Nearly two dozen municipal retirees crashed a planned press conference by Mayor Eric Adams Monday afternoon to protest his administration’s continued push for a privatized health care plan for retirees known as Medicare Advantage.

While the mayor and labor leaders spoke inside a municipal career fair at Sunset Park High School, retirees outside held signs that read “unions don’t privatize Medicare” and “retirees fight!”

Earlier this month, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge blocked the Adams administration’s planned rollout of the controversial Medicare Advantage plan that was slated to go into effect on Sept. 1. The Adams administration vowed to appeal the decision and continue pursuing the plan. 

Adams dropped by the career fair to promote “good paying civil service jobs” alongside Lee Saunders, president of the national American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and Henry Garrido, executive director of NYC’s District Council 37. Their two organizations co-hosted the event with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

DC 37, the city’s largest municipal workers union and a member of AFSCME, has an outsize influence on matters that go before the Municipal Labor Committee, the consortium of 102 public-sector labor unions that brokered the Medicare Advantage deal with the Adams administration. 

Due to the committee’s weighted voting system where unions get one vote per 250 members, DC 37 and the United Federation of Teachers alone have the clout to sway elections.

Asked about the retirees protesting outside, the mayor noted that he himself is a city retiree (from the NYPD) and that “that is my plan.”

Adams speaks at a city employee hiring hall, with Henry Garrido of DC37, right, and Lee Saunders of AFSCME, left, Aug. 28, 2023. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“I think people gave the impression that this is going to take away from their benefits, which is not actually true, and we’re going to show them how this is a great plan,” Adams told THE CITY in response to questions about the protesters. “The unions who represent them are in support of dealing with the real economic challenges we’re having around health care, and we’re going to make sure we get a good plan for everyone.”

The shift could save the city as much as $600 million a year, helping to pay for current employee’s salaries and benefits.

The handful of retirees who remained by the end of the event two hours later booed the mayor as he exited the school.

“After us working for so long, having been promised — yes, let’s make sure that word is clear — promised a certain level of care, we no longer can have security in our retirement because now we have to deal with how our healthcare may change,” said Michelle Keller, who retired in 2018 after 43 years in civil service. “This is not a way a country — a city — treats its most vulnerable populations.”

DC 37 v. City Council Bill

The plan to switch to Medicare Advantage dates back to a pact with unions made under former Mayor Bill de Blasio and has been backed by the Adams administration and the Municipal Labor Committee. 

But on three separate occasions, courts have ruled against it, with the city vowing to appeal the latest decision.

Meanwhile, DC 37 has stepped up efforts to mobilize its members against proposed legislation that would require the city to offer retirees a premium-free Medicare plan, preserving the current structure by which retired city workers receive their health care. The bill was introduced by Councilmember Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) and is co-sponsored by more than a dozen Council members.

On Thursday, Municipal Labor Council leaders including Garrido sent a letter to city Council Speaker Adrienne Adams urging the Council to oppose the bill, known as Intro 1099, which they slammed as “illegal” and “ill-advised.” Only unions and the Municipal Labor Committee, they noted, have the statutory duty to negotiate health benefits and other subjects of collective bargaining on behalf of their members.

“The proposed bill would not only reach into and rewrite those established collective bargaining agreements, but it would illegally curtail the ability of City Unions to exercise their state-law right to fully negotiate retiree health benefits for in-service and retired employees going forward,” read the letter, co-signed by more than a dozen labor leaders in the public and private sector.

DC37 Retirees Association leader Aurea Mangual protested the insurance switch, Aug. 28, 2023. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The retirees initially had planned to confront Saunders, the AFSCME president, at the hiring hall on Monday. A flier by the NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees circulated on social media last week used all capital letters to urge members to “ask him to intervene to protect the vested health benefits of retirees and preserve traditional Medicare.” 

But the retirees’ focus shifted to the mayor, as news of his visit to the hiring hall spread Monday morning.

Outside the school ahead of the mayor’s arrival, retirees gathered across from people waiting in line vying for jobs to call on the mayor “to stop his unlawful and cruel attack on retirees,” said retired city worker Marcia Biederman, 74.

“The way that they’re treating retirees, putting us against the membership – it’s not right,” DC 37 retiree council vice president Aurea Mangual told THE CITY.

The retirees’ protest was the latest in a series of high-profile confrontations against Adams. On Sunday, an anti-migrant protest outside Gracie Mansion turned violent as the picketers and counter-protesters came to blows. Police arrested about half a dozen people, including Guardian Angels co-founder and former Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa.