News From OSA - May, 2008

Negotiations. Our union is now involved in two different negotiations and will soon start a third one.

First, the Transit Authority... We are negotiating the contract for our Transit Authority members. The Transit negotiations seem, as of this writing, to be going well, but nothing is final yet. Our basic goal in Transit is to obtain the terms reached in our negotiations with the City. Only two formal meetings have been held so far, but progress was quite good and our next meeting is due before the end of this month.

Second, Health Benefits... The Mayor initiated bargaining on health benefit savings this Spring. We do know that the City faces the likelihood of a severe fiscal downturn in the near future. The Mayor’s request to the Muni-cipal Labor Committee to seek savings was received calmly in that context.

The initial suggestion for savings by the Mayor included a list of unappetizing ways to save the City money. For example, the City tentatively suggested co-pays for HIP office visits, the one area left alone five years ago when last we went through this exercise. This was not appealing.

The Municipal Labor Committee’s health technical subcommittee (called “Techies” by Randy Weingarten) was asked to find alternative savings and they did. The technical subcommittee’s response included potential savings of more than two hundred million dollars with little or no pain attached.

For example, when Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield went private, the company began to pay a New York State Premium Tax. However, if a legal “minimum premium”option was arranged by the City and Empire, tens of millions of dollars would not be due to the State.

Right now, the City is paying for us at a rate that includes Empire’s need to pay a tax to the State on our business. Once the “minimum premium” agreement is made, the City can insist on a cut in rate equivalent to the decrease in taxes.

The subcommittee’s report found many technical areas where savings could be made and a number of benefit improvements were suggested. If the City does accept the suggestions being put forward, more than 200 million dollars will be saved and benefit improvements would then be possible.

The City has not yet responded, but if they view the offer favorably, one example of a potential benefit improvement can be cited. Our current health plans do not pay for genetic testing before chemotherapy. Years ago there was no such thing but, today there is and it has value.

If a person is facing a round of chemotherapy, pretesting the patient’s genetic makeup can provide valuable information. If you, for example, are told that persons with your genes have a good chance of benefitting, you will enter the chemo with more hope. If the contrary is true, you may make the decision not to go through a typically painful therapy to no purpose.

The genetic testing is costly, but if savings can be found to pay for it, it does have obvious value for us.

Some members and most New York City newspapers editors would question why the City would agree to any improvements no matter how much was found in savings. The answer is that our health benefits are negotiated through collective bargaining and the agreements are legally enshrined in our contract. Thus, changes that affect us are matters subject to collective bargaining and mutual agreement is required for any change. That said, the MLC is fully aware of the reality outside of the contract and, as the cost of health care regularly increases and City revenues may soon decrease, a cooperative effort is being undertaken.

Third, OSA Contract 8/25/08... This is our main “City” contract. Although our contract is not up for a few months, this mailing will solicit your demands for that new contract. Once we have compiled the returns, combining similar demands and discarding self-defeating ones, we can present those demands to the City. Please submit them on the form you can download here.

Affiliation. OSA has been investigating a direct affiliation with the AFL-CIO since January, but matters go slowly.

Initially, the AFL-CIO felt a need to “vet” us and that process took a couple of months. We are not quite sure what that was all about, but apparently OSA cleared that hurdle nicely.

Next, we were contacted by the AFL-CIO representative to inform us that, while none of the New York City area unions objected to OSA’s affiliation, at least two internationals wanted to make us an offer to affiliate through them rather than directly. These offers are flattering but distracting.

Both offers, one from the American Federation of Teachers/United Federation of Teachers (AFT/UFT) and the second from the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), merit due consideration and investigation.

So then, we are now gathering information as to costs and benefits of affiliating with an international rather than directly with the AFL-CIO. Both the AFT and OPEIU have assured us that if OSA chooses to not affiliate through them, they will not oppose a direct affiliation.

One member called in urging a membership vote before OSA affiliates with any larger union. The member was assured that such a vote would have to be taken before affiliation.

Sing Along. The Folk Music Society of New York occasionally holds events at the OSA headquarters. OSA members are welcome to attend for free, although the Society will shamelessly give a brief advertisement on the benefits of full membership.

At the meeting, there is a briefing on many of the folk music and folk dancing events in the New York area. Organic refreshments are usually sold, as are the performer’s recordings. Members will be informed via the phone hotline and the newsline page of this website about the next meeting of the group.

Municipal Credit Union. The MCU is a fine institution, in some ways far superior to a bank and is very much a part of the Civil Service scene. Even if you are not a member, you may know of the Credit Union through those large annual wall calendars that are a fixture in many City offices.

Unlike a bank, the MCU Board of Trustees are democratically elected by the MCU membership. Normally, the MCU elections would have been held in May, but this is not a normal year for the MCU. The Nominating Committee of the MCU refused to re-nominate three of the incumbent officers.

Normally, in such a case, both the incumbents (who are entitled to be on the ballot by virtue of being incumbent) and those candidates newly nominated would fight it out in an election. In this case, the candidates not nominated for reelection have sought to avoid the election. The MCU Board of Directors met and a majority voted to reject the report of the Nominating Committee and to void all nominations and to dismiss the long-standing Nominating Committee as well.

One of the incumbent Directors (Mark Brantley), who had been nominated, was opposed to this undemocratic action of the majority of the Board and took the matter to court.

All of this is distressing to those of us who are MCU members, but there will be an election at some point this year, once the courts have sorted the matters out.

If you are an MCU shareholder (customer), please fill out the coupon you can download here and you will be kept informed as to the ongoing saga as it develops.

General Membership Meeting. This month's general membership meeting is set for Thursday, May 22, 2008 and will, as usual, start at 6:00 PM sharp at the union office, 220 East 23rd Street Suite 707 NYC (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues). You can download a meeting flyer here for posting and to remind you of the date, time and location.