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TRANSIT TALKS OFF THE RAILS: After Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Patrick Foye (left) charged in an email that a transit-union proposal to lower prescription-drug costs was a 'Utano Specialty Drug Scam,' Transport Workers Union Local President Tony Utano fired back that he was the one who was a 'bigot and a liar' and demanded that he be removed from involvement in contract talks.

An effort by Transport Workers Union Local 100 to work with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to save tens of millions of dollars a year in specialty drug costs has derailed into a nasty feud between union President Tony Utano and MTA Chairman Pat Foye.

Mr. Foye portrayed the prescription proposal as a corrupt anti-immigrant scheme that would also detrimentally affect black transit workers, and Mr. Utano accused him of misrepresenting a good-faith effort to help the MTA save as much as $44 million a year in specialty drug costs and using “ugly anti-Italian stereotypes.”

First Shot Fired by Email

In an Oct. 10 email, the MTA Chairman blasted the prescription-drug-program presentation that was made to the New York City Transit labor panel by Payer Matrix, a drug-cost-containment company that had originally approached the union months ago about ways the company could help the MTA save money on its prescription-drug coverage.

Mr. Foye dubbed the proposal the “Utano Specialty Drug Scam,” claiming it was anti-immigrant, discriminated against employees of color and was “corrupt and “unlawful.”

“In a Trumpian twist, Local 100’s highly compensated out-of-town consultants explained that coverage under the Drug Scam would extend only to U.S. citizens, but not to the hundreds of Local 100 members who are working legally for NYCT, but are not yet citizens,” his email stated.

Mr. Foye said the proposal was racially discriminatory because it did not cover “chronic diseases such as sickle-cell anemia that disproportionately impact your African-American members.”

Mr. Utano said that Mr. Foye’s email created the false impression that using Payer Matrix was going to result in members who didn’t qualify for the various subsidized specialty drugs paying out of pocket for those typically expensive medications.

‘Members Lose Nothing’

“If they can’t get it through the [Payer Matrix’s] foundations, it goes back and our existing plan picks it up,” Mr. Utano said in a phone interview. “So the member loses nothing. His email is full of lies. It is ridiculous.”

Union officials insist the proposal, if it had been approved, would have been supplemental to the existing plan.

Payer Matrix’s business model relies on the non-profit foundations that are linked to pharmaceutical companies that provide heavily subsidized prescriptions to customers who meet certain criteria.

Plays ‘Big Pharma’ Card

“The Utano Specialty Drug Scam is dependent on programs [that] Big Pharma firms, such as Merck and J&J, have put in place (no doubt for public relations and political cover) directly or through affiliated non-profits to provide a limited quantity and dollar amount of costly specialty drugs to low income patients at reduced prices,” Mr. Foye wrote.

He continued, “Putting aside the fairy tale nature of your Specialty Drug Scam which assumes that Merck and Purdue and J&J and the rest of Big Pharma will happily pay the TWU and MTA’s specialty drug expense and putting aside the cynical and manipulative treatment of Local 100 members you propose and the abuse of limited dollars of specialty drug programs created for the poor, the Utano Specialty Drug Scheme would benefit: (1) Local 100 union funds, but oddly not Local 100 members; (2) MTA; and (3) Big Pharma.”

The deterioration in the relationship between Mr. Utano and Mr. Foye follows a million-dollar radio ad campaign by the union that vilified Mr. Foye and the MTA for spending $2 billion on consultants over the last five years even as “Transit workers were assaulted or harassed more than 2,3000 times last year…Only the MTA and Chairman Pat Foye would tolerate such employee abuse and then demand a wage freeze.”

Mr. Utano was also outraged at Mr. Foye’s mischaracterization of Payer Matrix representatives as “Local 100’s highly compensated out-of-town consultants.” A company representative said that the firm did not receive any money from the TWU.

“If you count the number of times he has ‘Utano Drug Scam’ in there, it’s 22 times, and then at the end he says it’s corruption and fraud… and at the end he tells me to enjoy my Columbus Day. What is he insinuating?” Mr. Utano asked.

He wants the MTA Chair, whom he called “a bigot and a liar,” pulled from the contract talks.

When ask to comment on Mr. Utano’s response to Mr. Foye’s email and his call for him to step aside from negotiations, an agency spokesman said, “the Chairman is focused in good faith to reach a mutually beneficial resolution.”

‘Stereotypes and Lies’

“After portraying transit workers as time and overtime cheats, and posting cops in the work place like jail guards, multi-millionaire Foye has used ugly anti-Italian stereotypes—and more lies—to accuse Local 100 President Tony Utano of fraud,” the union said in a statement to members.

“I made an agreement with the Transit Authority and said I found this company and if this company is able to save you money, I want half of the money,” Mr.Utano said. “It wasn’t going to me personally. It was going to the union contract to get members some better benefits.”

The latest imbroglio is just another sign of a deteriorating atmosphere surrounding the talks.

In August, Local 100’s executive committee voted unanimously to turn down the MTA’s initial contract offer, which Mr. Utano described as “insulting.”

The old contract expired on May 15. TWU Local 100 is planning an Oct. 30 rally at MTA Headquarters a 2 Broadway at 5 p.m.

Not Much in Cupboard?

Management’s opening offer came as the MTA said it faced a more than a $1-billion shortfall by 2020, despite an infusion of that much in new revenue from congestion pricing for Midtown Manhattan that was approved in Albany.

The agency is also in the midst of an Albany-mandated reorganization that its management consultant said required the elimination of 2,700 jobs for an annual savings of a $500 million.


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