October 4, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Now that a judge has issued an injunction against Bloomberg Administration efforts to push through a new multi-billion-dollar healthcare package affecting some 500,000 public employees, it appears the job of hammering out a new plan will fall to the next mayor – but according to the head of the Municipal Labor Committee [MLC], workers already hit with higher co-pays are not out of the woods yet.
On Monday, Justice Melvin Schweitzer issued his injunction against the city’s efforts to put out a Request For Proposal from healthcare coverage providers that could change the collectively bargained benefits public employees now receive.
Organized labor argued that the Bloomberg Administration proceeded in issuing the RFP without the unions’ traditional level of involvement in the process.
In his decision, Justice Schweitzer lauded the city for being “bold,” but said, “The best of intentions and creative thinking when assembled in a vacuum without the fullest participation of its negotiating partner in this venture – MLC – is not only ill-advised, but is a breach of its contract with the MLC.”
The Bloomberg Administration has a right to appeal the decision, and is expected to do so, but Harry Nespoli, head of the MLC, expects that the task of crafting a new healthcare plan for city workers along with organized labor's participation, will ultimately fall to the next administration.
“Time is ticking for these guys,” Nespoli told LaborPress. “Nothing’s going to happen with this thing. But the MLC has been willing to sit down with the new administration and work out a savings for the City of New York. The new administration should be the ones at the bargaining table with this because they’re the ones that are going to be stuck with it, and we’re going to be the ones stuck with it. I think it only makes sense to have the people that are going to be around to reimplement it and see where we’re going.”
By shifting more costs onto public workers, the current administration seeks to cut the city’s responsibility by some $400 million.
But with the November election just around the corner, and only a handful of months remaining in his final term in office, Nespoli says that Mayor Bloomberg is using a "take it or leave it" attitude in trying to push through “second-rate” medical coverage onto city employees.
“We have to sit down at the bargaining table and work it out,” Nespoli said. “And if we can save the taxpayers money, we’re going to save the taxpayers money.”
According to Nespoli, workers have already helped the city reduce costs in recent years in the form of higher co-pays.
“Just three years ago, we came up with a $350 million cash savings when he [Mayor Bloomberg] needed it,” Nespoli said. “We called vendors in and told them they have to lower their rates. We went to our members and we increased the co-pays. There was a tremendous amount of savings there – but we did it together.”
While committed to maintaining high-quality coverage for workers, the MLC head doesn’t rule out similar measures in the future.
“We’re willing to talk about what we have to do,” Nespoli said. “Our members aren’t stupid. They know how much healthcare costs now. It’s expensive. They know that drugs keep going up. They want a plan.”
Components of the Affordable Healthcare Act, which Nespoli warns could “bust” a union because of uncapped prescription drug coverage, present further challenges to both the cost conscious and those who desperately need the help.
“All I know is that come January, all the unions will have a cap off their prescription drugs,” Nespoli said. “Unfortunately, there are very sick people out there that need chemotherapy, and right now, I only see their funds from the union actually dwindling down.”
Many unions are now scrambling to find creative ways to maintain quality coverage, according to Nespoli.