victims of this as lawyers of officials play the role of ostrich, and pretend to their superiors that the changes don’t do any harm. The boss, Powell tells us, is often the last to know some unpleasant bit of reality. That reluctance always makes a bad case worse. Colin Powell related the story of a Major General who went to the Army Chief of Staff office and reported negatively on a pet project of the Chief. He got loudly thrown out of the office and soon the entire Pentagon knew about what had happened to him for making a report critical of what the boss wanted to hear. Powell ran into him in the hall and commiserated with him about his encounter. The officer replied quietly, “Hey, he don’t pay me to give him happy talk.” That officer later retired as a 4 star General! Some choose to hold back the bad news to escape any fallout from being the messenger. Others take the risk and we are all better off for it.
Someone always knows of course, but they do not want to tell the boss what is really going on. Bad news travels slowly, especially if it may impact your job! Reducing pensions increases poverty among the elderly (Yes that’s us. Face it!). Reducing medical benefits increases that poverty as well. Loss of disposable income means that merchants sell us fewer products. Less robust sales of necessities will put some of them out of business. More loss of business will then be used to justify fewer payments and benefits, as unaffordable! Various legislators and administrative folks understand the impact of 3 these proposed changes. They know that in time, after the present leadership has moved on, the real impact will occur. It will be evident to everyone, and then we will hear. “No one told us! “
We cannot doubt the verified occurrences that we encounter and hope that they are not what they seem. We cannot be the ones who duck and hold back the bad news. We must tell each other and everyone who will listen what is really happening. Just because it is not obvious in every element is not a reason to doubt what is happening. Just because the connections of seemingly separate occurrences are not quickly evident does not justify doubt. We cannot doubt because of fear. We cannot hold back because of doubt. We must be the messengers of caution, not the doubters of every bit of frightening news. We may not afford ourselves the luxury of “happy talk. “ We must always speak truth to power, and admit that truth, even if it frightens us. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the willingness to face fear and carry on. You can do that; we all can do that together!
David Golden, President
A Message from RC 10 President David Golden,
RC 10 Skyline News Issue #3 for 2011-2012
From Your President:
Remember Elmer Fudd? He was most often portrayed as the great hunter after the elusive quarry, Bugs Bunny. When, on the rare occasion he actually shot Bugs, it always ended with both of them hale and hearty friends, but often with Fudd on the verge of resuming the old hunt. Hunting season seems to be opening early in New York this year! Here it is January and already we are hearing bragging about the big ones that are going to be mounted on the wall by season’s end! But who will play Elmer Fudd and who will play Bugs Bunny? We have one candidate for the role of Elmer and two for Bugs. The great state hunter, Andrew Cuomo, is proclaiming himself the sure winner of this mid-winter shoot off. He has put himself into the role of Elmer. The greatest hunter of them all is loudly proclaiming that he will bag a big one within the next 30 days! But who is to play the role of Bugs? Will it be the Commissioner of Education? Will it be all of us teachers, active and retired, who will turn out to be Bugs? Will we all end up as friends or will one be mounted on a trophy board?
The hunter has put his bait in place and waits to see which of the targets will be the rabbit he will bag and which will get away. Both the possible rabbits are loudly proclaiming that the other one is the real Bugs Bunny and they are just another part of the hunting party. The bait is the $805 million in new aid the Governor has put out, but with a string attached. It sounds like a lot of new money for schools, if you ignore the money taken away last year. But Bugs is hungry and he can smell the bait. How does he get that juicy bait without ending up on the wall? Elmer wants us to believe that we in the school community can get some of our lost money back if we are good and agree to give up some things.
The Commissioner also has his tools to get the bait and avoid the wall. He proposes that The State Education Department should have the authority to require corrective action, including the use of independent evaluators, when districts evaluate their teachers positively regardless of students’ academic progress. Our NYSUT President can agree to give up due process and fair disciplinary practices. Why not? The SED makes it clear that it believes that if there is failure in student achievement, it can only be caused by teachers ruled competent even when their students were failing! Of course this is the only element that could cause such a result. The Commissioner would have us all think that the problems of school performance are caused solely by incompetent teachers who cannot be removed due to the tenure laws and the legal process required. He would have you believe that if it weren’t for that alone, then the lack of funding, mal-distribution of available aid, unfunded state mandates, top down management etc. would not be a problem in New York. The Commissioner also wants to be Elmer Fudd and us to be Bugs Bunny! Where does all of the money come from during these stringent times? How much of that $800M will New York save by changing teacher evaluation? I wonder!
The Commissioner called upon NYSUT to end its successful lawsuit as a means of reaching agreement within the 30 days the Governor has set as his limit to “bag the big one.” But in doing so, the Commissioner ignores the reality that the Legislature and the Courts have already upheld NYSUT’s position as lawful. It is, in fact, SED acting at his direction, which is in the Courts. It is he who is causing this delaying tactic, trying to overturn the prior ruling supporting NYSUT. This is what is holding up progress on achieving the agreement on evaluation. The Governor seeks it and we have tried honestly to achieve it. “However, the aid is contingent upon an agreement between teachers’ unions and school districts on a teacher and principal evaluation system,” the newspapers said. We in NYSUT are not Bugs Bunny. He is!
But the real Elmer Fudd has set a goal for successful hunting. He may not be sure of which of the two rabbits he thinks he sees as Bugs, but he has a solution. Shoot them both and figure he must have gotten the right one! If they fail to reach agreement in 30 days, let’s shoot them both, right? How? He would do that by declaring into law an evaluation system via a budget amendment. Since Cuomo sees it as getting a trophy on the wall, any trophy is enough even if it is the wrong one. “If the unions and school districts don't find a middle ground and meet Cuomo's requirements by the deadline, the districts would lose access to increases in state aid,” the newspaper reports.
The Governor, with a deficit and without any “new” taxes, has also found other new money, his offer suggests. He proposes that districts that "achieve academic gains and management efficiency" will get some part of a $200M fund. How much of that $200M will New York save by changing teacher evaluation I wonder? What do you suppose constitutes “management efficiency” in the Governor’s eyes? Might it be the elimination of limits on class size, the number of preparations a teacher can have in one day, or the elimination of administrative support at after school and evening events? Such things undoubtedly impede the “efficiency” of administrators fixed solely on self-preservation by cutting costs and programs. The Commissioner suggests that, “School districts must retain their authority to terminate and should not be burdened with new bureaucratic obstacles to removing unsuccessful teachers.” There he goes again trying to get us in the role of Bugs. We still do not know how these changes will save the state a billion dollars which will then be given to the schools. Where is that money coming from?
Aside from a school package that seems to be a billion dollars plus, Cuomo would "hold counties harmless to all growth of Medicaid costs,” the press reports. That is a big issue for towns and counties. They need help here and heoffers it to them in exchange for their support of his budget plan.
Where does the Governor plan on getting the additional estimated $1.2 billion this will cost? It would seem it was coming from your school district and your pension plan. Yes, that is part of the problem; it’s not just an attack on due process and tenure, it is also an attack on your pension. We just got a new tier V system last year that has just begun to enroll members. Now they want another new one, tier VI. But, the assurances of last year that this would save the state a lot of money and end our deficit must not have been quite right. We now need another tier, just a different model Elmer assures us.
This Tier VI would be, if approved, the first state plan that was not a defined benefit plan and not actuarially based and fully funded, as are all existing plans. That would set up two types of pensions and divide the supporters. We all would be in the old, greedy, pampered group with real pension security and the new members would all be in the do it yourself, lots of luck, bunch with no assured pension security. If you plan on dying soon, there is no problem in this for you. If you have a lot of living yet to do, this is a mortal threat to your future wellbeing. But remember the state is going to give you (back) $800 million in “new” aid and $1.2 billion in county aid and $200 million in incentive aid. Don’t forget, the Governor is also “getting something done” in Albany. That is all that matters, right? After all he is going to save so much with changes aimed at getting rid of the bad apples, that his administration can fund $2B+ in new money without new taxes. Well, we finally know where they expect to get all that new money without taxing more, right? He is just making savings from a few pensioners who make six figure pensions and new hires, he would have you believe. It can’t hurt you, just someone else, he would have you believe.
If you want to purchase a Rolls Royce, you don’t go to Wal-Mart. Sam Walton and Henry Ford got it right. They knew where the real money was to be found--not in selling Rolls Royce. So if you want to get a lot of “savings” for the state, Elmer Fudd knows you don’t sell Rolls Royce either. The big money is with the little people who just lead their modest lives. That is how the Fords and the Waltons became among the richest people in America. Rolls Royce dealers don’t even show up in the listings.
The Governor’s plan would be doing a job on us, if this all came to pass and we are put in the role of Bugs. It would seek to turn taxpayers against school staff, counties against school districts, and some school districts and their staff against other, “less needy” ones. There would be no school community winners in this, just a sharing of pain and loss. A school community divided against itself is a loser, now and for a long time to come. Who will ultimately prove to be the real Bugs Bunny is yet to be determined but we know who everybody would prefer to have play in that role.
Hunting season this year is just beginning in New York State and that season will certainly see an expanded list of hunters and the hunted. It will go much longer than some expect however, and while some targets may be “hit,” the extinction of those hunted is not in the cards. There is another hunting season every two years. One occurred in November. The hunted sometimes become the hunter if need be. We will see!
David Golden, President