Parents, students, and community organizations rallied alongside the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) on Oct. 13 to demand a resolution over healthcare benefit concerns.
The Wednesday afternoon protest saw both active and retired UFT members gathering outside of Shanker Hall at 52 Broadway in response to healthcare plan changes being presented at the first delegate assembly. The demonstration aimed to showcase the community’s opposition to the City’s budget deficits, cutting healthcare for teachers which advocates say jeopardizes vulnerable employees and retirees.
“Today is the first delegate assembly of our union, the United Federation of Teachers,” Gloria Brandman, Retiree Advocate and UFT member said, “It is supposed to be the most democratic aspect that we have in our union. At the same time that they are having their meeting inside, we are having a health and safety rally outside to support what’s going to go on inside.”
One by one speakers addressed the crowd outside of 52 Broadway, emphasizing that now, more than ever, health and safety is pivotal for New York City Schools to protect children, their families, and teachers.
Dr. Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, President of Community Education Council for District 4, discussed her fears for the state of health and safety in schools, not just as an educator but as a parent of two young children.
“We have been working collectively with the UFT to elevate the concerns that we have about safety in our schools,” Salas-Ramirez said, sharing that several parents have such distrust in the New York City school health and safety system that they have conducted a restore remote education strike actively keeping their children home from school.
“As of right now we have 45,000 COVID cases in our schools, and we have a mayor and Department of Health that have loosened the mitigation factors that we have in our school communities. Parents are not even notified if there has been a positive case in the classroom,” Salas-Ramirez added.
Parents and their children have been caught on the frontline of not just a deadly virus, but a political and health crisis that has forced them to enroll their children for solely in-person lessons, despite their apprehensions. Salas-Ramirez states that parents have been threatened with Administration for Children’s Services calls and the removal of their children from school enrollment.
“We are here in solidarity because we need more safety in our schools. We need to elevate the fact that this is happening in Black and Latino communities,” Salas-Ramirez said, adding, “On top of forcing teachers into school buildings, now the union is threatening to not support their healthcare.”
Advocates at the rally demanded accountability and called out the Department of Education, Department of Health, and UFT President Michael Mulgrew for their lack of compassion.
Bennett Fischer, a retired New York City Public School teacher and UFT member, has spent many years pushing back against the privatization of healthcare as well as the limiting of medical care options and curtailing benefits for teachers.
“Healthcare is about more than just insurance. It’s also about policies that keep our children safe,” Fischer said, “We oppose the privatization of Medicare in the form of profit making Medicare Advantage plans, why is President Mulgrew ignoring us?”
Those at the rally began to chant, “Michael Mulgrew don’t be a bore. What are you privatizing our healthcare for?”
“Don’t sell us out. Support what our union members have voted for time after time. Support public education and support public healthcare,” Fischer said.
Responding to this rally, a UFT spokesperson said they are but one member the Municipal Labor Committee, which negotiates healthcare benefits for the city’s workforce.