Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Final Unity RTC Meeting: Kumbaya, Deconstructing Randi

We heard you. Michael and I heard you.... Randi Weingarten my friend Norm Scott likes to say, “Watch what they do, not what they say.” You can be sure, Randi, Mike, et alWe are watching.... Arthur Goldstein

 Sunday June 23, 2024

Did Randi and Michael really hear us? I'll get into the weeds down below.
But let me also mention the after party at a local bar attended by 50 supporters. Everyone is so excited. 
6/24 UPDATE: I hung out with Vincent Wosjnis, former CL and newly elected delegate who happens to live in Ghana but is in for a few months. I'm inserting his FB comment on the meeting.
Vincent C. Wojsnis
Yeah, we heard her too. After listening to Weingarten speeches over the years I've learned to "listen between the lines." Randi is a talented orator. In her speech, she emphasized the importance of electing Biden over Trump in order to protect Medicare and Social Security, which I agree would face an existential threat if Republicans were to take control of the government. We can all agree on that. But let us not be fooled here. Randi, Mulgrew, Unity all support Medicare Advantage. They haven't moved from that. They continue to maintain that Medicare Advantage IS Medicare just as she has been on record defending UFT/AFT support for charter schools as "public charter schools" (while the only thing "public" about them is the public money they take to line their private pockets.) I HEARD HER TOO, when she pointed out that cities across the country are moving their retirees to MA. It's true that more than half of all Medicare enrollees are now enrolled in MA plans. How is this a good thing? Why isn't the AFT fighting this? In her speech, Randi referenced lessons from history. She wasn't wrong. As a former history teacher I can appreciate that. I too have a history lesson to share with Ms. Weingarten. In the 1960s big insurance companies opposed the creation of Medicare. "Socialism," they called it. They had Ronald Reagan do media spots warning of the "slippery slope." Unable to kill it, with the aid of both Republicans AND Democrats, in 1997 they found a way to "embrace" it. Embrace it, much like the way a python "embraces" its prey. And so, Medicare Part C was formed. That hasn't changed. I also agree, there were many "gracious" moments at the RTC meeting. But the vote wasn't even close. THAT'S what they heard. Years ago, as a new chapter leader, I never formally joined Unity (Thank you, Angel Gonzalez.) but I almost did and I was close enough to witness how they viewed the opposition. I can assure you whatever "unity" they're projecting here is not what they're saying among themselves and they will be actively planning how they can stop us. Kumbaya? "Don't listen to what they say. Watch what they do." (Thank you, Norm Scott.)
I haven't had a chance to share my impressions of the historic final Unity controlled Retiree Chapter meeting this past Tuesday, as Retiree Advocate prepares to take control of the chapter for the next three years. 
I was elected as part of the 15 member RTC Exec Bd, along with the 10 officers. I was also one of the 300 elected delegates to the DA -- my first time there since I retired in 2002. I may have to revive Ed Notes print edition. The first meetings of the RTC chapter and the DA will be in October.
(We held a zoom orientation meeting on Thursday and all 25 were present and it's quite a team of experienced UFT activists, but we all still have a lot to learn about the mechanics of running a 70k plus chapter. Will the UFT/Unity hierarchy help or hinder the transition? Maybe we should do a poll.)
The 63% majority opinion had a major impact on how the meeting was run. Bennett Fischer was invited up to speak and RA decided to take a moderate approach at this final Unity meeting and be nice. Unity tried to act nice too, despite a few sour looks. A bit of humility. They still seem in shock.

Note - yes we won on the healthcare issue, but don't discount the democracy angle as members heard 3 years of lecturing and hectoring and attacking critics.
Randi Weingarten was the featured speaker and contrary to people who think she was rushed in due to our victory, she had been advertised for some time. Let me say up front. I disagree with Randi in numerous ways but I never viewed things personally and her personality can be piercing to some but for people like me I'm quite comfortable with her and had no problem going up to sit next to her for a brief chat about what I felt was wrong with her speech. And by the way -- the good thing about Randi is you can do that.
If you read Ed Notes since it began (in print since '97 and blog since 2006), you know I've had a complicated relationship with Randi as a hopeful supporter when she took over in '97 to great disappointment by 2001. But Randi is a master at managing relationships and has always been outwardly friendly. 

Right up front I was impressed that Randi and Michael had heard us. So I expected she would say we are immediately abandoning our support for replacing Medicare with a Medicare Advantage plan in NYC. 
But instead what we heard was that we must re-elect Biden so we can lobby him to push for legislation to protect Medicare. OY! Dem Party Central message.

Sure. Congress has been so willing to pass such legislation. This proposal I immediately branded as bullshit and my hand shot up to ask a question and stayed up for much of her speech, with Tom Murphy in his final meeting being true to his form of not calling on me.

My question was framed as given how unlikely we would see such legislation, we should follow the 50-year anti-abortion advocates of going state by state to initiate a single payer system and build a northeast regional plan that could extend to other states. Thus the NYS Health Act in any form that we can make work. So I sidled up to Randi to present her with the idea and said reshape the NYH act to work for us and she shot it down by citing the Vermont experiment that was abandoned. NYS may abut Vermont but is a far cry due to economic, population and other factors. Or maybe it's the health industrial complex political donations to the Dem Party?
But I saw there was no point. Randi and crew are committed to the center Dem Party of fundamentally backing private insurance involvement in our healthcare through the mechanism of MedAdv. The Biden Admin seems to think the answer is MedAdv to drive down costs -- you know the drill -- deny, deny, deny to reduce costs, rather than take away the profits and inefficiencies of private insurance. 

Randi did crit MedAdv and blamed George Bush but not Clinton under whose admin MedAdv plans came into existence.  Thus the UFT/AFT coddling of the Dem Party no matter how bad some of its policies.

I can't predict the future but if I have my say, RTC meetings will not just be an ad for the Dem Party but a full-fledged accounting of good and bad policies.
There have been other impressions of Randi's speech from "she's impressive politically" (my initial reaction) to people who were not in person, "she sounded unhinged." 
Arthur Goldstein, newly elected RTC VP wrote 
"’s meeting was all about AFT President Randi Weingarten. She’s bigger than life. She’s articulate and willing to talk to anyone and everyone. She’s quite intelligent. For my money, that’s a great quality in a leader. And you may be surprised, or dismayed, but I’m going to agree with quite a bit of what she said today.... " 
I can agree with the first part and it is easy to agree with her trashing Trumpists and Republicans (you know, the very people who will make sure any bill Randi pushed will never see the light of day.) But all that was a way to distract from the issue she supposedly heard us on -- healthcare. Randi is a genius at deflection and distraction -- which exposes just how bad Mulgrew is at doing the same. The contrast is what made Randi look good.

Other reactions to Randi's speech:
A little song, to the tune of "My Mother Gave Me a Nickle to Buy a Pickle "
by Marian Swerdlow, newly elected to RTC Exec Bd. and the DA.
Our union boss is Randi 
She sure is dandy
But when she's at the podium 
I feel like I need Immodium

She rants and raves and screams 
We're wondering what she means
Her buzz words make us dizzy
We end up in a tizzy


Randi is a great actress, but someone needs to tell her the Oscars have already been awarded this year.


Notice how she takes NO responsibility for compromising retiree healthcare forcing our lawsuits!! She takes no responsibility for the name calling and online bullying.
Here are some resources to check out:
 Jon Halabi has 2 recent posts on the election:
Peter Lamphere from MORE has an interesting piece on the 2025 election:
I agree with most of it and if I get a chance will do a deep dive.

Arthur blogs on the RTC meeting and his tribute to James Eterno and moment of silence. I will never forget that I was having breakfast in a diner with Arthur when I though a call was coming in from James but it was Camille to tell me about the stroke. 

After Mulgrew spoke, there was a question period. I sprang to my feet and Murphy called on me. I spoke of James Eterno, a lifelong unionist and activist who’d have lovedbeing here for this historic moment. I quoted Isaac Bashevis Singer, who said when we speak of the dead, they dance up in heaven. I sincerely hope that’s what James is doing today. He waited so long for a moment like this, and it’s beyond tragic he’s not here for it. I asked for a moment of silence, they honored it, and Mulgrew even thanked me.


Some more choice excerpts punching holes in some of Randi's premises:

Today’s Retired Teacher Chapter meeting was an interesting one, probably the most interesting of the entire year. I have to say that outgoing RTC Chapter Leader Murphy and company appeared gracious. They made time for incoming CL Bennett Fischer to speak, and he too was gracious. There were no harsh words I noticed directed toward us, Retiree Advocate (although I’ve seen reports elsewhere contending otherwise). Note—after the meeting I was on WBAI with John Tarleton of the Indypendent, talking about our victory and its implications. If you’d like to, you may listen to our discussion right here.
Randi kept saying, “We hear you.” Mulgrew may have alluded to something like that, but Randi emphasized it. She said here’s what she would do—if Biden were to be re-elected, she would press for legislation that no employees should lose their health care. She said the same about pensions.
Of course I would support any such legislation, as should we all. And of course Randi is the head of our national union, so she’s discussing national priorities. She did however, repeatedly emphasize her ties to the UFT, which run deep. She was our president for years. 
Considering that, if Randi wishes to help us now. she will support the legislation before both the City Council and the NYS Assembly and Senate guaranteeing continued real Medicare for NYC retirees. I just read that we had enough votes to pass state legislation but it was blocked by unions. 
By “unions,” they mean union bosses like Mulgrew. Our union members support retention of Medicare, as Unity just discovered in no uncertain terms. And here is some unsolicited advice for the Unity Caucus—if you want any chance of holding onto the Presidency, the officers, the union, all those sweet patronage gigs, you’d best back this legislation. If you don’t, you will surely lose everything.
Another thing Randi said really caught my attention. She spoke of cuts being made without member input, and suggested that was not acceptable. I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I’m horrified that Michael Mulgrew initiated cuts without our input. He seemed proud of it, and I recall him saying at some meeting or other that if he put it up for a vote, it would lose.
Here’s a memo, Mike—you were right. You just put it up for a vote, and you lost overwhelmingly
Randi also said we had to stop this pitting of active members against retirees. Again, I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I was horrified when, last year, Michael Mulgrew sent me an email doing just that. He basically told us if we did not sell out the retirees, we’d all have to pay $1500 a year in premiums. That directly pitted retirees against active members. It was a blatantly anti-union act, perpetrated by a sitting union president. 
Former UFT VPs, a cancer survivor, and some other Unity member got up in front of the City Council and said Aetna wasn’t good enough for them. Jesus, we are UNION. If it isn’t good enough for them, it isn’t good enough for anyone
Also, it’s not the job of union to stick its hand in the pockets of retirees demanding tribute. It’s like they’re criminals on some cheesy sitcom. Nice little health plan you’ve got there. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to it. How about you fork over 5K a year for insurance?
Randi says not having democracy is “scary as shit.” Once again, she’s right. I’ve spent a year going to RTC meetings that are kabuki dances, expressly designed to shut out the voices of those of us demanding to retain our health care. 

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