New York Daily News

October 4, 2003

Unions spar on drug plan

By DAVID SALTONSTALL
DAILY NEWS CITY HALL BUREAU CHIEF

A bitter squabble has broken out between the city's uniformed and civilian unions over an expensive drug plan that is about to run out of money.

The nasty feud came to a head Thursday, when police and firefighter union representatives began talks on health benefits with the city by announcing that teachers union President Randi Weingarten - the chief union negotiator at the table - didn't speak for them.

The last-minute ploy led Weingarten to explode in anger at the renegade reps, who told her of their decision in a two-sentence note that she tossed across the room.

"She was basically telling the police and fire guys to go f--- themselves," said one person in the room.

"The city and all the municipal unions need to focus jointly and now to make sure that city workers do not lose these vital benefits," was all Weingarten would say yesterday.

Although the city's unions negotiate their wage packages separately, they work out their health benefits as a group.

At issue is a costly new health fund for so-called PICA drugs, which are used to treat cancer, asthma and psychosis. The program, set up in 2001, has proven wildly popular - to the point where the fund's coffers could run dry by January.

Police and fire unions, suspecting they are not a big drain on the fund, have been pressing the city to reveal how many of their members use the drugs, as compared with other unions. The city has not released the data.

"We are in the process of gathering that information as we speak - their childish pranks notwithstanding," said Jim Hanley, chief of Mayor Bloomberg's Office of Labor Relations, referring to the police and fire unions.

"The uniformed unions are preserving their right to bargain in the best interest of their members," said a statement released yesterday through the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.