News From OSA - February, 2014

Welfare Fund History. The OSA Welfare Fund was established as a full scale fund once OSA was entitled to represent 600 members. Prior to that moment, OSA had provided benefits to our first union members, 38 analysts at the Board of Education. That first group was so small that we were unable to provide full benefits.

Once we knew we were going to represent hundreds of analysts, a debate ensued to determine which benefits model would be followed. We had members who had previously belonged to Local 371, Local 1180, Local 237 and DC37, and each of those groupings had welfare funds, all good but each different. In addition, we had all received Management Benefits Fund coverage as analysts.

After long discussions, a consensus developed that the OSA leadership should seek to match the Management Benefits Fund. We were able to accomplish this largely because of help and advice from Jim Paul, the original administrator of the MBF. Jim and his main co-worker, Len Lido, told us what they were doing, which vendors they used, and in general were very supportive. Credit is also due to the original trustees who worked hard under a lot of stress until the job was done.

Once OSA's welfare fund was up and running, it became easier to maintain since the union kept growing and there were economies of scale as a result. As the years passed under Mayors Koch and Dinkins, our fund kept matching the MBF on each improvement made as more money was negotiated.

The arrival of Mayor Giuliani led to a problem. During his time in office, he became progressively less responsible in the orders he gave. To cite one bit of insanity at his direction, the MBF began to offer $5,000 for an egg donor if a member of the fund was seeking to have a child. Since the MBF provides no maternity benefit whatsoever, the egg donor benefit made no sense. The OSA Welfare Fund trustees, for the first time, refused to follow the lead of the MBF. It turned out that the trustees were wise, because the egg donor benefit was cancelled a year later.

Equally improvident decisions were made thereafter. For example, the deductible on superimposed major medical was dropped from $500 a year to zero, changing the benefit from a catastrophic one to a “nickel and dime” benefit that would be enormously expensive to administer and was entirely imprudent as well.

A gym benefit was also added, for up to $1,000 per member per year. This was a benefit rejected by the Internal Revenue Service as a tax exempt health benefit, so it was not only imprudent, it was also wasteful, since MBF members were taxed on this benefit.

By far, the most expensive of the adjustments during that time was a major change in reimbursement for dental work, both to panel and non-panel dentists. The OSA Welfare Fund trustees were notified by SIDS, our dental panel provider, that the City was greatly increasing the reimbursement rates. The new rates would seem to be so high that our income would not be enough, and we would have to use our reserves until they ran out.

The trustees chose instead to match the increase for the panel dentists, but not for the out-of-network dentists. We also began to urge our members to use panel dentists as strongly as we could.

In spite of Mayor Giuliani's conviction that New York City could not survive without him, he eventually departed and Mayor Bloomberg took his place. Thereafter, the Management Benefits Fund began to cut back or reverse the Giuliani changes. The gym benefit became more restrictive in terms of reimbursement and the amount offered was cut in half. The superimposed major medical benefit had the $500 deductible restored, and the dental program was cut back as well.

Our welfare fund watched all these changes carefully. We proceeded very cautiously, because Mayor Bloomberg kept talking, from 2003 onwards, about raiding union welfare funds in one way or another. We therefore felt the need for reserves to smooth out any actions he might take.

With the mayor's final attempt to raid our welfare funds having fizzled out over the past six months, the trustees now feel a bit more secure. We would reasonably hope that the new mayor will not continue to starve the unions by denying welfare fund increases. We can now address some changes to our benefits.

OSA Welfare Fund Benefit Improvements. The trustees have voted to increase reimbursement to non-panel dentists to become closer to that provided by the Management Benefits Fund (MBF).

Effective January 1, 2014, Self-Insured Dental Services (SIDS) has been instructed to increase the OSA rates for non-panel dentists. This is being done because the trustees believe the increased outlay will be sustainable. We are especially pleased to do so in light of the recent addition of Administrative Staff Analysts levels II and III to our fund. For many of these new members, the failure to make this change would require them to consider leaving long-term family dentists, and this was a source of considerable regret to the OSA leadership.

The most important issues in OSA's forty-year drive for representation were due process, collective bargaining rights and the need for increased fairness on the job. We never actually asked to have our own welfare fund, but finally we do have that responsibility for all of our members (outside of the Transit Authority.)

It is a relief to be able to bring our benefits a bit closer to the Management Benefits Fund. We are not committed to following the lead of the MBF when we think they are wrong. They answer to the mayor. We answer to you. Still, if both funds are similar it is easier for an analyst to move from managerial to represented, and that is a good thing.