September 12, 2011
By Neal Tepel
A crowd of dozens of transit union members briefly took over the lobby of 180 Livingston Street, an MTA property in Brooklyn where transit worker health benefits are administered. Ignoring attempts by security to restrain the impromptu demonstration, they held signs and spoke angrily about broken promises. TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen, who was in the crowd, spoke to reporters, telling them that while MTA managers and executives enjoyed “gold-plated” health coverage, his members had been treated harshly during a health benefits transition earlier this year.
Samuelsen said that hundreds of transit workers had been “nickled and dimed” – and worse – during the transition from GHI and HIP to Empire Blue Cross, United Health Care, and Aetna. Although the union’s contract specified that the new benefits be equal or better to the old, many found themselves cut off from health care entirely for a period of time. One member’s wife had to put off cancer surgery. Others saw costs for prescription drugs soar.
“We’re not even in contract negotiations and we’re already under attack,” said Samuelsen. “They’ve broken promises on health care. TWU will fight back. This is only the first of many such actions.” 180 Livingston Street is the main office for the MTA’s Human Resources Department.
The union has filed a comprehensive contract violation grievance on behalf of thousands of members affected by the health benefits transfer snafus.