The Chief
December 5, 2003


The MLC’s Suspicious Minds

It’s not clear whether some of the city’s police unions have a real concern about a possible deal that would convert a primary benefits insurer, the Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York, to a for-profit company, or if they are merely carrying over hard feelings from the last round of wage contract bargaining.

The reason for that uncertainty is the skepticism expressed by Municipal Labor Committee head Randi Weingarten about the authorship of a letter credited to Sergeants’ Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins that suggested Ms. Weingarten might use the HIP conversion to the advantage of her union, the United Federation of Teachers.

During a recent MLC meeting, Ms. Weingarten, according to one source, referred to that letter as having been “signed” by Sergeant Mullins. When he, catching her drift, insisted that he had written the letter as well as signing it, she repeated her characterization.

Her implication seemed to be that Mr. Mullins was doing the dirty work of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which had previously challenged her over the utilization rates of a special drug program created a couple of years ago. In early October, a PBA lawyer handed city Labor Relations Commissioner Jim Hanley and Ms. Weingarten a letter stating that she was not authorized to bargain for the police and fire unions on health benefits. PBA President Pat Lynch was among those who raised questions about whether the drug program was being utilized at a significantly higher rate by non-uniformed employees.

Data on program utilization has since been provided to individual unions by the Office of Labor Relations. Our guess is that if the disparity uniformed union leaders were claiming to suspect actually existed, they would be shouting it from the mountaintops by now. Instead, we have Mr. Mullins’s letter, which became public once he posted it on the SBA Web site, accusing Ms. Weingarten of trying to make a killing on a HIP conversion.

There is no evidence to support this suspicion, either, unless you go off the fact that when Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield became a publicly traded company, money generated by its initial stock offering was used to fund a wage settlement for Local 1199 of the Service Employees’ International Union.

Our sense is that these issues are surfacing because the PBA – which is the straw that stirs the drink among the uniformed unions – still harbors hard feelings that Ms. Weingarten was able to pry loose extra money for Teachers in a 2002 state arbitration proceeding beyond what the PBA got in its own state arbitration. The UFT leader went against her Democratic leanings later that year to deliver the union’s endorsement to Governor Pataki’s re-election, just as Local 1199 leader Dennis Rivera did. The PBA also backed Mr. Pataki; since it wasn’t holding him responsible for the disparity in arbitration awards, it has to blame somebody now.

Ms. Weingarten was the nearest immediate target. Mr. Mullins, if in fact he was merely the signature behind the sentiments of Mr. Lynch or PBA bargaining counsel Bob Linn, would be following in a tradition of having other uniformed union leaders on behalf of the PBA question the integrity of other officials involved in the bargaining process.

It’s an unseemly practice, and it only delays the unions from dealing with difficult health-benefits bargaining that will grow more urgent as the drug program’s resources dwindle.