News From OSA - March, 2016

FAIR SHARE. Our union organized itself. It took a long time and was bitterly opposed by the City, but we did succeed. Between ten and twenty percent of the Analysts employed by New York City paid dues to OSA for a dozen years before we had won any legal right to represent a single Analyst.

As soon as we finally did win the right to legally represent our members, many more joined. In 1985, we had 650 voluntary dues-paying members, but until July of that year none of us were legally in a union. After July, we had our first 38 “represented” members. By 1990, after our first City contract, our voluntary dues-payers had more than doubled, and by 1992, over two thirds of all Analysts had joined voluntarily.

The increase from twenty to about seventy percent came from our victories. As soon as we began getting longevity raises (not given to Analysts prior to unionization) and grievance and disciplinary rights, it was obvious that it paid to be a member of a union.

Suppose, however, that an Analyst could get all the benefits of the union yet never have to pay union dues at all. We could expect an enormous shrinkage of paid union membership. Predictably, this would weaken the union, but each person opting out would be sure that their personal withdrawal would not make a big difference to the union, and, after all, each person could use the extra money.

Naturally, as soon as many members dropped out, the union would weaken versus the City and become less effective. As soon as the union became less effective, more members would drop out since, after all, the union was now failing.

Finally, the union membership would stabilize at between twenty to forty percent of the number now paying dues. The result would be a two-step process for those who dropped out. First, they would receive an increase in take-home pay. They would no longer be paying .007 of their income in union dues, so they would get extra money.

The second step would take longer as their wages and benefits would slide down to the level of whatever the government chose to pay them. Those who would continue belonging to the union would slow that slide since the very existence of an organized force for labor does have a positive effect. Even so, weaker is weaker.

At present, in large parts of this country (mostly the old Confederacy) there exist “Right to Work” state laws that disadvantage unions in exactly the manner discussed above. Recently, a Northern state (Wisconsin) changed to this system with the help of Governor Scott Walker and a lot of financial support from the Koch Brothers.

Fortunately, the rules affecting labor unions tend to vary from one state to the next. In our city, under the New York City Collective Bargaining Law, any new group of public employees allowed to collectively bargain must first cast a majority vote in favor of joining the union. In our union’s case there were two such votes, one at the Board of Education and the second, years later, for City agencies. In each instance, the vote for the union was over seventy percent of voters in the title series.

Once certified to represent all of the employees in a title series, the union has the right to collect dues from union members and agency shop fees from nonmembers.

Agency shop fees are the deduction from the paycheck of any employee represented by a union, meant to pay for the costs attendant to that representation. The agency shop fees are the same amount of money as union dues and an agency shop fee payer gets all the services of the union, but may not vote in union elections or on contracts. If an agency shop fee payer signs a union card, they move into the category of member and can vote or even run for office within the union.

Our dues were set (by membership mail ballot) around 1990 at .007 of salary and the percentage has not increased since then. Use of a percentage dues rate insured that if our members do not do well financially, neither does the union. If we are successful as a group, the union benefits as well.

The dues are used to pay for the staff for organizing, handling grievances, disciplinary hearings and negotiations. Our union dues have never been used for political purposes. We are active politically, but any expenditures come from voluntary associations and contributions. Clearly, if we lost 60% of our income, every aspect of our service to members would suffer.

There was a recent attempt to ban fair share or agency shop fees on a national level. A court case was brought on behalf of a California school teacher, although it was not her idea in the first place.

The case was brought by an anti-union group, the “Center for Individual Rights” (C.I.R.) in California. They cold-canvassed teachers until they located one who would agree to be their plaintiff (Friedrichs). They then sued the California Teachers Union claiming that any money she was forced to pay as a union member was a violation of her right to freedom of speech.

The case was brought forward quickly with no arguments made before the lower courts because the C.I.R. was counting on an anti-union response from our current Supreme Court. The plaintiff’s chances seemed excellent based on the comments made by Justice Scalia during the oral argument before him. Apparently, Justice Scalia’s opinion had changed from his earlier rulings years ago.

He now felt that anything a union did was inherently political. Therefore, if you favored new highways over smaller class size, or tax cuts over higher pay for civil servants, you had a right to withdraw your support from your union when you disagreed with them.

In other words, the unions have the obligation to represent you, but you certainly did not have to pay anything toward their costs. He also commented that the unions would not be hurt by the ruling. (Why not, he did not explain.)

The untimely demise of Justice Scalia has rendered the case moot at this point. If, however, an anti-union Justice is appointed to replace Scalia, we can predict the result.

If you are interested in how such a ruling would play out, you might wish to read this news story, this news story and this news story about Wisconsin today. Civil servants are getting ever less well-paid. The civil service itself is being perverted and due process is on its way to becoming hire-at-will, fire-at-will.

AND NOW, CHANGES IN HEALTH COSTS Most members are aware that the final years of the Bloomberg administration included loud calls for our impoverishment.

Mayor Bloomberg, TV, radio and newspapers all agreed that an appropriate raise in salary for civil servants was zero percent per year, year after year. They also agreed that our pensions were not at all affordable and needed to be savagely cut back. Finally, we were told, over and over, that New York City could not possibly continue to afford to provide us with free health coverage.

The Mayor did invite all of the unions to the bargaining table so we could each gain a five year 0%, 0%, 0%, 2% and 2% contract. Of course, the final 2% and 2% was to be paid for by a give back of our agreeing to pay a biweekly premium for our health care. No union accepted this offer.

We were, of course, eventually hurt by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s tilt towards Wall Street. The Tier VI pension now affects new arrivals in the NY State and City civil service. Still, Mayor Bloomberg did not have his way with us. Except, of course, a little bit.

The negotiations with Mayor de Blasio did reestablish pattern bargaining and did obtain the 4% and 4% for those workers excluded by Bloomberg’s third term piteous cries of poverty. Yet the fact that Bloomberg had already spent the tax receipts from 50,000,000 tourists a year, plus the soaring stock market, had an effect on the next Mayor’s ability to give us good or retroactive raises.

We are glad our School Safety and Traffic Enforcement Officers are finally getting the 4% and 4%, as are Teachers and Nurses and still others as well. Yet, we are not happy that, in order to pay for that raise to the retirees, the contract had to be extended and payments spread out over years to come. We are also less than pleased that after the 4% and 4%, the next raises were 1%, 1%, 1%, 1½%, 2½% and 3%. The deal was far better than Bloomberg had offered, but it was not as generous as we felt it should have been. We would hope for a fairer deal on the next contract.

Meanwhile, our healthcare agreement, which did avoid biweekly payments for premiums for our basic health care, also does require a joint Labor/Management effort to hold down health care costs. The Health Technical Sub-Committee of the Municipal Labor Committee has been working with the City over the past two years. The result for 2014 and 2015 was that there were savings, but neither an imposition of a health care premium payment nor any other change that members would notice.

2016 is different. As of July 1st, a number of changes will affect many members when it comes to the copay required for different medical services. These are the first changes since 2004.

Those members covered by the H.I.P. HMO have traditionally had a zero copay when visiting a doctor, and this will continue for most. Emblem, parent company of both the H.I.P. program and the GHI program, has now suggested that major health care savings can be obtained by creating a two-tier system of doctors.

“Preferred” doctors will still be available at no cost, but “non-preferred” doctors will require a $10 per visit copay. The logic behind this two-tier system is twofold. First, Emblem believes some doctors may be prone to requesting expensive testing that is not justified by the circumstances. (That may or may not be a correct belief in any particular case, but it is the sort of issue commonly raised in discussions of cost containment related to health care.)

The second aspect is that since two-thirds of the current HIP panel will be rated as “preferred,” those members who would be unable to easily afford the copay are able to retain the services by changing physicians.

The changes will not occur until July 1st and Emblem will send out the list of “preferred” and “non-preferred” providers.

The GHI/CBP program has also set out a number of changes effective July 1st.

The most common usage, a visit to your GHI enrolled general practitioner, will continue to cost the copay set in 2004, e.g. $15 per visit. Specialists, however, now require a copay of $30.

Physical therapy and lab copays go from $15 to $20 and an MRI/CT Scan goes from $15 to a steep $50. The large increase for MRI/CT exams again reflects commonly raised arguments by those discussing health care cost containment. The theory is that a high copay will cause patients to avoid unnecessary testing. Obviously, the danger is that the high copay may also lead to patients avoiding an exam that should be done.

On the positive side, patients who have started going to one of the 36 existing “Advantage Care Physicians” locations will be pleased to learn that the $15 copay for general practitioners and $20 copay for specialists will now become a zero copay. Emblem is also promising more such offices will be added in the near future. A list of all current offices can be downloaded here.

Two further, and extreme, changes are planned. “Urgent Care” offices did have a $15 copay, but this is now due to go to $50. Since many “Urgent Care” storefront offices have been opening in the past year or so, this will probably have a dramatic effect on the relatively new service.

The last change is at once justified and yet problematic. Hospital reports on Emergency Room visits have long shown a pattern of inappropriate usage. Many patients apparently go to the ER for problems that should be handled by their family doctor. Thus, the City has insisted that the ER copay go from $50 to $150.

The downside to the $150 copay for an ER visit is asthma (and possibly other diseases that do not immediately occur to us). Asthma is typically treated with oxygen, various inhalers and/or injections. It is hard to argue that a mother with a suffocating child should wait until the next day to see her doctor.

Our representative to the MLC Health Technical Subcommittee will therefore be seeking to have a modification of the proposed ER rule before July 1st.

One good point is that there is an annual limit on hospital copays/deductibles. The maximum cost any of us can incur per patient is limited by our Superimposed Major Medical Benefit. After $500 out-of-pocket medical expenses, the OSA Welfare Fund covers 90% of further out-of-pocket expenses for that year.

The recommendations of the Health Technical Subcommittee were presented to the full Municipal Labor Committee last month. You will note on the enclosed sheet listing “Proposed Plan Changes” that there is a reduction in copay for some preventive care drugs. This change is mandated by the Federal Affordable Care Act and, henceforward, the copay will be covered by a payment from the Health Insurance Stabilization Fund. More details on this change will be provided before July 1st.

The proposed changes did not please the Municipal Labor Committee. Even so, the vote to approve was nearly unanimous. We have agreed to seek cost containment of rising health care costs, and this round of proposed changes will satisfy our obligations. You can download a summary of the changes and savings by clicking this link.

It should be noted that the proposed changes did not please the Citizens Budget Commission either. Their reaction was to insist that holding down the cost was not enough. Actually, the rich Citizens Budget Commission is still pushing for Bloomberg’s plan to shift the cost of health care onto the employees through biweekly premium deductions from our salaries. At present, that goal has been defeated by our signed contract and, we hope and expect, by the next contract as well.

EXAMS AND CIVIL SERVICE. Many of our members are awaiting the release of information about last year’s set of exams. The process is under way.

First came the announcement and “Notice of Examination” and candidates sent in applications. Some were stopped at that point due to being found unqualified.

Next came our study courses and the exams themselves. Then, the City issued tentative keys and held protest sessions to check the validity of their tentative answer keys. The validation process is currently underway and will probably take a few more months. In the meantime, the prior (four year old) Associate Staff Analyst list has been extended and will probably be kept active and in use for appointments until the new Associate Staff Analyst list is published /established.

Eventually, the City (DCAS) will complete the work on the exams from last year and will set the final key, “publish” the exam lists, “establish” them and then proceed to issue “certification” lists to agencies with vacancies.

If your name is on a “cert” list, an agency that is sent that “cert” list must send you a notice (at your last known address) inviting you in for an interview. If you don’t show up, you will be marked “failed to report” and your name taken off the eligible list. Alternatively, you may be hired or promoted, or considered but not selected, or possibly not even reached for an interview.

Thereafter, the agency is expected to notify you in writing of the results. If you were hired or promoted, the process is complete for you. If you failed to report, you will have to call DCAS to get restored to the eligible list. If you were considered but not selected, it is disappointing but, in the case of an open competitive list, it is not a serious problem.

If you were considered but not selected for three positions on a promotional list, you would be removed from the list by your agency. That is bad. The same result - CNS’d three times by an agency if you are on an open competitive list, leaves you eligible for appointment by about fifty other agencies. This is good.

One change of interest is that DCAS is now requiring every agency to give actual interviews to candidates on a list. Under Bloomberg, a practice had grown up that allowed agencies to consider and not select candidates without the courtesy of an interview. That practice is now forbidden. This too is good.

GENERAL MEMBERSHIP MEETING. Our general membership meeting will be held in the union office on Thurday, March 31, 2016. The meeting starts promptly at 6:15 with pizza and soda available before the meeting. You can download a flier for the meeting to remind yourself of the date, time and location by clicking this link.