More on Health Benefits Changes: Not just a foul, but criminal conduct – Roger Toussaint

Transport Workers Union President Roger Toussaint at TWU hea


I have been asked to further clarify the 2002 contract changes in relationship to our Health Benefits.

Firstly, it is worth emphasising that the 2002 settlement in this regard represented a powerful and unprecedented victory. No one anywhere in the labor movement talks in terms of Health Benefits as a “Defined Benefit” where the benefit itself is spelt out and has ironclad protection. As a result of the 2002 contract, the benefit is spelt out as the “current” level with specified improvements and, it requires the MTA to maintain those benefits, all of them. And, this requirement is not for “the duration of this agreement” as is typical boiler plate language in this area. The contracts says “Maintain” period.

Typically, the principal pressure on unions during negotiations is the funding of health benefits, and more and more so since the annual double digit s and 90’s. Wages and money issues come after the projected increased cost of health is accounted for. Even though it might seem intangible to some people, that’s the ABC’s of contract negotiations,

In our case, the 2002 round of negotiations not only made the MTA absorb tend of millions $$ for which the Trust was in the red, It relieved the Union from being behind the ‘8 ball’ and negotiating under that gun forever!

In other words creating a ‘Defined Benefit’ health coverage is “a gift that keeps on giving” to all future negotiations. “Defined Benefit” health plans do not otherwise exist in the U.S and a “Health Trust” created to administer such benefits cannot, by definition, provide a “defined benefit” since by law the Trust, any Trust and all Trustees are duty bound solely to the solvency of the Trust. Which requires all “Trustees”, the union’s included, to adjust benefits to the money $ at hand. Union’s typically negotiate an employer contribution level or rate (say X$ monthly for each full time employee; X$ monthly for each part time employee and X4 monthly for each covered retiree), which is put into an account to finance Health benefits. Typically, it is NEVER enough to cover all health care cost increases and by the time the next contract comes around these Trusts are in the red and you negotiate under the gun.

Due to the 2002 contract, which Mr Samuelsen is pissing on, Local 100 and its members no longer have to worry about that.

In 2001 and 2002, the MTA threatened to cut our health benefits due to its mounting deficit. The deficit was clearly predictable. John Lawe and especially Sonny Hall who oversaw all negotiations since the 1970’s, until my administration in 2001, had negotiated employer contribution rates that fell further and further short of the anticipated increases in health care costs. The figures told them and the experts confirmed it. One of the practical effects of this was that thousands and thousands of retirees outside the tri state area effectively had no health coverage. Since the “reimbursement” rate offered to them by the HBT and the MTA, had remained at the same rate since 1985, medical providers routinely refused to accept our coverage period. Fifteen years of double digit increases had eaten away any value that was left of the coverage. Hundreds of part time Traffic Checkers (Local 100’s long standing secret slave labor force of mostly women of color), were also denied Health coverage all together. There were real victims.

In 2001 and 2002, the NY State Insyrance Board which oversees all Trusts in NY State ordered the Trustees of our HBT to come up with a plan to cut health benefits. The MTA had carefully set this up by under funding the trust The union leadership went along. In fact, as the results of the elections they dropped the boom… the Trust was bankrupt. As Trustees of the HBT – and under the threat of injunctions and jail – we repeatedly mobilized the members to demonstrate 15,000 strong plus outside the MTA to tell them (and the republican run State gov’t) in no uncertain terms, that cutting our benefits would be a declaration of war and we would shut down NY. Sonny Hall was still a left-over union Trustee on the HBT. He resigned as a trustee citing our unwillingness to “act responsibly” and cut the Plan of Benefits, which he had played a leading role in bobby trapping. He too gets his coverage from the International union. Yesterday, he attended the Retirees “Mass” Membership meeting run by his closest crony, Mike Tutrone – Samuelsen’s Director of the Local 100 Retiree’s Association.

We beat back this attack completely and the 2002 contract also gave part time traffic checkers full coverage for the first time ever, and provided pre-medicare retirees (under age 65, at which point medicare covers them) with a free prescription drug plan for the first time ever. This was a measure of justice for people who had given their entire lives to the MTA.

This is what John Samuelsen and his loathsome cronies call a sell-out and are pissing on, even as they allow the MTA to ignore the contract and contract out the administration of health benefits instead of providing them directly, as the contract clearly requires!


– Roger Toussaint

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One thought on “More on Health Benefits Changes: Not just a foul, but criminal conduct – Roger Toussaint

  1. I didn’t think it was possible, but there’s someone out there with thinner skin than Donald Trump. Following a mention on the TWU 100 website that, as of the 2002 contract, the MTA has sole decision-making authority regarding how our medical benefits will be administered (not the level of benefits, just the administration of the plans), Roger Toussaint posted a description of the issues facing the union concerning health benefits when we entered the 2002 contract talks. There’s some useful information in his report. (It’s interesting that Toussaint does not mention former president Willie James’ direct role in creating the Health Benefit Trust’s funding crisis. In order to win approval of the 1999 contract, James pumped up the raise by underfunding health benefits. Many of us pointed out then that a funding crisis would hit after 2000.)

    However, Toussaint couldn’t keep himself from accusing John Samuelsen of “pissing on” that agreement and calling it “a sell-out”. As you’ve probably guessed, Samuelsen did no such thing. But, to Toussaint, stating a simple fact equals “pissing on”.

    The information about the MTA having sole decision-making authority was posted on the website simply because, when they learn about the change from Empire and UHC to Aetna, many members want to know what role TWU 100 had in this decision. The decision was the MTA’s. We were informed they were looking for a new administrator, we put in our two cents, but the decision was solely the MTA’s.

    As if Toussaint’s thin-skinned defensiveness wasn’t bad enough, he then goes on to accuse Samuelsen of non-existent failures. His comment that Samuelsen has allowed the MTA to, “ignore the contract and contract out the administration of health benefits instead of providing them directly” is just bizarre. The MTA provides our health benefits directly. They pay the bills. They have always hired someone else to handle the paperwork and manage the networks of providers. They did it when Toussaint was president (remember GHI and HIP, Roger?) and they’re doing it now.

    About that 2002 contract; I was among a handful of Executive Board members who voted against it. As with any contract, there were some good parts and bad parts. Securing our health benefits was among the good parts. So was the Safety Dispute Resolution Form. On the other hand, the contract had a lump-sum payment, instead of a raise, in the first year. It also gave the TA the right to write people up for chronic absenteeism. Every person who has gotten days in the street or been fired for chronic absenteeism can thank Roger Toussaint. I didn’t call the 2002 contract a ‘sell-out’, but I thought it should be rejected. 40% of the voting membership agreed.

    Every day, I work side-by-side with reps and members who supported that agreement, not to mention the 2005 agreement. That’s what should happen in a democratic organization. While Toussaint is defending the 2002 against attacks only, we’re focusing on winning a good contract in 2017.

    Written by Steve Downs


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