News From OSA - March, 2009

A lot of news this month.

Lost List. Members from the city agencies and NYCHA were distressed by a letter sent out by the Office of Payroll Administration (OPA) in late February. The letter from OPA told them that a list of OSA members had gotten lost and that the list included social security numbers. The letter went on, “To protect you from the possibility of identity theft, OPA recommends you place a fraud alert on your credit files.” The letter then gave instructions to call one of the three major credit reporting agencies.

The details not included in the letter go as follows:

The Office of Payroll Administration sends OSA a monthly report on the dues paying membership. This has been going on since before we became a union, probably since about 1973 when OSA first got the right to “check off” (i.e. dues deduction from the city paycheck.)

OPA used registered mail (with required return receipt) to send the information - and all went well until last November. We did not get the information for that month and, when we inquired, OPA insisted we had received it. We reiterated that we had not received it. OPA investigated and found that the return receipt had been signed by someone whose name appears to be Jacob Sloan. We informed OPA that no one named Jacob Sloan has ever worked for OSA.

The most likely scenario of what occurred is that the package was mistakenly delivered to the wrong office. The OSA staff went from floor to floor at 220 East 23rd Street asking if the package had been delivered at each office. No luck.

Even so, given the custom in most offices, we can not be certain. Local business offices are visited by FedEx and UPS regularly, and the Post Office daily. Commonly, the delivery person will ask anyone in an office to sign for the mail rather than to wait for the availability of the proper recipient.

It is possible the mail was delivered to the wrong office and thereafter discarded. It is also possible that it was delivered to the wrong building entirely. Such errors do occur as we know from some wrong deliveries we have received.

Since they don’t know where the list of OSA members went, OPA had to assume the worst and sent out the warning letter.

This has happened before. Two years ago, a private consultant contracted by FISA “lost” the names and social security numbers of all of the city retirees. At the time, the retirees were all told to contact the credit agencies and were even given a free year of reports. One side effect was that most of us receiving these reports noted how consistently all three “major” agencies erred on their reports to us. They did offer to let us correct the errors, but it certainly reduced our faith in their data collection, recording and reliability.

On that occasion, no fraud was ever reported.

Many members called the office since the OPA letter was frightening and did not specify what damage could occur if the information fell into the wrong hands.

Most likely the loss that could occur would be a damaged credit rating. That is not a small thing to some members, especially if they are seeking a mortgage or new car loan. On the other hand, some members were afraid of being responsible for payment of fraudulent debts incurred by thieves, but on that account we could somewhat reassure them.

Many of us have had the experience of someone else using our identity to secure goods. For OSA Chair Bob Croghan, it was clothing from Syms, years ago, and the issue was resolved with one phone call. In the case of Sheila Gorsky, OSA’s executive director, the matter was more serious and even a bit extreme because the same person kept on using Sheila’s name and occupation until the imposter got herself arrested.

It is, at minimum, awkward to be the target of identity theft, even if there is no financial loss to fear. Meanwhile, OPA is accurate in stating that they have no reason to believe that the information was deliberately stolen.

Once Burned, Twice Shy. As you might expect, OPA has now decided to avoid using certified mail for future deliveries. OPA will now call the union when the package is ready and we will send a designated staff person downtown to get it.

In addition, OSA argued that another ID number should be used, instead of the social security number. In response, OPA said they are already working on a citywide employee ID number. We suggested that, in the meantime, do not include the social security numbers on the list. OPA agreed.

Good Guys. The loss of the list is bad news. It could have been worse. The OSA staff that is assigned to receive the mail could have been sloppy about a missing list. The November list was due to arrive during the holiday mail season in December. It did not arrive and the fact that the December list did arrive by January led our staff to inquire of OPA about the November list.

Assurances by OPA that the list had been sent and received led to our staff going door to door in our building to see if it had gone to another office. This was followed by a number of visits to the local post office.

OPA was, as you might expect, very upset when our executive director told them that the list was lost. To their credit, they did respond quickly with their letter and have now resolved to use only the last four digits of the members’ social security numbers in communications with all the unions.

The subsequent newspaper headline “Bloomberg Lost Your Social Security Numbers” was not fair, but it did cause a beneficial change in practice.

So, a note of thanks to Yolanda Milanes, Carol Moten, Vojna Stanic-Geraghty and Sheila Gorsky. If they had not taken their task seriously, none of us would have known of the loss of information and the change of existing practice would not have occurred.

Provisional Employees. Our members fall into three civil service categories. The first group are the permanent competitive class civil servants. They obtained their job by way of an exam and are generally well protected from lay offs. The second group are non-competitive permanent civil servants and they also have some protection from lay offs. Our third group of members are provisional (i.e. temporary) competitive class civil servants and they are most vulnerable to lay offs.

By law, all provisional employees must be laid off before any permanent civil servants in the same title series are touched. Worse yet, seniority does not help provisionals in regard to lay offs. A thirty-five year “pure” provisional PAA was laid off from DHS in March, yet others, recently appointed, were kept on the job.

If you are targeted for lay off, the union will do what it can, but there are a few things you can do for yourself as well.

First, join the pension system. Why?

Any person who joins the pension system before being laid off gets the right to be a member of Tier IV of the New York City Employees Retirement System. This is true even if he or she is laid off now, and does not return to City service for the next ten or twenty years.

Many younger employees do not join the pension system at first, but so long as they do join prior to lay off or voluntary departure, they can preserve pension Tier IV rights. The City and State are talking about Pension Tier V and Tier V will not be as good as Tier IV.

So, join before you go, just in case you ever come back to City or State employment.

Also, take a test.

Or, take a number of tests.

A provisional Analyst who takes and passes a test for any job used in his or her agency is generally appointed to that job title and then given leave to continue to serve in their provisional, higher title. There are two benefits to this sequence.

First, the provisional is no longer “pure”. A “pure” provisional is the most vulnerable to layoffs. Instead, the employee is now a “step up” provisional and, if laid off, reverts to the lower permanent title.

In times of lay offs, agencies usually prefer to dismiss pure provisionals rather than step up provisionals.

Second, every civil service competitive job is part of a career ladder and you can even move from one career ladder to another, once you are permanent. Thus, if you take the upcoming open competitive exam for Principal Administrative Associate, pass it and are thereafter appointed, you have done well. At a minimum, you will hold a permanent title of PAA while serving in a higher analyst provisional title. Quite probably you may, while still serving as a provisional analyst in a higher title, find yourself being laterally transferred at your request, to a permanent analyst title. Transfers from one permanent title to an equivalent title is allowed under rule 6.1.9. of the Personnel Rules. (If you already have a non-analyst permanent title and are serving in a higher analyst provisional title please call Sheila to discuss a possible 6.1.9.)

How do you apply to take this exam? To get to the Principal Administrative Associate notice of exam, go to the drop down menu on the left for city agencies, select “Citywide Admin Svcs.” Under the section entitled “Apply Today for Civil Service Exams” there should be a link for the “Notice for Principal Administrative Associate (PDF).” Click on that link and a PDF file of the notice of exam for PAA will open, which you can then print for your records. The NOE also includes an embedded link which takes you to a page where you can download the required forms to apply for the exam – the application, the education and experience test paper, and the foreign education fact sheet. You must do this before close of business on March 24, 2009.

Alternately, you can skip the first few steps by putting the following URL into your web browser or just click on the link:

This will take you directly to the Notice of Exam.

A Little Help From Our Friends. OSA representatives will again travel to Albany on March 24, 2009 to join other MLC leaders opposed to the DCAS Reclassification Plan (Scam?). We will be meeting with Peter Abbate, head of the Assembly Civil Service Committee. We are opposed to the creation of 3,240 (or more) patronage jobs. We will also oppose a host of equally corrupt proposals by DCAS aimed at reverting to the hire at will, fire at will style of government of the 1800’s.

We are relying upon help from our friends. Peter Abbate for the Assembly and Diane Savino for the Senate are the crucial legislators who may be able to stop this farce from going forward.

Diane Savino (especially) understands the seriousness of the issue because she herself was a New York City civil servant. She was elected to serve the Social Service Employees Union membership many years ago. As their VP for legislation, her subsequent rise to the State Senate placed one of our own into a good position to combat the mayor’s attempted hanky-panky on this issue. Most legislators don’t know what’s wrong with the DCAS proposals, but Diane does.

Diane is our friend, but any friend of ours is an enemy to the city’s major newspaper publishers. When Diane objected to the call for a new and worse pension Tier V, she became the subject of repeated attacks in the New York Daily News editorial page.

Diane had dared to point out that the new tier would save no money immediately, since only new employees would be affected. Instead she noted, Mayor Bloomberg was using the current fiscal crisis as an excuse to lower the long term cost of the civil service workforce.

Diane challenged the mayor’s claim of immediate savings of hundreds of millions of dollars. The Daily News chose to rely upon Bloomberg’s press release and called Diane a liar.

Later stories in other newspapers noted that the Independent Budget Office had also objected to the mayor’s claim of immediate savings from Tier V. However, the Daily News editors did not apologize to Diane just because she happened to be correct. After all, if your publisher seeks favors on real estate issues from the Mayor, why would you let the truth onto your editorial pages?

(You can read other kind words about Senator Savino in the February 23, 2009 OSA Newsline.)

Residency. We have been promised a bill, by April, on residency. The Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) acted quickly in December, when the last, DC37-only, bill was passed by the City Council.

We seek a bill covering all city workers.

The hypocrisy of the 1986 Koch residency law has a twenty three years history of dishonest and inconsistent application. It was never fair, nor just, nor honest. Exemptions were always available for the chosen few, only by now, the chosen few have grown to be the overwhelmingly majority. Still, the politicians can’t let go of this bad law.

Eventually, at this rate, there will be exactly one civil servant still required to live in New York City. Then, he or she will be fired without trial when the city discovers a suburban connection.

Layoffs. In the Department of Homeless Service, thirteen employees were targeted for layoff last month. Three OSA members were listed, and each was notified by the union. OSA offered an argument in favor of voluntary furloughs, instead of layoffs, but this was rejected because “it would not lead to recurring savings.” Actually, of course, it would result in recurring savings if the voluntary furloughs became available yearly. The Bloomberg Administration has, however, been cold to any alternative to layoffs thus far.

On Friday March 13th, we learned of a plan by the Agency for Children Services to terminate over 600 positions (some currently vacant). The actual number of persons in danger of losing their jobs would be 575, of whom fourteen are OSA members.

The Friday the thirteenth meeting was not an official notice and the thirty day warning period has not started. The layoff date projected is 6/27/09, if it is needed. If Albany provides more money, the layoffs will not occur.

If worst comes to worst, the City will have to give us official notice on or prior to 5/28/09 according to ACS personnel. Each of our members targeted is a pure provisional but the union was not provided with a list of names.

Free Retirement Counseling. OSA has been training a new class of retirement counselors. We have now reached the stage where we need to provide the new counselors a chance to practice what they have learned.

If you are ready to retire, or are just speculating about a possible departure, we need you. We need a few members willing to be interviewed by new counselors in a classroom setting. To insure the accuracy of the information provided, John Murphy, former Director of NYCERS will be present at each session, overseeing the process.

So, if you are willing to be counseled, not only will you be sure of accurate, detailed information, but you will also be helping to train the next generation of union retirement counselors.

Sherman Gould, a member of the OSART executive board from NYCHA, has already offered to be our first member so counseled, but we need more than one person for the training to be effective.

If you are interested, please call Diana Carroll at the union office. You will be helping the union and, we hope, yourself as well.

Negotiations on Give Backs. There are none at present. There were negotiations but then Mayor Bloomberg began negotiating in the main-stream press instead of with us.

If you missed the articles on the outrageous pension costs of firefighters (post 9/11), the injustice of employer paid health costs or the need for civil servants to sacrifice to avoid the departure of the rich from Manhattan, you must have been reading only the out-of-town newspapers.

In the eyes of our mayor, a graduated tax system is a horror. Not only have the rich recently lost more than we ever had, but we must now sacrifice to save them their remaining millions. Otherwise the rich will flee to millionaires’ row in downtown Oshkosh, Wisconsin and, then, who will patronize those restaurants we can not afford?

Our mayor seems to favor patrons and patronage. In this matter, unlike term limits, he is, at least, consistent.

Affiliation. As members are aware, OSA has been investigating affiliation with the AFL-CIO directly or through two different international unions (AFT and OPEIU). The process is slow, since this is a very major step to take and careful study is appropriate.

Meanwhile, OSA has not been considering an affiliation with “Change to Win,” the AFL-CIO rival set up by Andy Stern of SEIU. We did not consider them at all once we read their constitution and bylaws. We were right.

Recently, the Association for Union Democracy has been blasting Andy for his latest actions. Andy has now put a 150,000-member union into receivership, not for corruption or malfeasance, but for potential disloyalty to him. He removed hundreds of elected officers, representatives and business agents and replaced them with his appointees.

Andy wanted to succeed John Sweeney as head of the AFL-CIO a few years ago. Andy lost the vote and pulled out of the AFL-CIO, taking five Internationals with him, all in the name of organizing.

Andy is the darling of the mainstream press. His claim to have invented a new form of corporate/labor cooperation begins to look a lot more corporate and a lot less labor.

The Organization of Staff Analysts favors organizing. We organized ourselves and have gone from 38 members in 1985 to 4,600 today. We do not favor undemocratic procedures, nor do we believe corporate unionism is a good idea.

Recently, “Change to Win” has been considering a re-merger with the AFL-CIO. That’s good, unless the price is a loss of democracy and the installation of Andy Stern.

We will be watching the merger carefully.

Hoax Alert. Recently a very clever hoax has been circulating in city offices. An early retirement incentive is discussed in great detail in a memo from Dennis Sullivan (head of negotiations for DC37) to Lillian Roberts, executive director of 37. The memo is bogus.

Dennis Sullivan has been out on leave for a few months and, not only did he not send the memo (dated 2/23/09), it is not true.

There may be an early retirement incentive at some point if the mayor changes his mind, but at present there is none.

General Membership Meeting. The next general membership meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 26, 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.