News From OSA - February, 2011

The bad news keeps coming from the Mayor’s Office. Last month, the Mayor’s task force on workforce reform suggested an end to the civil service as it has existed for over one hundred years. Instead, he asks that we accept that he will hire and fire wisely, with no need for checks and balances. This month, he wants to reform our pensions.

Pension Reform. As you are aware, Mayor Bloomberg believes the cost to the taxpayer of our pensions is far too high. As you are also aware, our pensions have not improved since he came into office, so the increased cost is not due to better pensions but rather to the failure of the stock market to do well.

The Mayor does not want to take responsibility for investments that failed to do well. He is also unwilling to blame Wall Street financiers because, after all, they do well for him and he likes them. Instead, it is our fault that there is an economic short fall.

We live in a city where $28 million apartments overlooking Central Park are featured by the Home & Garden TV channel (“Selling New York”), but nonetheless Mayor Bloomberg believes we are the ones who are getting too much money. He has not one but two suggestions.

First, he wants the power to negotiate our pensions without any oversight by Albany. Most important, he wants the criteria for such negotiations to depend on the City’s ability to pay for such pensions, as he sees it.

This is the same Mayor Bloomberg who, in 2003, told us we had to give him back an average of $2,000 per worker per year, recurring forever, or else the sky would fall and layoffs would occur. We did not give him the money, the sky did not fall and layoffs did occur only to be balanced by new hires of employees more pleasing to him.

This is the same Mayor who helped George Steinbrenner build a lovely new stadium full of corporate sky boxes, paid for by tax forgiveness for years to come. If you need money to tear up the street and build a lane reserved for bicycles, he has the money. Of course, for CityTime, spending is endless.

We do remember when the Mayor laid off 300 Sanitation workers in 2003. The result of those layoffs was a saving to the taxpayer and no loss at all to the Mayor’s neighbors. Garbage pickups went from twice a week in most of the City to once a week due to shortage of manpower. Garbage pickups for Manhattan south of 125th Street stayed at three times a week, so the people the Mayor cared about both saved taxes and kept their service.

Complaints from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and North Manhattan finally led to the rehiring of the laid off workers and restoration of the normal pick up schedule.

In short, this is the same Mayor who would never have any money for our old age, because he needs to spend every penny on his friends.

Second, in case Albany does not give him the power to play with our pensions, he would like Albany to do the job for him. His proposed pension reform is outlined in the chart below. He wants you to work up to eight years longer, for a diminished pension, and he wants you to pay more for the privilege.

New Tier Comparison Chart: Civilians (NYCERS members other than Sanitation, Correction workers)
Item Current (57/5 Plan) Proposed
Employee Contribution 4.85% for first 10 years dropping to 1.85% for the next 20 years 5% for all years
Service Benefit Formula Payable at retirement age of 57: if less than 20 years of service = 1.67% x FAS3 x years. If at least 20 years of service= 2% x FAS3 x years Payable at retirement age of 65: 1.67% x FAS3 x years
Vesting 5 years, payable at age 57 10 years, payable at age 65
Early Retirement Unreduced at 57 and 5 years Unreduced at 65 and 10 years; Early reduced at 55 and 10 years (5% per year reduction)
Accidental Disability Retirement No service requirement, Benefit (generally) = 33% FAS 3, Disability Presumption (WTC) No disability presumptions. (Otherwise same).
Ordinary Disability Retirement 10 years of service, Benefit (generally) = 33% FAS3 Same
Benefit Supplementation COLA None
Overtime Overtime is pensionable Overtime does not count towards pension calculation
Other No notice to retire 30 day notice for retirement

He is willing to welch on deals already in place in that his proposed legislation does not touch (for now) already retired workers, but he does want it to affect all workers now in service. Thus, if you are a forty year veteran, you might need to retire quickly before he gets the chance to take away the minuscule COLA (1/2 of the cost of living, on the first $18,000 of pension, after five years of retirement).

If you came to work during or after 1992, it is too late for you to avoid getting hurt if his plans go through. Currently, your pension rate of 1.67% per year of service pops up to 2.00% per year, retroactive, after 20 years of service. So, if today you are in your 19th year of service and were planning on a 40% pension after twenty years of work, too bad. Next year, according to his proposal, your twenty year pension drops to 33.3% and you will get paid out eight years later.

Arithmetic. If you add Mayor Mike’s workforce reform to his pension reform, you end up with a total destruction of the long term career workforce. As a tax paying citizen, you do have reason to fear the loss of a career government workforce. As a member of that workforce, you have reason for personal concern as well.

Our city is renowned for the wealth of a few of our citizens, and those citizens continue to become even more wealthy. We try not to resent this disparity in wealth, even as it drives us to find housing further and further away from the luxury districts. The failure to remove Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town from the ranks of affordable housing was one, rare, occasion where many folks like us were not forced to move for economic reasons.

Mayor Bloomberg, however, makes it clear that the millionaires must not be taxed to pay our pensions nor for decent salaries paid to a career workforce selected by competitive testing for merit and fitness.

Poor Mental Health. In early February hundreds of our members, and members of other unions, were sent express mail notices by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. At a cost of $17.40 per envelope, members were warned of coming layoffs at DOHMH. Many members got the package on the weekend, so there was no one to call to see if the notice was true.

Now, if you read the notice calmly, all it said was that DOHMH would be laying off staff in the months to come, and the members’ title series would probably be affected. It was very hard to avoid the impression that you were being laid off, but the letter did not actually say that. Still, why were you specifically sent an express mail notice if you were not being laid off?

OSA has been suffering layoffs from DOHMH for a year now and we have been warned of a half dozen more that may take place in March. OSA does warn those of our members targeted for lay off, in advance, generally by telephone. We would like to give credit to the DOHMH for good intentions, but the mass mailing was inappropriate and terrifying.

The Bloomberg Follies. On December 26th, the Mayor got in trouble for being an absentee as we were all snowed in. By January 27th, he had cleaned up his act by staying in town and taking charge.

That morning, unaware of how well his employees were doing at snow clearance, he told non-essential workers to stay home. Later on, he noticed that things were going well, so he changed his mind. At a guess, most office workers felt they were non-essential in a snowstorm, so most did stay at home. Others missed the Mayor’s announcement and went to work, only to find their offices closed.

Some agencies sent e-mails saying stay home; others used robocalls. Most workers did not learn of the Mayor’s change of heart until mid-afternoon – or later – or not at all. In the days that followed, some agencies gave a blanket forgiveness for non-attendance and others ordered the use of annual leave and still others admitted they did not have a clue.

Eventually, DCAS took over and set a citywide policy asking those who did not arrive to write out the sad story of their attempts to get to work and the Mayor said that would solve the problem. Well, no.

If a worker is ordered by the Mayor to stay home (to avoid snarling the transportation of essential workers), that worker is required not to come to work. Civil service unions regularly caution all members to obey legitimate orders. Failure to do so is open insubordination and that can be an offense for which a worker is fired.

There are two possibilities.

Either the Mayor was seeking to amuse us, since he knew we were glum over his constant bashing of the civil service and our pensions, or he made a mistake. If he made a mistake, it was his fault. John Lindsay once made that mistake, as did Rudy Giuliani, so it is not unprecedented.

A five minute consultation with any long service city employee would have warned the Mayor. All he had to do was add the following announcement: “Stay tuned for later developments.” to his order to stay at home. The week of thrashing about by agencies after his error had everything to do with our third term Mayor’s pride and nothing at all to do with reality. Come to think of it, that’s normal at City Hall recently.

Our Response. Each of the unions representing city workers is responding to the Mayor’s recent actions and jointly, we will respond through the Municipal Labor Committee. Some elected officials represent working folks and are not willing to give blanket approval to the “reforms” proposed by the very rich. We will be talking to them.

Also, we had better be ready for a marching season. It is traditional in New York City for anyone with a grievance to let other citizens know about it. Meanwhile, just showing up at a rally and standing about is boring.

Far better was the practice in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, of singing songs as we marched, but few still active now know those songs. No problem. OSA has been hosting a folk singing group at our headquarters for a while now. The leaders of the group are eager to teach us all the best of those songs and their timing is right.

The date set is Wednesday, March 9th, at the union office, with dinner from 5:30 to 6:30 and singing from 6:30 until 8:00PM. Please RSVP by Friday, March 4th to Carol Moten at the union office.

The leader will be Beverly Grant, director of the Brooklyn Women’s Chorus and a published song writer. She proposes to teach us songs appropriate for picket lines and rallies. Each person attending will receive song sheets and a certificate acknowledging their participation. This will be fun. You can download a flyer for posting or to remind yourself by clicking this link.

A Good Article. Tom Robbins has departed from the Village Voice after a multi-decade career in which he was one of the few reporters in the city who covered the labor movement and worker rights and who did so with knowledge and craft. At this link you can read his final column for the paper, in which he outlines the increasing inequalities of wealth in New York City and the Mayor's unwillingness to ask the rich to pay their fair share.