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NY Gov. Hochul and teachers union at odds

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is in hot water with the unions that supported her gubernatorial campaign. The Governor recently announced two controversial policy positions, including her intent to make changes to medical billing requirements and to lift the state’s charter school cap.

The “Pay and Resolve” bill, which would require health insurers to pay hospital billing claims immediately without reviewing the medical necessity of the billing claims, was publicly opposed by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). The union claimed that the proposal could lead to a hike in costs for union members.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew explained, “The added costs are passed along to us. That is silly and that has got to stop.” Other unions joined UFT’s opposition, such as Teamsters and SEIU Local 32 BJ.

New York Health Department spokesperson Cort Ruddy disputed the unions’ claims and said the bill “will vastly increase administrative efficiency without resulting in any meaningful difference regarding payment of claims.” Ruddy noted that unions would not be affected by the bill.

In her budget proposal, Governor Hochul’s included her plan to lift caps on charter schools that received a similarly negative response from her union allies.

Her proposal, which is a part of the state budget proposal, would keep the current state cap of 460 charter schools but free up 85 more slots for new charter schools across the state by eliminating regional caps. The proposal would create more slots for charter schools in New York City, which currently has a cap of 275 charter schools.

In a statement, Hochul said, “I believe every student deserves a quality education, and we are proposing to give New York families more options and opportunities to succeed.”

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) have consistently opposed this policy change over the past decade.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, “Public resources should go to real public schools – not to corporate charter chains that claim success by refusing to serve our most vulnerable children, that force out students who don’t fit their mold, and that refuse to permit independent audits of their spending.”

Hochul is not the only state governor who tried to lift the state’s charter school cap. Her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, attempted the same policy change in 2019 and in 2020. Both efforts were derailed by the state legislature, in part due to teachers unions’ opposition.

In 2019, Mulgrew said the cap should remain in place until charter schools “agree to basic levels of accountability for how they treat all students and how they use tax dollars.” Cuomo admitted defeat at the end of that year’s legislative session and said, “There’s no time for complicated legislative maneuvers, we either pass it, or you don’t. So, we are effectively at the end of session.”

The unions did not back Cuomo during his gubernatorial elections because of his stance on charter schools, with a report noting that the governor had a “standoffish relationship with the state’s powerful teachers union, New York State United Teachers, which did not endorse him in each of his three elections for governor.” Cuomo received at least $200,000 in donations from charter school supporters after his 2018 re-election.

Until now, Hochul has had a much more positive relationship with teachers unions than Cuomo. In 2022, UFT’s Mulgrew endorsed Hochul as “the best advocate for New York City students and educators in a generation.” UFT’s press release pointed out UFT members staffed “in-person phone banks at UFT headquarters” and claimed that the union helped Hochul “gain the Democratic nomination.”

Overall, during the 2022 election cycle, Hochul received at least $69,700 from a political action committee affiliated with the NYSUT and $47,100 from UFT.

Even though Hochul was both financially supported and endorsed by UFT and other unions, her proposals to lift the charter school cap and support the “Pay and Resolve” bill have earned the union’s ire. The state’s legislative session only began last month; time will tell whether Hochul will back down to the unions’ demands.

Spencer Irvine

Spencer Irvine is Senior Writer & Researcher at Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Spencer previously worked in state government, in communications for a non-profit advocacy organization, and held various administrative and communications roles at a media analysis organization. He has a master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Brigham Young University. He lives in Arizona with his wife, is an avid history buff and enjoys touring historic sites.