December 5, 2019

Bernie's Workplace Democracy Plan —
Medicare for All is right in there

Most union members really fear losing their negotiated coverage if Medicare for All becomes law, and I can understand why.

I'm on Medicare, and like all other retired workers in NYC, we get our Part B and D premiums (plus the surcharges for higher incomes) refunded each year.  Wouldn't want to lose all that.

Medicare only pays for part of your healthcare costs. The leftover deductibles, co-pays, co-insurances, and premiums are handled to a greater or lesser extent by one of the city's retiree Medicare plans. (Yes, we have a choice).  I am in an Advantage Plan type, an HMO, but could easily switch to the Medigap kind (like GHI) every two years.

And for a little extra money each month, I get some extra benefits from the union's Supplement Health Insurance Program (SHIP). There's no question that these are great.

Am I also happy that this insurance will never go away?  Yes.
And that there's so much coverage?  Yes.
And that I can switch from one type of plan to another every couple of years?  Sure.

But, am I happy that we're still paying for redundant administrative costs and the huge salaries of insurance industry execs?  No.
Or the costs of overpriced drugs? Definitely not.
(Tarbell's exposé of drug companies donating heavily to conservative groups pushing industry-friendly policies here ...)
Or having the increasingly present inconveniences and iffiness of prior authorizations for so many procedures?  No again, and simply horrified at this transparent attempt by insurance companies to limit the benefits I'm supposed to be able to get.

It's one thing to be generally happy with your union coverage and still be clear-eyed about the enormous waste, the not so admirable corporate goals, and the actually harmful practices of the industry as a whole

That's why it's important to spread the word about Sanders's Workplace Democracy Plan, which describes how he plans to interface with the unions during the phasing in of Medicare for All. Scroll way down to the bottom at this link.
• A fair transition to Medicare for All:  Bernie will require that resulting healthcare savings from union-negotiated plans result in wage increases and additional benefits for workers during the transition to Medicare for All. When Medicare for All is signed into law, companies with union negotiated health care plans would be required to enter into new contract negotiations overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. Under this plan, all company savings that result from reduced health care contributions from Medicare for All will accrue equitably to workers in the form of increased wages or other benefits.  Furthermore, the plan will ensure that union-sponsored clinics and other providers are integrated within the Medicare for All system, and kept available for members. Unions will still be able to negotiate for and provide wrap-around services and other coverage not duplicative of the benefits established under Medicare for All.
This is a really heavy lift, and people in general don't trust that the government (this one in particular) will get any of it right. Look at all the things this plan calls for:

  • returning savings back into salaries and/or benefits
  • enter new contract negotiations
  • involve the National Labor Relations Board in the process
  • keep union-sponsored clinics and providers integrated in the new system
  • negotiate all those additional, non-duplicative benefits they're allowed to provide.

But I have to keep saying:  All social programs take a long time to build and involve risks.

Take Social Security, for example. It needed a stock market crash and the Great Depression, as well as Share Our Wealth clubs in every state, Townsend's old-age pension plans (which disappeared in 1950, a full 15 years after it was launched), and many other pension schemes before and during the creation of the national Social Security program in 1935. Then the Social Security Board had to be established, which was funded in 1936, became a cabinet FSA agency in 1939 and replaced the current SSA in 1946.  Lump-sum payments started in 1937, monthly payments were to begin in 1942 after the Trust Funds could be built up.

Still no health benefits for decades. Medicare was established as Title XVIII of the 1965 Social Security Act, 30 years later.

Bernie's Medicare for All legislation will also not happen immediately.  But it MUST happen, if people are not to be diddled interminably by a couple of out-of-control industries, tethered to jobs in fear of losing their insurance, or living without insurance altogether.  It MUST happen if we don't continually want our laws written up by lobbyists and adopted by amoral elected officials.

Medicare for All is the only way to go, but we must allow the process to start, and we must have the fortitude and patience to get the complexities sorted out in the conversion.

November 18, 2019

Last week the elected leadership of that 34,000-member union voted 80% to endorse Sanders — “capping the most comprehensive member engagement process that UTLA has ever conducted for a political candidate.”  (Wow.)

“Thursday’s House vote followed a six-week discussion at school sites.”  (They do that over there?)

"More than 500 elected site representatives voted 72.5% yes to the presidential endorsement” of Sanders at nine regional meetings.  (Starting to get angry.)

The quotes are from the union’s website, which includes this from their president, Alex Caputo-Pearl:

“Why now, and why Bernie? Because we want him to win in the primary election and because we need an unapologetic, longstanding ally of progressive policies to make public education a priority in the White House. Sanders is the first viable major candidate in 25 years in the Democratic Party to stand up against privatization, the charter billionaires, and high-stakes testing and to stand up for a massive redistribution of wealth to schools and social services. Critically, like UTLA, Sen. Sanders believes in building a national movement for real, lasting change.”

Now, that’s an endorsement. 

The deal breaker over here is that bit about Sanders being a “longstanding ally of progressive policies,” because our leadership, alongside its decision to never ever poll the rank and file on endorsements, isn’t interested in progressivism. They may borrow the terminology from time to time to gain some points with us lefties, but not much really translates into the kinds policies we’d favor. I mean, the UFT still has its own charter school and boasts of its “organizing efforts of NYC’s charter educators through the UFT Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff.” Condoning the charter movement’s direct threat to public education doesn’t seem progressive to me. More like accommodation.

Keep these endorsements coming, Bernie. Maybe you'll find some needles here in the NYC unions that can be moved.

PS:  There are more details on the about this endorsement (timeline, links to commentary elsewhere, the Nurses endorsement) over at Ednotes.

November 17, 2019

Weingarten's playbook: old or new?

I really enjoyed Randi Weingarten’s speech yesterday at CUNY’s School of Labor and Urban Studies, her central points being:
Unions have lost their power.
Get it back through DENSITY, COMMUNITY, and NARRATIVE.
Turn values into actions.
The strategy is to organize. Catch phrase: “Community is the new Density.”
Slogan: “Organize, don’t agonize.”
And the blue AFT bookmarks they were handing out mirrored the messaging, especially in the second paragraph: “We live in a perilous era of extreme economic inequality, existential threats to our democracy ... opponents aren’t going away ... we are the change agents ... the dreamers and the fighters for a better life, a better world and the soul of America ....”

Hold on.

The whole speech was beginning to sound like the old ICE meetings, when we were hammering out our strong social justice position for the 2010 UFT election.

You can still read the platform on the web.

The “Introduction” alone precedes her remarks by about a decade, so of course I have to re-post a chunk of it here. DOWN BELOW. Am still proud of the work ICE did then and very glad Weingarten’s furthering our fundamental caucus messaging.

By the way, I've included the 3rd- and 5th-paragraph attacks on the UFT’s collaboration in the excerpt below because one can never be sure that the progressive words we heard from Weingarten yesterday represent the actions she’ll actually be taking. They haven’t tended to in the past. After all, leadership’s had a hand in continued class size issues, the whole ATR situation in general, arbitration concessions, a despicable tolerance for rubber room and 3020-a procedures, unremovable grievances, that kind of thing.

I was going to end this post by saying I am pleased with what I heard yesterday from the AFT prez, but then checked back in my archives and found to my dismay she did more of the same progressive-speak in 2009 pushing her new ACES plan: “Active Communities Enabling Success.” wrote extensively about that fluffery in a post called ACES sounds like ICE,” and this morning tried to find out how long she stuck with that plan. A google search produced the message “PAGE NOT FOUND.”

Seems like it was a hat-tip to progressivism then, and this whole production that we witnessed yesterday — though energetic, clever and seductive — may still be just from the same old play book. But she must be getting better at it. I felt happy when I left the meeting.

But, then we have to come back to what my old ICE buddy’s been saying for years (e.g., EdNotes 2006, 2013, 2015) — “Watch what they do, not what they say.”

A chunk of the ICE platform Introduction ...

We believed then and continue to believe now that we cannot afford to be silent on the issues that affect our working conditions, in many cases our jobs, and the future prospects of the children we educate.

In these difficult times for unionism across the nation, and with union officials failing the members politically, contractually, and philosophically against a dictatorial mayor [=Trump admin]
they continue to back under the present system of mayoral control, we have chosen once again to offer an alternative platform for the 2010 elections.

While we stand with the members of the three other caucuses against outside attacks, the Weingarten/Unity team has weakened the union. Furthering an almost 50-year record of autocratic control, it continues to stifle dissent. More than this, Unity is tirelessly committed to its failed policy of collaboration — with government officials unprepared and sometimes even improperly certified to run this school system and with private organizations that have other agendas. We speak up to make the union stronger and provide an opportunity for any UFT member who is critical of Unity’s stranglehold on policy to get involved. One of our major goals is to bring the entire opposition movement together through this election process.

What continues to unify ICE? The sense that we can be both strong trade unionists and strong educators, that by its very nature, a school is a mini-community, and everyone who works in a school — teachers, psychologists and guidance people, paras, secretaries, administrators, custodial staff, and security agents — has a role in the education of children.

We aim to provide a voice for all UFT members, in particular the classroom teacher, often the most neglected by school administrators and the union staff. These people bear the brunt of the responsibility, and the blame when things don’t go well. We believe that members need to participate in school governance, for it is through grassroots movements that individuals become empowered and active in shaping institutions and the roles of the people working and learning within them. Our union, when it is truly in the hands of members and not a band of misguided and self-interested union managers, can be central to growth of good learning environments.

In the past six years, ICE has developed three functions. The first is keeping up to date with education issues, analyzing and talking about them in the form of essays (in the blogosphere and other media), speeches, videotaping, and forums. They participate in union activities (such as running for and serving as chapter leaders and delegates, attending meetings of all kinds, and studying the contract and other laws) and share their knowledge and experience freely with any union members who ask them for help. Lastly, ICE members are activists, who stand strongly against the many inequities in our learning communities. They mount and/or participate in demonstrations of all kinds, particularly against the ATR situation, rubber rooms, charter schools, and war.

November 12, 2019

The public option needs to go on the “ash heap of history”

The public option was viable ten years ago when the fight was on to get universal coverage, and since then Congress hasn't done anything to control costs. That's why ex-health insurance insider Wendell Potter says we're living with a healthcare system that can no longer work.

Potter appeared on a recent Joy Reid podcast (starting at 15:30), where Reid broke down healthcare insurance this way:
Those who get coverage through their job — employers pay some of the cost of premiums, and
Those who don’t — you’re on your own for the whole thing.
The fundamental concept of all insurance is the larger the “risk pool,” the more predictable and stable the premiums can be.

But, even when lots of people are insured by sprawling companies, the pool for each one of these is still much smaller than Medicare’s. That social program puts all 43,000,000 seniors into one super large group, then administers the payments. These two factors mean lower costs for everyone in the pool, which is why seniors would never think of giving up Medicare.

The M-4-All legislation backed by Sanders and Warren aims to create one big mega-pool for the whole country. The reason why it’s taking so long to catch on is that the for-profit health industry has been mounting a massive campaign to protect its gains. Fearmongering makes people queasy about changing a system they’re used to.

In a recent article in NBC’s Think, Potter talks about the propaganda being put out against the M-4-All bills, saying:
“ ... the industry strategy has been more effective in manipulating journalists and pollsters than I could have ever predicted. I feel compelled to speak up and help set the record straight when so many politicians and journalists are using talking points that come straight from health insurance central casting scripts.”
Potter enumerates four lies promulgated by the PR groups running the industry’s campaign (the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future in particular) to create a sense of national apprehension for anything that smacks of single-payer.

1. Free market can work in health care — yet free market depends on price transparency, which (Potter notes) is largely nonexistent in healthcare. Plus, people don’t always get the chance to decide on what procedures they’re going to get.

2. Reforms mean a government takeover — yet under the proposed tax structure of M-4-All, providers would still be working for themselves. Single-payer would be publicly financed, privately delivered.

3. It would be “one-size-fits-all” healthcare — yet the new legislation creates more options for everyone (e.g., no networks, no referrals, helps more hospitals stay open).

4. It would be too expensive and too disruptive — yet we spend more on health than any other country because of the high admin costs, because the law created boondoggles like Medicare not being able to negotiate drug prices and the infamous donut hole, and because people have to go through hoops to get access to benefits and drugs.

One has to keep asking: 
Why is it so important for our union’s leadership to bolster the notion that healthcare is purchasable commodity rather than a social amenity paid for by taxes?
Why do they advocate proposals that back fractionated risk pools instead of embracing one enormous, cost-saving group?
Why don’t they support real cost-control legislation or anything that would make services and products more accessible?

I've already written on how some unions have signed on to M-4-All, which is a transformative piece of tax legislation. Unfortunately, our union continues to support positions that are truly harmful to so many people. The UFT/NYSUT/AFT combo is often more aligned with Wall Street and Conservative think tanks than we'd like.

They’d serve us much better if they’d start COUNTERING what’s coming from the corpocracy by calling out its propaganda. We’re not going to get universal healthcare, better choices or lower prices by regurgitated platitudes spewed out from a tired old armchair on the sidelines. That just stinks of status quo — a position that Weingarten and the rest of them seem more than willing to just curl up and die for.

November 5, 2019

"The glib and oily art" (part II)

For once, I’d love to read something from UFT leadership that doesn’t smack of fake progressivism and lip-service reform.

Not to say that a lot of what Retired Teachers chapter leader Tom Murphy says in the October newsletter isn’t about what we’re all feeling. It is. The country and its values are a mess under this administration, sold to the highest bidder, and not a single one of us who’s paying attention is feeling happy-clappy about the conversion.

But, but, but.

It’s lines like these that make me actually wince: 
“Like any other labor and political progressives, I am hoping to play my part in transforming our national nightmare, reclaiming the rightful heritage of enlightened government.”

“Perhaps we are on the eve of a new Progressive Era, a New Deal or a New Frontier/Great Society.”
Why wear the mantle of progressivism when at no level does UFT/AFT leadership enter the fray?
“Words, words, words.”   Hamlet, act 3
If after the congressional wins in 2018 Murphy says there’s now “a bit more clarity,” I have to ask: Why now? Educators have been have been seeing the “shadows of anti-union” and “regressive social policies” for decades, and guess what, the union has played right along with practically all the “erosion of ... labor achievements.”

Whose classes are smaller?
Who has real autonomy in the classroom or is being encouraged to bring their own talents and skills to the learning environment instead of having to conform to ridiculous cookie-cutter designs and dance before the mindless minions of DOE-trained administrators?
How many kids are getting the counseling they need?
And which of them is getting help with time-tested old-style math, grammar, civics, and vocational classes to allow them to function adequately in society?

Our union has done nothing about any of this, so don’t come to us now and say you’ve got “clarity” or that you “can’t give up fighting to prevent further erosion.” It is leadership itself that has given up the ghost on any of this a long time ago.

Moving on to what Murphy says about health care, I doubt very much that he or any other exec can “show the way.” Let’s look at the four health care “improvements” he mentions.

“Guarding pre-existing conditions...”
The regulation of pre-existing conditions started way back in 1945 (when it was left to individual states), and continued through laws enacted at the state level and Congress in 1974 (ERISA), 1978 (pregnancy), 1996 (HIPAA), and 2010 (ACA) (Wiki). Since in some form or other pre-existing conditions legislation has been around for more than 40 years, I’d say guarding them is tantamount to keeping the status quo, nothing special.

“Cutting pharmaceutical prices, and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices...”
Our union clearly has helped us, the rank-and-file members, with medical costs: My more expensive drugs don’t cost much, and I love getting reimbursed for Part B premiums and IRMAA. But as far as fighting for cutting pharmaceutical prices for everyone else, I’m not so sure leadership has done a darn thing except yap about it.
      The various proposals for drug coverage in Medicare all relied on “private pharmacy benefit managers on a regional basis to negotiate drug prices (Wiki).” I’m just now finding out that the Dems actually advocated one-size-fits-all benefits nationwide, but were out-maneuvered by the Republicans, whose plans called for multiple choices and “a wide array of deductibles and co-pays (including the famous ‘donut hole’).” Those are what we’re stuck with til now. So, good on the Dems, but where was the union voice from 1999 to 2003 in that fight. Maybe I missed it.

“... and perhaps creating a public option.”
What a great word, “perhaps.”
But apart from that position of extreme fence-sitting, the public option is defined as “a proposal to create a government-run health insurance agency that would compete with other private health insurance companies” (Wiki). Please tell me how that could work.
As far as I’m concerned, competition with private health insurance companies solidifies in stone their very existence, yet these companies are the very essence of the crazy cost and access problems in the current design.  Again, the public option just can’t be part of what Murphy is calling a “new Progressive Era, a New Deal or a New Frontier/Great Society.”  This position is about 5 mm left of center.

As for his last paragraph:
Our premise has to be the creation of a vision and perception in the midst of self-doubt. If there is ambiguity out there, then we have to sharpen our focus. Can we distinguish between seeing the safety of a domesticated dog or the threats of a wild wolf?  I’m betting on clarity and vision.
Oh, my! I’m not entirely sure I’m getting his rhetoric, but as far as I can see, the union is very comfortable with “the safety of a domesticated dog” — it’s had so much practice.

As for “clarity and vision,” it hasn’t had much of either.

November 1, 2019

"The glib and oily art to speak and purpose not" (part I)

Medicare for All means restructuring the tax code to eradicate a market-driven, for-profit industry that deprives Americans of coverage, needless expense and choice.

I’d venture to say that what the 99% really wants, in addition to universal coverage, is a reduction of the overall costs we pay for public items — infrastructure, government, education, and the like. Under Medicare for All, we’d pay for healthcare like everything else, through taxes, not with bloated out-of-pocket amounts for healthcare in the current design of things.

Unfortunately, as the Kaiser Foundation noted earlier this month, you can’t discern that widely held position from the polls. Wording of the questionnaires themselves affects the responses you get, and how successful politicians and their spokespersons “sell” the various proposals in different parts of the country also makes analysis slippery.

The true Medicare for All candidates, catching the tailwind of the two bills already introduced in the Senate and House, are very clear on the issues. We have to change the tax structure to achieve two goals: make healthcare universal and reduce the overall cost. What’s in their way is Big Money, Big Pharma and a couple of the Big Unions, ours included.

That the AFT/UFT’s position on Medicare for All is not progressive, even spineless and duplicitous, is clear from Weingarten’s Sept. 27th letter in the Jacobin, from which I’ll riff on a few things she’s written.

“I am supportive of AFT members fighting for diverse viewpoints and positions”
and “the AFT has embarked on a very different process — one that puts member engagement front and center.”

Silky smooth. The fact that leadership may support members “fighting for diverse viewpoints” doesn’t mean that Weingarten, Mulgrew or other execs actually listen to or buy into the arguments made by the rank and file, particularly those of us who support M4A legislation. In fact, I’d argue there’s been a certain hostility to polling the membership, much less following its lead.
“I want that glib and oily art to speak and purpose not.” (Shakespeare, King Lear, act 1)

“Everything that deceives may be said to enchant.” (Plato, The Republic, book 1)

“We agree that we must make healthcare a basic, universal human right ... but ... I don’t believe there is just one way to get there.”
It’s way too facile to agree with Progressives that healthcare is a basic right. To suggest that there’s more than one way to get it is catastrophic for any real change. Every proposal that sidelines M4A legislation buttresses the fundamentally self-serving layer of bureaucratic redundancy and greed we have now in for-profit insurance. But Weingarten supports that fluffy prose.
“We may yet go singing on our way — it makes the road less irksome.” (Virgil, Eclogue 9)

“The safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)
In fact, restructuring the tax code is the only way to kill this dragon and make healthcare truly universal and truly universally accessible.
“There is but one road that leads to Corinth” (Pater, Marius the Epicurean)

“I argued for Medicare for all as a floor, not a ceiling, with a role if people want for private insurance.”

This stance is idiotic. Anyone who advocates for it condones for-profit healthcare.
“Here the boundaries meet and all contradictions exist side by side.” (Dostoevski, The Brothers Karamazov)

“Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.” (Mencken, Prejudices, 3rd series)
And, in fact:
“This was the most unkindest cut of all.” (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, act 3)

“In concept, health insurance is supposed to lower the cost of care and expand coverage ...” That’s a false premise right there. Let’s be honest. The purpose of health insurance right now in this country is to limit the amount of care people can get and make money for shareholders.
“He who would distinguish the true from the false must have an adequate idea of what is true and false.” (Spinoza, Ethics, pt. 1)

“Truth exists, only falsehood has to be invented.” (Braque, Pénsées sur l’Art)

“That which has always been accepted by everyone, everywhere, is almost certain to be false.” (Valéry, Tel quel)

... Unfortunately it hasn’t worked that way. Medicare for All is one way to fix the concept, but it’s not the only way. The point is to get to universal coverage, and to stop the prohibitive costs that keep prescription drugs and healthcare out of reach for too many people.”
You can’t stop “prohibitive costs” when the biggest players back industry-driven out-of-pocket expenses. This argument is essentially a sham.
“A picture is something which requires as much knavery, trickery, and deceit as the perpetration of a crime.” (attributed to Degas)

“If I be false, or swerve a hair from truth ...
Upbraid my falsehood!” (Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, act 3)
Upbraid her falsehood indeed.

“ ... the goal for us as a union remains finding a standard-bearer who fights for universal coverage.”
So they want us to fight just for universal coverage? If that’s all she’s willing to go to the mat for, our cause is truly hopeless.
What might ills have not been done by woman!
Who was ‘t betrayed the Capitol? — A woman!
Who lost Mark Antony the world? — A woman!
Who was the cause of a long ten years’ war,
And laid at last old Troy in ashes? — Woman!
Destructive, damnable, deceitful woman!
                                                     (Otway, The Orphan, act 3)

October 30, 2019

A parenthetical update on teaching music

I say “parenthetical” because as I’m retired, I’m not focusing much on the plight of music teachers. Single-payer healthcare is my current theater of operations.

And I say “update” because I checked through the contracts that have been ratified since I left teaching to see if anything has changed vis-à-vis the workload of HS music teachers. I found to my dismay, but not to my surprise, that our contract on this particular issue is the same.

To be clear, clause M.2.g. of the 2008-19 contract on Class size limitations for HSS (p.45) says:

   The size of required music classes in the high schools shall be determined on the basis of a maximum of
   50 pupils for each teacher, except as specified in 3. below.

[Exceptions listed in 3. below have to do with there not being enough space to reduce class size, as well as conformity to class size would mean a shorter time schedule or half classes and larger sizes might be desirable under special circumstances (e.g., specialized/experimental/IGC instructions).]

I also scrolled through a .pdf of the current memorandum and found nothing different about music.

So, I am here re-posting my September 2009 letter to Mike Mendel (down below the line), and also drawing your attention to these two other pieces of colorful commentary on teaching music in New York City from earlier that year:
Breaking my silence, musically speaking“ (January 18th)
Focuses on what is plain warehousing music in a NYC high school, and how when I brought these points up at a Delegate Assembly, Ms. Weingarten said at the mic that she would see if they could arrange some “non-contractual relief.”

NYC Educator wrote in a comment: “I taught music for a while. As a non-music teacher, I taught this survey of music course that no kid really wanted to take. With 50 kids in a class, grading was an unbelievable chore. That’s one rough job....” Additional descriptive comments from other music teachers also worth noting.
The person with the most seniority gets the job“ (February 22nd)
Describes what happened when they put me, a chorus/general music teacher, into the school’s only Band position, actually displacing the teacher who really knew what he was doing with moi, who knew absolutely nothing about blowing into a tube of metal or banging on a piece of Mylar.
That earlier post:

Clearing out some files“ (April 22, 2011)

I just found an email I wrote to UFT exec Mike Mendel in September of 2009 about being a music teacher.

Clearly nobody at the UFT responsible for negotiating the contract has ever understood the overload: there’s way too much disparity between those who teach general-ed-type subjects to a class of 50 students and those who service a mere 34.

Of course, the points I made to Mendel a couple of years ago only apply when you work a full music program, not when your school cuts music and makes you teach out of license most of the day.

Here’s what I wrote him:
Sent: Sunday, September 13, 2009 8:35 PM
To: Michael Mendel
Subject: About music overload

I meant to write you earlier, but the overload is enormous.

HS Music teachers can be given 50 kids per class. Of course they all do not show up each and every period, but some things are constant:
1. You have to take attendance on a weekly bubble sheet IN ADDITION to keeping your own attendance records. This usually involves Delaney cards because you can’t memorize so many kids (250) without a seating plan. [editorial comment: you do get to know all the names, sometime in October]

2. If one of these classes is your “homeroom”, which requires a daily attendance sheet, that’s a third attendance effort.

3. These lists are complicated because they have to be accurate, and you can’t do it quickly. Let’s say you turn over the Delaney cards to save time. You still have to do the bubbling in your lunch or prep for 250 names per day. And they’re not just absent or present. They can be late. They can also be late halfway through the period, which means you have to go back and annotate those too.

4. Talking about differentiation: you get in the same class: grades 9-12, spec. ed (learning disabled plus behaviorally challenged), regular ed, self-contained class members (their IEPs allow them to be mainstreamed for the electives), hearing impaired, and ELLs.

5. Absenteeism is erratic. There is little consistency, so some kids are up to date with the work, and lots and lots of others are missing a day here or there each week.

6. Grading: if you care about your job, you give classwork, and it needs to be graded. Grading so many kids is a nightmare.

7. Report cards are another nightmare, because even if they don’t show, they all have to get a grade and a comment. This can only be done on a PC, not a Mac, and many music teachers use Macs at home because it was traditionally the best computer for music and art.

8. When they ask us to CALL HOME for every single person absent, try doing that kind of volume. It’s only possible to do this on your lunch hour and in your prep. You should not have to do this kind of work at home or on your own time, but one is forced to under these conditions.

9. Now they’re asking for PROGRESS REPORTS: they have to be done on a computer for each and every one of the 250 students, even if they aren’t coming to school.

10. This leaves no time whatsoever for lesson planning, collaborating with other teachers, fixing your room, making your music tapes and/or class materials. It all has to be done on your own time — which is normal for teachers, but so very much more for us.

11. On top of this you get a Circular 6 duty taking up a period.

Please can you to do something about this terrible disparity. A spec. ed teacher or a RR teacher has 14 kids max each period, gen ed has 34, and we have 50 — that’s half again the reg ed class. But admin makes no exceptions in the obligations we must fulfill as subject teachers.

Failing a contractual class size change, please can you get someone to say that Music teachers with these numbers should be given NO other circ. 6R duty other than to finish up the attendance, calling home, grading, and school marks. 
The remarks above are for GENERAL MUSIC and small music classes like Keyboard. They are not for CHORUS, BAND or ORCHESTRA, which are “performance” groups and many music teachers want as large a group as they can get for better sound. I was most happy in MS with a performance group of 80 or 90 (though I rehearsed them in groups of 32 or so, as well as some lunchtime kids 3 times a week, then combined them all for concerts).

I brought this up two or three years ago at a DA. RW’s response was to see if there could be some “non-contractual relief.”

His response: “I’m going to push this.”

Good luck, you guys. I threw in the towel a month ago and am on terminal leave.


October 28, 2019

What will happen to that union health insurance we (supposedly) love?

Just so everyone is clear on how Sanders envisions the transition from union plans to Medicare for All, I heard him say this somewhere or other, but found it now in print.

According to Politico:

Under Sanders’ new plan, companies with union-negotiated health care coverage would have to renegotiate their workers’ contracts. The National Labor Relations Board would oversee and enforce the negotiations once Medicare for All becomes law. Any resulting health care savings from the single-payer system would be required to be returned to workers in the form of higher wages or more generous benefits.

Workers who don't belong to unions wouldn't qualify for that treatment.
Essentially, then, nothing in the original bill is changed, but the broad 1,900-word labor union proposals Sanders unveiled in August include some requirements for the 4-year transition period to Medicare for All.

Politico does allude to some of the criticism for these (for example, Bernie's backtracking) and of course the commensurate response from his campaign (bull sh*t).

I know, I know, talk is cheap. But, at least the issue is being addressed by at least one of the candidates.

And there's no denying that retirees have a certain, should we say, fondness for union-negotiated plans that contain goodies like Part B (+IRMAA) and SHIP reimbursements, perks that are really important to people who no longer pull salaries.

The NLRB will surely have to work overtime to make sure these kinds of amounts don't just disappear in any re-negotiated pay packages.

October 24, 2019

More on our disingenuous, tone-deaf leadership

Just how under-consulted and super-manipulated the rank-and-file members of our union have been for decades is really old news. Once leadership (a Weingarten or a Mulgrew) decides what positions to take or whom to back politically, they call up their well-oiled machine to manipulate any real dissent out of the way. A rigged UFT constitution helps, too.

I was unaware when I started putting this post together that Norm was also writing about the union's "democratic" process over on Ednotes, of course with a depth and insights that I'll never even begin to have.

But that won't stop me from complaining that as members of a huge union, we don't much get to vote on some things that really matter to us, like class size, standardized testing, autonomy in the classroom, and yes, political endorsements.

Which means that the clout of our collective voice gets aimed where we don't necessarily want it to go. For example, to bolster up a corrupt, for-profit health care industry.

I want to go back to Raina Lipsitz's article in the Nation last May on the push for single-payer in NYS. Bills had passed the Assembly in four consecutive sessions (A.5248 the latest), looked promising for the new blue Senate after the 2018 election (S.3577), lost some co-sponsors subsequently, and are still stuck in committee in both houses.

According to Ms Lipsitz, the union held no city-wide discussions on the issue of single-payer (I take her word for it, I was already retired), and that "Mulgrew acknowledged in a phone call that individual member concerns about single-payer have 'not come up much at meetings.'" That may be true. Individual members have coverage, and you'd have to be a really committed activist to push for single-payer at the state level when you're teaching full out every day and there are so many other issues critical to your classroom life worth fighting for.

But what she reports next gets at the essence of what bugs me about our leadership:
Asked whether UFT members voted to oppose the bill, Mulgrew said the Municipal Labor Committee decided to send an opposition letter, and he was elected to serve on the committee. “You’re an elected rep from your union,” he said. “If you had to, every time you were asked to vote or to give your opinion, stop and go back to your union, you’d never get any of that work done.”
More than his not consulting with the rank and file or putting it to a vote, his flippant remark nowhere matched the gravity of such an important issue. Single-payer health care is not like asking if 10 a.m. is too early for a first lunch period or if teachers should get hall duty.

Our union could be a powerful force to make single-payer a reality in NYS, if not nationally. The stranglehold of the health care industry and greed of its executives affects the lives of people we know: our relatives, our friends, our neighbors.

Our union can help fight this fight. Our union should at the very least be asked if it wants to fight this fight.

October 17, 2019

Blowing whistles and raking muck

Insider knowledge comes out when insiders start talking.

The point of this post is to tell you about the work of ex-Cigna VP Wendell Potter, who quit the healthcare insurance company a decade ago to testify against the HMO industry at a 2009 Senate hearing.

Potter published his book Deadly Spin — which has the deeply upsetting subtitle How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans — a year later.

In 2016 he came out with Nation on the Take on how money corrupts democracy (obviously, but the more people talk about it, the more likely the needle will get moved).

And in 2017 Potter founded Tarbell, a non-profit, reader-funded journalism entity that has been exposing "how powerful people and companies use their influence to shape a system that works for them, not you." lead article, for example, in its newsletter this week (and co-published by the Intercept) is new for me:
Author Andrew Perez draws attention to "a dark money organization created last year to erode public support for Medicare for All" — the Partnership for America's Health Care Future (PAHCF).
Membership includes a spectrum of medical and pharmaceutical companies, but Perez warns of the "integral role" that specifically for-profit hospitals play in this effort. Private insurance companies apparently pay hospitals two or three times more than what Medicare does to cover care costs.
Back to Potter, though, for more of his projects.

The Potter Report, stories and videos with titles like:


This past summer Potter became president of Business for Medicare for All, which has produced another set of juicy titles to digest, for ex.:
You get the picture.

Happy reading.

October 15, 2019

Is your union backing Medicare for All? Ours not so much

       UPDATE:  Norm has just published a related article in the Oct/Nov issue of EdNotes,
       which he’s circulating at the DA. It’s also posted here on his blog.

Although ThinkProgress ended its run as an “independent journalistic enterprise” last month (director’s statement here), it’s worth drawing everyone’s attention to their analysis of how the unions position themselves on Medicare for All.

Bottom line: Sometimes not at all clear.
Words like hedging, ambiguous, two-faced, shifty, and incremental come to mind, and our union’s position smacks a little of all of these.

In any case, here’s some back-up quotes from the national unions, beginning with the ones opposing the Medicare for All legislation.  Obviously, this compilation will need expanding and/or amending from time to time.

• Fire Fighters: nope
Schaitberger: “We cannot support the notion that our members ... should be forced to give it away in favor of a government-run program”
• AFL-CIO: nope, not yet
Trumka: “You can’t ask the American worker, who sacrificed wages and everything, to simply say: ‘Okay, I’ll accept this plan here.’”
Trumka, telling Fox News: “While single-payer health care is the way of the future, any plan for the present must allow union workers to keep the plans they fought and sacrificed for.”
• Communications Workers of America (CWA): nope, fix what we got
2018 Legislative issues:  protect and expand Medicare and Medicaid, defend the ACA

PRESUMABLY ENDORSING the House Bill, working off
LaborforSinglePayer’s list on the right.  I googled around for policy quotes, and in some cases couldn’t find anything solid.

• ATU (Transit): Yes
Convention statement Oct 2019: delegates overwhelmingly passed resolutions including “supporting the Medicare for All Act of 2019”
• AFT (Teachers): not really
Weingarten: “Medicare for All is one way to fix the problem.”
• AFGE (Gov’t Employees, incl. med’l workers at the VA): dunno
Simon: “We recognize that the enormous premiums fed employees are required to pay are far higher that when they’d pay in new taxes under M. for All. They would come out ahead, unequivocally.”
• APWU (Postal Workers):  Yes 
Union statement:  “The APWU adopted a Medicare for All resolution at the 2018 National Convention . . . The APWU is proud to stand with the Labor Campaign for Single Payer and has long supported a shift away from the private health insurance market to a government run program.” They also just endorsed him on January 30.
• AFA (Flight Attendants):  dunno
Nelson: says there is broad support in the labor movement for it; backs universal coverage; told Politico that health plans are a “huge drag” on their bargaining
• Brotherhood (BMWED-IBT, a div. of the Teamsters): Yes
Rally notice, April 2017: demands “single-payer health plan that covers all Americans”
• IATSE (Theatrical Stage):  on the list for yes, but I can’t find a statement

• IAMW (Machinists and Aerospace):  Yes 
Martinez: “A single-payer system ... is the only afforable way to guarantee quality health care for all Americans. I urge you to support ... H.R. 1384.”
• IFPTE (Engineers):  Yes 
Press release, Sept. 2017:  “Today ... formally announced its backing of the Medicare for All Act of 2017, a bill sponsored by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders”
• ILWU (Longshore and Warehouse):   Yes 
Website post, Feb 2017: “The ILWU has been advocating for a national, single-payer health plan since 1938, and remains active in that effort.”
• NEA (Education):  Sort of 
Egan statement March 2019: “... we would like to express our support for the goals of the Medicare for All Act (H.R. 1384) ... We applaud your vision of a single-payer system.”
• NNU (Nurses):  Yes 
Policy statement:  “Our health care system is broken ... Medicare for All Act of 2019 ... would expand our current Medicare system to provide high-quality, comprehensive health care to everyone.”
• NUHW (Healthcare Workers):  Yes 
Press release April 2019: “... we enthusiastically welcome today’s introduction of the Medicare for All Act of 2019 by Ernie Sanders ... the most sensible solution to our nation’s broken health care system.”
• SEIU (Service): not really
LeftVoice reports in Sept 2019:  “refuses to support anything outside of status-quo liberal politics”
Frane: “We are supporting any policy proposal or legislation that moves us in the direction of universal coverage.” 
• UAW (Auto): can’t say, since I can’t find a direct statement

• UE (independent Electrical, Radio, Machine):   Yes 
76th convention resolution:  demand for Congress enacts HR 1384/S 1129
Call for action: call your Congressmen and tell them to co-sponsor HR 1384 
• UMWA (Mineworkers):  Yes 
Roberts: “Let me tell you what you need in this country — you need national, single-payer, Medicare for All.” 
• UWUA (Utility):   Yes 
Press release April 2019: “Utility Workers Applaud Introduction of Medicare for All Act of 2019:  Passage of a single-payer national health insurance model would be an important step toward leveling the playing field between rich and poor, sick and healthy and young and old.”

There are some signs of hope.
Members of the Mass. AFL-CIO passed a resolution to endorse a prez candidate only on the condition they’d support Medicare for All (the Intercept, Oct. 9, 2019).
And some unions are fighting back against a centrist Democratic claim that Medicare for All would “undo the hard-won collective bargaining gains of unions.” (Common Dreams, Aug. 2, 2019).

October 8, 2019


Jordan Chariton has just posted some important reflections regarding Elizabeth Warren's positioning on "single-payer."  Not that her backpedaling hasn't been pointed out years ago, because it has (examples: here and here).

His point is that the "problem with Elizabeth Warren isn't that she doesn't on paper have good plans now. The problem is we don't know if she's actually going to fight for the things she is proposing now."

In the video he's mounted on Status Coup, there's some text and bits of Jim Braude's earlier interview on Broadside showing where the senator advocated specifically for single-payer in 2008 — see the first 5 lines of her campaign's Feb. 6th post in Facebook in the screenshot below. Four years later, he says, Warren ran against that position (video clip beginning 01:02).

At 02:58, Braude asks Warren directly for her "philosophy": Would single-payer be her position?  She dodges that entirely with "I think you gotta stay with what's possible ... we need to consolidate our gains around what we've got." Even when he presses her with text of her own 2008 words, she offfers more of the same: "We've got to keep moving in the direction of getting more families covered [etc.]"

As fervently as Warren once advocated single-payer, she equally or even more fervently in 2012 fought to hold onto the Affordable Care Act:  we should "stay with what's possible."

Chariton is totally correct:  Warren changes her position and changes her conviction, which contributes to "a slow, gradual death of incrementalism."

Her words always sound rational, but she squirms with political expediency just like the rest of them*
                *Bernie excluded

and Progressives are tired of the backstepping, the centrism, and the half measures that bring no relief from the relentless corporatism, personal financial burdens, and discriminatory choices built into the current for-profit system. It doesn't, won't and can't work for all until the underlying structure is torn down and rebuilt.

October 5, 2019

"Lobbying on Medicare for All Skyrockets"

That's the lead article in the current issue of Public Citizen claims. It seems to be a print version of Craig Sandler's report "Fever Pitch: Surge in opposition lobbying and advocacy validates the credibility of the Medicare for All movement," summarized and made available for download late last June.

The growing support for "single-payer" health care brings both good and bad news.

Good, because people are starting to pressure lawmakers into doing something about the for-profit, mostly superfluous structures of insurance companies and the downright greed of their upper management.
And bad, because ...
Major opponents, including Big Pharma and for-profit insurers, now view Medicare for All as a legitimate threat.
Running these middlemen out of town is bound to be a generational uphill slog.

According to the Sandler report, the total number of lobbyists working on Medicare for All in Washington, both for and against it, went up almost ten-fold from 2018 to 2019. Of the 270 lobbyists counted earlier this year, an overwhelming number were "hardline opponents" of single-payer.

Big Pharma, hospitals and insurance companies pouring money into attacking what amounts to a huge new social program is bad enough, but the way they do it is even worse — through fear-mongering and disinformation campaigns. They publish misleading articles, op-eds and books, megaphone bogus research, avoid peer view, and get endorsements from elected officials and other well-known people who, honestly, don't do deep dives into this stuff on their own.

The details are difficult, and they're not fully worked out. That's been the case with any humongous social program a country tries to install. For example, we entered the 1930s as the only modern industrialized country in the world without a national system of social security. The first version of the Social Security Act became law in 1935. Amendments were added in 1938, 1944, 1946, 1950, and 1954 before they got around to adding Medicare and Medicaid into it in the 1965 version (as Titles 18 and 19).

And then it took many decades to build Medicare into the comprehensive social program it is today.  In 1965, it didn't have physical, speech or occupational therapy, chiropractics, or hospice. Part D was proposed in 1999, enacted in 2003, and went into effect in 2006. It still doesn't have long-term care, hearing aids, crowns, eyeglasses, and yes, incontinence pads — all items seniors need. They're part of the life cycle, and I can't wait til Part E, F, G, H, and I get built to make these cheaper.

Not easy establishing a large social system, and always generational.

This country can do it, we've done it before. But this time round we've got to fight extra hard because the system is awash in corporations-are-people kinds of influence and corrupt governments.

Particularly this one.

Lewis Black on Canadian health care — a rant
and a hoot

In his own inimitable way, Lewis Black reads a comment he got from a Canadian receiving a fair chunk of Canadian health care from a Canadian hospital bed.

Start from the beginning, or skip to 00:24, where the guy says:  "I'm so tired of hearing capitalist clowns in the U.S. talk shit about our health system," and proceeds to explain how it works there in real time. 

It's so worth the three minutes it takes to view this clip. So grateful to Mr. Black for posting it, and I'm guessing he wouldn't mind me telling people about it.

October 1, 2019

Tightening up the message — finally!

It's been infuriating watching Bernie and the progressive Dems who back his Medicare for All "single-payer" bill explain it to the voting public.

Bernie's my guy, I'm not changing that. His track record is enormous.

But, here's the kind of thing that goes on.

In the CNN debates Bernie got asked the question: "Will taxes go up for the middle class?" (at 00:14). His answer: "You're quite right. We have a new vision for America," and then the usual litany of numbers and statistics, all of which we've heard for half a decade and none of which work for people who want hard answers.

In this video of Bernie stumping in Iowa a week ago, he starts the subject of healthcare at 10:23 with that normal stream of statistics, then poses the rhetorical question at 10:43:  "Why do we spend so much on healthcare?"

What follows is a slew of more large numbers, a couple of repeats of the question, some audience interaction, a false start at 11:31 to try to answer the question, and an additional run of large numbers on spending, lobbying, profits, the high cost of insulin, drug companies overcharging, price-fixing, a corrupt industry, which as president he says he intends to address.

Now we're at 12:50, and he poses another rhetorical question: "Is healthcare a human right?" Which leads to more fluffy stuff about what other countries have and what false friends the insurance companies are. Muddying the issue still further at 14:38, he compares his new bill to Medicare — yes, the government program seniors have now — saying he wants to make that better, that he'd phase it in to cover everyone in the country over the next four years.

This is not the way to SELL Medicare for All. It isn't even the way to EXPLAIN Medicare for All, since everyone knows that the health insurance seniors have now includes all kinds of supplemental insurance and drugs provided by the very entities his Medicare for All bill is aiming to get rid of: for-profit insurance.

What a mess. NPR cites a KFF Tracking poll that shows how confused people really are:
Polling has shown that many Americans don't understand that private insurance would largely disappear under "Medicare for All."
You simply can't answer the question: "Will it raise taxes" with a simple "Yes." People stop listening once you say that.

The best answer on the campaign trail is a sledgehammer of an argument, like the way Kyle Kulinski put it in today's video post of Secular Talk: "It's actually a tax cut."

Kulinsky attributes that to Nina Turner, who was apparently on the road in Iowa this past weekend campaigning for Bernie. He says, and I'm paraphrasing here:
If you get rid of the private "taxes" (i.e., what you pay to the insurance companies) and they're more expensive, and you raise the public taxes, there's a net savings. That's an effective tax cut.

Bernie's learning.

On Stephen Colbert a few days ago, he did a good job. Healthcare starts at 05:58 or so, and at 06:35 Colbert asks: "Is there an increase in taxes on the middle class to pay for Medicare for All, or rather, where would the tax burden go to pay for that?"

His answer this time so much better:
Under my legislation ... nobody in America will pay any more premiums. [fluff]  No more copayments — gone. No more out-of-pocket expenses — gone. Nobody will go bankrupt [fluff] — all of that is gone. Nobody in America under my bill will pay more than $200 a year in total for their prescription drugs, and we'll stop the ripping off of the American people by the pharmaceutical industry. Now, having said that, is healthcare free?  No, it is not.  So what we do is exempt the first $29,000 of a person's income — you make less than $29,000 you pay nothing in taxes — above that, in a progressive way, with the wealthiest people in this country paying the largest percentage, people do pay more in taxes. But, if I say to you that right now you're paying $20,000 a year in a tax called a "premium" for the insurance companies, that's gone, and I say Stephen, you're paying $10,000 a year now to the federal government, you're $10,000 to the good, you'd ask me "Where do I sign up for that." 
Yes, where do we sign up for that!

I'd love to see a lot more of this approach, and far less of the damn billions and billions and top 1% we've been getting from him for half a decade.