Wednesday, September 10, 2008

3 Runaway Trains--A Message from John Powers

THEIR TARGET: The Citizens of New York


Last month I attended an MTA “Capital Improvements Budget Hearing.” In light of Governor Paterson’s initial budget cuts announcement, his willingness to consider privatizing parts of New York State’s infrastructure (highways and bridges) and an increasing awareness on my part that the issue of whether Finance will control Government, or Government will control Finance may not be able to be avoided any longer, I thought it would be a good idea to start attending hearings of this sort. It may help to create worker and family solidarity and can potentially highlight issues that don’t necessarily make it into mainstream media outlets.

My immediate goal in attending this meeting was to “sneak” a discussion of the GHI and HIP proposal to privatize our health plans into the MTA’s public record and emphasize that the MTA should have a vested interest in this proposal because it will cost them money. What follows is the text of my speech.

[Please note that I am no longer an active member of the Coalition Against Privatization and that I was given three minutes and was buzzed with a red light three times before leaving the podium…therefore I paraphrased a bit at the end of my actual testimony]


Good Afternoon,

My name is John Powers and I am a teacher by trade. I am also a United Federation of Teachers’ Chapter Leader and a founding member of the Coalition Against Privatization.

What I have learned in a short span of time (my activist work began only ten months ago) is that too often it is the everyday citizen who finds him/herself on this side of the table. The table I refer to is the one in front of you called, “the burden of proof.” It is we, the people, who come out and speak truth to power and not the other way around. Why do the very people who toil the hardest to make ends meet day in and day and who keep our city and state humming along, the ones who must behave as if they have not met the burden of proof regarding initiatives that will hurt their pockets and their health? Or dare I say hurt their bodies, minds and souls. Today’s hearing regarding a capital improvements program is no exception.

According to the booklet handed out upon entering, the money you are asking for [from the Federal Government] will not cover the total cost of capital improvements. So, the MTA has once again proposed fare hikes that will threaten to further destabilize working families across our great city. Soaring gas prices. Absurd rents. Soaring food prices. Woe is us. But what about you MTA? Is this the best plan that can be devised? When in doubt…when in trouble…pin it on the very people who keep you in business. Well, I think I speak not only for the Coalition Against Privatization but a great many New Yorkers when I say, “HELL NO.” Go back to the drawing table and come up with something original, new, fresh.

Perhaps you can meet with Governor Paterson who just the other day was vacationing in the Hamptons when he made an announcement that he will cut $51 million dollars to CUNY, the very institution that made my being here possible, and offered a proposal to cut $506 million dollars in health care spending, $250 million dollars in local government assistance and $132 million dollars in new programs. If you do consider to meet with him and come up with a plan that won’t cripple the families of New York, ask him for his thoughts on the HIP and GHI merger and proposal to privatize.

As you probably know from reading about New York City’s lawsuit against the merger of HIP and GHI (a company now called Emblem Health), that if this company is allowed to privatize (that is a move from “not-for-profit” status to “for-profit” status) it will cost New York City 27.5 million dollars for each 1% increase in premiums. The next highest insurance carrier in NYS is 26% higher than HIP and GHI’s current rates so if Emblem Health raises rates to just half of 26% it will mean close to a $400 million dollar charge to NYC. Guess who bear the brunt of that too? The MTA is sure to raid operating expenditures like workers’ salaries and benefits in order to see this capital improvements project through to its completion. Make sure then that you ask Governor Paterson to do something about this HIP and GHI fiasco. If you don’t, it will cost you money. Perhaps you can help our Governor to pressure Eric Dinallo, Superintendent of Insurance for NYS, to consider an independent impact study that will assess how the proposed privatization will affect the over 4 million people who are insured in New York State. It’s the least that you can do.

Before I leave you, I want to call on our labor leaders, including the MLC to start behaving like unions and not businesses. It’s a crime that I and other brothers and sisters from various trade unions are here speaking on behalf of the families of NYC and State. Our union leaders are too concerned with money and political machinery to do what their mission has always been: to protect workers and their communities.

In closing, the Coalition Against Privatization says “NO” to fare hikes

and “NO” to Emblem Health’s attempt to privatize [HIP and GHI].

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