News From OSA - January, 2009

Thank You. The OSA/OSART general officers election came and went this year without a contested election. All those names you see on the letterhead were nominated and, as no one ran against them, the entire slate will again be sworn in at the January membership meeting. We are deeply grateful for the chance to serve the members over the next two years.

Governance. OSA started as an employee organization seeking to become a strong civil service union. From the start, our leadership consisted of unpaid volunteer civil servants who agreed on the value of collective bargaining for Analysts. To this day, our leadership remains almost entirely volunteers.

Thus, our activists, delegates, and Agency chapter chairpersons are all unpaid for their efforts. Even our top officers continue to be paid their civil service salaries or, if retired from the city, paid a salary based on their former civil service status. This is good because it keeps our dues rate low and helps to build the strength of the organization as we recruit ever more titles into our union. This is also good because, as a result, we attract only activists whose motive is to help others and not themselves.

OSA continues, after a quarter of a century as a fully recognized union, to be able to attract selfless volunteers, both active and retired, more so than any other union of city employees. This may not go on forever, but then nothing does. As long as it has lasted, OSA has grown, year after year. Next year, hopefully, we will add still more members from the MII and MIII pay grades. Some of our OSART executive board members are now at the MII and MIII pay grades and their pro-union beliefs are part of our organization’s long term success thus far.

OSA Chair Bob Croghan expresses his personal gratitude "for the day to day support and work done by our staff, on location activists, delegates, Agency chapter officers and executive board members. There would be neither OSA nor OSART nor OSARC (our retirees club) without their efforts."

Evolution of a Party. At first, in the 1980’s and early 90’s, there was no OSA holiday party. Many fine unions do not host a holiday party for their membership and, while a party is nice, it isn’t a necessity.

By the late 90’s, however, OSA had grown to over 4,000 members and retirees and we had expanded our office space to accommodate the work. Since our office seemed large enough, OSA hosted its first holiday party in over ten years. We did not spend a lot, but the members who came were very pleased with the party.

Each year thereafter, the number attending grew rapidly. The union office was being somewhat disrupted for a few days before and after the party, since both preparations and clean up became ever more extensive. In addition, the extreme crowding was unpleasant to most attendees. As a result, OSA transferred its party to the historic 69th Regiment Armory and, at least for the first year, the space was sufficient. There was a problem with the one, slow and faulty elevator, but otherwise the Armory was fine. And so, the crowds grew year after year until the Armory staff said we were too many. We tried Queens for one year, but there were problems with that location’s management (they did not pass on to the staff the 18% gratuity we paid them) and they closed the next year anyway.

Most recently, we held the party at the Grand Prospect Hall in Brooklyn. The Hall is really lovely (“We make your dreams come true” goes the TV advertisement) and quite large. For our first party at the Hall there were no tickets and many people came who were in no way related to our union. Since over 1200 people showed up, there were problems in getting everyone fed and food even ran out. In response to the overflow crowd, OSA began to require members to send for tickets in advance. This did help, but even so we had nearly a thousand persons show up.

For 2008, we limited attendance to members only and, to our surprise, well over 1000 tickets were requested and sent out. The party for 2008 was the best yet - not too crowded, quick service, etc. Still, we did not like having to limit attendance to members only, since many members will not come unless they can bring a spouse, significant other or another family member. Also, over two hundred tickets were sent out and the members did not show. (We had to pay for them anyway and food was left over in large amounts.)

Next year, learning from prior mistakes, there will be a $39 per ticket fee for each person who wishes to attend. You will be able to buy a ticket for a friend, spouse or relative and we will start the process early in the fall. The price, $39, will still require OSA to subsidize the party since the full cost comes out to about $70 a person.

The party will likely be at Grand Prospect Hall next year, but the union is well aware of the one major problem with the Hall - it is in Brooklyn. As a result, our Bronx and Staten Island members have great difficulty getting home after the party. We prefer Manhattan, but costs in Manhattan have become extreme.

We have asked, in the past, for members to contact us if they know of a nice site, near public transportation, preferably in Manhattan, able to accommodate over a thousand members and guests. We have in the past, and will in the future investigate all leads. Do keep in mind the costs however. If the facility says the cost is $70 a person, they mean $70 plus 18% gratuity plus sales tax or nearly $90 a person. OSA has the lowest dues rate in town and while we may have to raise the rate in the future if we decide to affiliate with a larger group, we will not raise the dues to pay for a holiday party.

Backs, Give and Take. In the second year of Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, the mayor asked the municipal unions to “give back” six hundred million dollars forever. He did not want a one time (for that year only) “give back,” he wanted to cut the cost of city labor by six hundred million dollars on a recurring basis. If we did not agree, the mayor made it clear that he intended to punish us by laying off 3,000 workers.

Under the leadership of Randi Weingarten, the Municipal Labor Committee unions began negotiating on the demands of the mayor with the Office of Labor Relations. OLR made it clear that we could choose to cut back on retirees, on active service workers or on workers to be hired in the future. We made it clear that none of the options were appealing.

The mayor ordered thousands of employees to be laid off and they were. Our union lost only a very tiny number of members. Even so, the absolute lack of necessity for those layoffs deeply embittered the OSA leadership towards the mayor. Even after the layoffs, the mayor continued his demands and negotiations went on and on. At the end, after eighteen months, a deal was agreed upon. Our members covered by GHI saw a small increase in office visit co-pays and, in turn, our welfare funds were given an increased grant by the City. Meanwhile, the mayor was able to publicly claim victory. This was important to him.

In the year 2009, (unlike 2003), the City actually does have serious financial problems. If the mayor sought concessions in a time of prosperity, we can be sure he will seek concessions in this time of fiscal crisis. He has already done so. The mayor has asked the Municipal Labor Committee to come up with two hundred million dollars in recurring savings on health benefits. Negotiations began on January 5, 2009 and will be going forward, probably fairly quickly. At the same time, both Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg seem intent on a pension “take back,” i.e. the creation of a new, less generous pension plan for new hires.

The MLC is composed of over a hundred unions and, as a group, we like neither give backs nor take backs but, of the two, take backs are worse. If we are involved in negotiations for a give back, we can often tailor the loss so that we are less hurt. Also, both the mayor and the unions get credit for voluntary, agreed upon concessions and public relations do matter during a real fiscal crisis. We are definitely facing hard economic times in the near future. It is good that we face them as a part of the Municipal Labor Committee.

Safe Harbor. OSA has been approached by the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association. MEBA is seeking to have some of their members covered by our Welfare Fund.

MEBA is a large national union covering a variety of merchant marine officers, pilots, engineers etc. Most of their members are “deep sea,” i.e. they sail on ships that cover the world. Some of their members work in large port cities. In New York, MEBA covers employees of the NYC Department of Transportation and the Fire Department.

We already cover the Sanitation Chiefs' and EMS Chiefs' unions for welfare fund purposes. Thus, adding one more new group will not be a novelty. The OSAWF trustees and staff will be working out details prior to the new group joining us on April 1, 2009.

The advantage for the groups that we agree to include into our welfare fund is clear. OSA is large enough to maintain a full time welfare fund staff and our fund has run smoothly for eighteen years thus far. The advantage for OSA in providing benefits for smaller groups is primarily fraternal, but we also do benefit somewhat from the increased number of persons and families covered.

Beyond Belief. As far as we all knew, in late December of 2008, the residency requirement for city employees was to be relaxed at last. To our surprise and distress, the bill that actually passed only affected DC 37 members.

Many union leaders, both inside and outside DC 37, saw the absurdity of a partial relaxation of residency. As Faye Moore, president of SSEU Local 371, expressed it, under the new law her members could now move to the suburbs until they were promoted to Staff Analyst. Then they would have to move back. The bill, as passed in December, was “beyond belief”.

OSA took the lead in pulling together the larger unions adversely affected by being left out of the new law. On Tuesday December 30th, a meeting of the MLC steering committee members who were concerned was held at 25 Cliff Street, headquarters of Harry Nespoli, chairman of the MLC.

After the unions shared information, it became clear that the most efficient course of action was for Harry Nespoli to represent us all in seeking a bill that would relax residency for all city employees. There was a large amount of resentment expressed regarding the bill passed in December, but the consensus of the unions concerned was that our immediate goal was to get the proper bill passed quickly.

Municipal Credit Union. About one third of OSA members belong to and have money on deposit with the MCU. Even those members who do not use the MCU as their bank are probably familiar with those large MCU wall calendars found in many city offices.

The MCU is a membership run financial institution with a board of directors and a supervising committee elected by the membership. You can see this year’s MCU advertisement from the civil service newspaper “The Chief” by clicking here. The ad seeks candidates to be screened by the nominating committee.

Unfortunately, in 2008, the candidates selected by the nominating committee were rejected by the board of directors. This matter was taken to court by one of the candidates and the judge ruled that the board of directors was in error. She reinstated the candidates and ordered the election to go forward. Instead, the MCU Board of Directors appealed the decision to a higher court and still no election for 2008 has been held.

Meanwhile, the nominations for 2009 are being accepted as is required by the rules of the MCU. OSA is committed to the MCU as an honest and open membership organization of great value to our members. If you are a member of the MCU and wish to be kept up on the developments as they occur, please fill out and return the coupon you can download here.

Long Beach Decision. You can download here a copy of the “Chief” article on the Division of Personnel’s request to create 3,240 new patronage jobs. The proposal, if approved, will result in the mayor shifting work and jobs from competitive class employees (us) to “hire and fire at will” employees.

Early Retirement or Furloughs before Layoffs. We are very concerned over the possibility of layoffs. As a part of the MLC, we have already proposed that the city offer an early retirement incentive instead of layoffs. The mayor, apparently, is taking our suggestion seriously, but no decision has been reached.

If, even after an early retirement incentive offer has been implemented, the city still needs further reductions in staff,OSA is proposing voluntary furloughs rather than layoffs. Our proposal was written up at the request of State Senator Liz Krueger. The state is also facing fiscal problems. The proposal can be downloaded here.

Staff Analyst List. The current Staff Analyst list ends on January 19, 2009 after a four year run. Appointments reached the 1200 numbers and, unfortunately, left about 100 candidates on the list, just about half of whom were in higher titles and might have been appointed at no cost. There were no provisional SA’s and no approved vacancies, and so the list could not be called. A request for an extension was denied due to the law. Hopefully, there will be another exam soon.

Affiliation Update. Both the American Federation of Teachers and the Office and Professional Employees International Union are still in talks with us regarding affiliation. Besides talks, both AFT and OPEIU have begun organizing drives on behalf of groups identified by OSA as being interested in belonging to a union. Implicit in these drives is an offer for OSA to represent the new members were we to affiliate with one or the other International.

OSA is always involved in our own efforts to organize, but we are very pleased that both Internationals are investing time, effort and money in organizing as well.

Our Loss. Willie Bowman passed away on December 31st of 2008. Willie had been an active on-location leader for the Social Services Employees Union before she became an Analyst. She became active with OSA before we gained union status and was our vice-chair during the years when we went from no one in the union to 38 members,later 600 members and, finally, over 3000 Analysts covered by the union.

Willie was, before and after retirement, always very active in her community. About four hundred friends attended the Friday night community service and perhaps six hundred mourners were at the Saturday morning service. Among those attending were a great many Bronx elected office holders paying tribute to a woman whose seventy-seventh year of life was spent traveling everywhere in a powered wheelchair campaigning for Barack Obama.

General Membership Meeting. The next general membership meeting is scheduled for Thursday, January 29, 2009 at the OSA union office, 220 East 23rd Street, Suite 707, between Second and Third Avenues, starting at 6pm sharp. You can download a flyer for posting or to remind yourself of the date and time of the meeting by clicking here.

Postscript on Raises. The city now says the “city” raises are due to be paid in March, retroactive to August 2008. As always, do not spend it until you've received it.