News From OSA - March, 2012

We do not wish to be accused of class warfare. We have nothing against rich folks. We do wish that their advocates would stop picking on us.

The mayor secured his third term by purchasing a change in the rules and buying the election that followed. He gave one million dollars to the Independence Party for election security (i.e. voter suppression). You could ignore the other hundred million he spent, but that one particular wasted million was a direct insult to New York City voters.

Since then, our mayor has ended all raises. Over 4,000 OSA members got the 4%, 4% and .1% settlement before the mayor’s re-election. Yet, the moment the election was secured, he ran out of money for the remaining 70 OSA members covered under a separate contract. They are being offered zero increase plus givebacks.

The mayor is not alone. The Manhattan Institute, the Citizens Budget Commission, the major newspapers, the media in general, and now the governor have all joined together seeking to reduce taxes for the rich, entirely at the expense of us.

At present, for the second year in a row, there are absolutely no negotiations going on because all the mayor is willing to discuss is how much we are willing to give him. Each time we try to negotiate, we are told he has no money and needs our help. As we leave the building empty handed, we pass by the umpteenth luxury building going up in this allegedly impoverished city. New York City is not doing badly in terms of tax receipts, tourism is booming, and hotels are near capacity. Even Wall Street is complaining about Federal limitations on bonus payments, not about lack of money for those bonuses. So, our city is doing well, but the mayor is crying poverty in the face of the facts.

In addition to the current effort to impoverish us by denying even cost of living wage increases, both the mayor and the governor have their eyes on our pensions. The New York Times has editorialized that our pensions are far too generous and the Times is the “newspaper of record.” It turns out that a “fair” pension (to them) is one where those civil servants who come after us will have a desperate old age.

Our response to the attacks being made upon us is to generally fight back, to argue, to lobby and to demonstrate. Fortunately, we are not alone. The AFL-CIO, and the unions of the Municipal Labor Committee are taking out ads on our behalf. Different unions are addressing different issues coordinated through the Municipal Labor Committee. OSA’s role has been to be one of the unions specializing in defense of the civil service.

Aside from pensions, Governor Cuomo has also sought to sneak civil service deform through under the guise of a budget. His proposals mirror those of Mayor Bloomberg in that both are advocating vast increases in appointments and promotions at will, not through competitive testing but through patronage.

For example, a new class of temporary appointments is proposed. This new “class” of 500 jobs will exempt candidates from entry level exams but will grant them, after two years service, the right to take promotional exams for permanent jobs. So then, how do you get this new job? There is one special qualification. You need to know somebody.

Since OSA had some success with the city council when the mayor made the same attempt, we were ready. We sent out copies of “Plunkitt of Tammany Hall” to all State Senators and State Assembly members. We also sent letters with the book unfavorably comparing the governor’s openness and honesty with Plunkitt’s.

We have been active in the anti-Tier VI campaign as well, and we are aware the mayor is next targeting our health benefits as soon as he can get around to it. It makes for exciting times.

Occupy Wall Street. We owe a debt to Occupy Wall Street (OWS). The occupiers of Zuccotti Park raised the issue of the 1% vs. the 99% and that helped us. Before OWS, the media debate was all about us and how we were the problem. Thanks to OWS, the focus shifted to the very rich and the low rate of taxes they pay, while the rest of us are paying too much.

It was more difficult for the mayor or his media to attack us while OWS was attacking him, his friends and the governor. Then, thanks mostly to the winter, OWS became more quiet, and the mayor, and the governor and the media could again turn their attention to us.

Well, OWS never quite went away and it is now spring. Rob Murray is a labor organizer for SEIU and was a part of the OWS protest from the start. Rob will be on our agenda at this month’s membership meeting. He will tell the story, as he lived it, of the two crucial weekends that launched OWS. Rob will also share their plans for the season to come.

Student Loans. New York City, for over one hundred years, was able to afford a free college education for well qualified students. Then, in 1974-1975, a fiscal crisis caused by the banks refusing to roll over municipal bond debt brought NYC to the brink of bankruptcy.

The Mayor (Abraham Beame) was forced to accept direction from the banking community and Albany. One result of this was 50,000 layoffs. A second result was tuition fees, for the first time, at the City University.

The fiscal crisis was over after a few years of a reduced city workforce and, by the time of Ed Koch, we had more city employees then before the layoffs. CUNY students, however, continued to pay tuition fees and do so to this day.

The banking industry came out of the ‘74-‘75 fiscal crisis with two victories. First, charging tuition fees at CUNY lowered the need for taxes to pay for CUNY. Second, huge numbers of students, if they wanted to go to college, now had to incur debt to pay for their schooling. Those of us educated before ‘74-‘75 got the schooling for free although the school work itself was often hard work. Now young New Yorkers often graduate with an enormous amount of debt to pay off.

Our union has been approached by a number of members concerned with student debt. It seems that some of the rules applicable to student loans are somewhat wacky. Could it be true that a person seeking to prepay a debt could be charged a high “courtesy” fee for paying what they owe?

The growth in student loans has been a boom to the banks. Congress has acted to protect the banks from losses on student loans and Congress may have gone too far. This sort of issue requires study before any attempt to remedy poorly written law is undertaken. If you are concerned about student loans/debt, OSA will offer coffee, cake and a place to meet. If you are interested, call George Morgan at the union office and he will add your name to our committee in formation regarding student debt.

Women's Committee Presentation. The Women's Committee of the Organization of Staff Analysts has put together a program for Thursday, March 22 from 6-9pm entitled "Hands On: Women on the Move," which will feature a panel of notable women in the local labor movement: Lee Clarke, Director of Health and Safety for AFSCME District Council 37; Yolanda Pumarejo, Executive Vice-President of SSEU/Local 371, DC37 AFSCME; Lauren Shapiro, Assistant General Counsel for our union; Barbara Terrelonge, Director of Quality of Work Life for DC37; and Diane Stein, Safety and Health Coordinator for Teamsters Local 237. Also on the program will be an overview of financial issues by Ronni Brettschneider and info on estate planning by Renaye Cuyler. Light refreshments will be available. You can download a flyer for the event by clicking this link.

Counseling. Bill Douglas was our executive vice chairperson for nearly fourteen years and, prior to that been active on behalf of us all for another dozen years.

Since his retirement from city employ, Bill found a second career by being trained as a psychotherapist. He is now a licensed clinical social worker with over twenty years of practice. The leadership of the Organization of Staff Analysts may not be qualified to judge on the professional issues, but we do know that Bill is an excellent listener and a very caring person. If any of us ever feels a need to talk to a professional New York State licensed therapist, Bill can be reached at the following address for a confidential appointment: William Douglas, LCSW, 56 East 87th Street, Office #1B New York, NY 10128, Tel: 212-876-6787.

General Membership Meeting. The next general membership meeting will be held on Thursday evening, March 29th, at the union headquarters. The meeting starts promptly at 6pm. Don't forget we will have a guest speaker on the subject of Occupy Wall Street. You can download a flyer to share with others, post, or to remind you of the meeting date by clicking this link.