DC 37 retirees poured onto the streets in front of their chapter’s offices on Wednesday to slam their international parent union’s takeover of the retiree union.

Last month American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) brought the Retirees Association of District Council 37 under forced administratorship over what the international claims are years of failing to file its 990 tax form.

While the retiree chapter doesn’t dispute that its accountant didn’t file the tax form for several years, unbeknownst to them, they say the move is a clear form of political retaliation for supporting lawsuits against the city’s Medicare Advantage switch, which DC 37’s leadership approved of.

“We refused to buckle under. We support the fight against the deal made by the Municipal Labor Committee, including our AFSCME Council 37 and the city. That’s the real crime that we are being punished for,” said Neal Frumkin, the vice president for interunion relations of the retirees association.

Frumkin said that months before AFSCME barged into their offices, seized record and changed the locks, the retiree chapter had sparred over their contributions to legal effort against the Medicare Advantage plan with Ann Widger, the director of AFSCME retirees.

For the past year the retiree association has contributed $2,000 a month to the legal cases filed by the New York City Organization of Public Service Retirees against the healthcare switch. AFSCME sent them a notice over the summer arguing that this conflicted with the union’s constitution because the legal cases entailed “anti-union organization” — a claim that the retirees strenuously reject.

The retiree chapter temporarily paused their contributions to the legal fund, but one month before the takeover, its board voted to resume them.

In an online note that Widger posted to members on Feb. 22, she addressed tension over the Medicare Advantage plan but denied that was what the emergency administratorship was about.

“I realize that some will say this is about the current debate around retiree health care for New York City,” she wrote. “Make no mistake: It is not. It is about serious violations of AFSCME’s Financial Standards Code and the International Constitution.”

“That’s a lie!” shouted one of the retirees at the rally when Frumkin read out Widger’s statement.

In response to a LaborPress inquiry, Widger reiterated her claim. “The Association’s officers failed to take seriously the significance of these violations and to take the necessary action to correct them,” she wrote. “Differences over policy and strategy… do not rise to the level of needing to place an affiliate under Administratorship.”

The DC 37 chapter’s predicament has garnered the sympathy of other union retirees. Stuart Eber, president of the Council of Municipal Retiree Organizations spoke at the rally to condemn AFSCME’s actions.

“We regret that AFSCME’s national leadership took this extreme action,” Eber said. “This subterfuge speaks for itself. Constructive criticism of union policy will not be tolerated by your national union.”

Other speakers suggested that the parent organization should have supported the retiree chapter and provide guidance they need to get into compliance, rather than punish them. After being locked out of their offices, the association’s officers lost access to their email list that has allowed them to mobilize members for rallies around the Medicare Advantage legal cases. The rally formed an opportunity to gather contact information again, in order to prepare for actions around the legal cases coming up over the next few weeks.

“We refuse to have our health benefits diminished by a plan to force retirees into a privatized for profit Medicare disadvantage plan,” Frumkin said. “Today is not the end. Today is the next chapter of the struggle. Stay together.”


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