News From OSA - November, 2003

PARTY. OSA's holiday party is set for next month. The party is a popular event each year and we expect both the food, drink and entertainment to be up to normal standards. Most important, of course, is our chance to get together and spend a bit of time with each other. No matter how large a site we select, we always seem to end up being a bit crowded, but being forced to be close to one's friends is not the worst fate in the world.

VICTORY. OSA, in cooperation with the Civil Service Merit Council, prepared a court action against the Department of Sanitation last month. At issue was that agency's use of "temporary" positions for Associate Staff Analysts to avoid the requirement to make permanent appointments from the civil service list. Executive Director Sheila Gorsky, assisted by Michael Schady, spent months on the preliminary work and OSA attorney Joan Kiok prepared the court papers. As of this writing, the Sanitation Department has reversed itself in response to those papers. The list was called and eighteen of a total of twenty candidates have been appointed thus far.

OSA has been fortunate over the past two decades in having the help of fierce battlers on behalf of civil service protections for analysts. It was the same team of Sheila Gorsky and Joan Kiok who fought for the promotion of Associate Staff Analyst candidates from the 1978 exam. That victory, in 1984, led to the promotion of 99 permanent Associate Staff Analysts in a single warm summer day.

Sheila and Mike are now preparing the chart and data presentations aimed at those agencies abusing the one-in-three rule. We are seeking public hearings by the City Council to raise the issue of misuse of this rule with the intent of, hopefully, embarrassing the agencies involved, especially the Department of Transportation.

ONE PERCENT DELAY. If there is any good reason (other than culpable deliberate delay on the part of the City) for the City's inability to work out the details on our last contract 1% equity payment, we are ignorant of it. OSA has not been quick to rush to claim that an improper labor practice is occurring.We are also reaching the point where such a charge would have obvious validity.

CONTRACT DELAY. Our School Safety and Traffic Enforcement members don't even have a contract yet, so we did reach the point of asking for outside help. A mediator was appointed but finally even that did not help. We sought to have the matter declared appropriate to be decided by an impasse proceeding. The City objected, "dumbfounded" at our impatience. They still wanted to negotiate and could not understand our frustration. They begged for and were given the chance to return to mediation. On resumption of mediation, they offered us the chance to use the 1% equity due to our uniformed members to raise the minimum salary that the City had unilaterally lowered. By the time you receive this letter, the City will either have decided to stop with the insulting offers or we will be in impasse once and for all.

HEALTH BENEFITS NEGOTIATIONS. The Health Benefits negotiations have now become quite intense. There are three major elements to our health coverage as active or retired municipal workers. We are covered for visits to our doctors by our basic health plans and most of the cost of this is paid for (under long established labor contracts) by the City. Hospital coverage is also provided, again through joint agreements worked out between labor and the City. Finally, some degree of drug coverage is provided for all through the PICA card and, for most unions, by way of spending welfare fund monies in support of a drug card. Even OSA, which follows the Management Benefits Plan example of not providing a drug card, is now paying an ever increasing amount on helping our "over 65" retirees meet their drug rider costs.

All three elements of our existing health benefits are in danger of erosion at present because, in effect, we are caught between a "rock and a hard place". "The "rock", in this case, consists of soaring costs of prescription drugs and the evolution of hospitals into networks. In addition, there is the factor of not-for-profit providers changing into for-profit corporations. One example of privatization is our current provider Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield. The "hard place" is the Mayor's unwillingness to pay any added monies on health care while continuing to refuse to negotiate salary increases either.

The negotiations are taking place in a wide variety of forums.

First, (although there is no actual priority since all negotiations are going on somewhat simultaneously) the unions must negotiate among ourselves to establish a consensus. This is not easy.

All of the unions represent and are responsible to their members, but memberships differ. The young, healthy and mostly male membership of the PBA and the firefighters unions have priorities and values that can differ from those of other unions. Some union memberships live almost entirely within the five boroughs, others have a large percentage residing in the suburbs. Residence, age, demography, politics and even personal philosophies can influence our internal negotiations. In the final analysis, of course, we must and will agree to a joint position, since we are required to bargain jointly, and, frankly, no other course would make sense.

Second, there are the negotiations with the provider of the PICA card, Express Scripts. That company has also been in negotiations with the companies that provide the PICA drugs. Those negotiations are also both complex and important.

Equally important are the negotiations surrounding the RFP (Request for Proposals) on Hospital coverage. We (the unions and the City) have to select a company to provide a large list of hospitals willing to accept our coverage. Only three companies have bid: Blue Cross (the current provider) GHI and HIP.

(Please note, this RFP is separate and apart from basic health plan coverage. Basic health plans and coverage would not be affected by selection of one or another hospital provider.) PICA costs are clearly going up and so are hospital costs.

The third area of negotiations is, obviously, with the City. Since the City is an equal partner with Labor on the decision about how to respond to rising costs, we are talking to each other. On occasion, the exchanges have gone public, most often in the "Civil Service Chief" but also in the "Village Voice" or other media sounding boards for the Mayor.

It would be premature to speculate on details of the final picture that will develop from all of the current talks. Even so, the rough outline of the settlement does seem predictable. The PICA will probably be saved, although somewhat modified and no longer at little or no cost to members. Our health coverage, from office visits to hospitals, will also be affected. But we will still be covered, and will still have a better deal than most non-city employees.

That said, none of us is going to term this a good year for health benefit negotiations. Results of the negotiations should be announced quite soon and certainly no later than January. Delay on decision making much beyond January would likely force the City to consider the termination of the PICA card. That result would be both a public relations disaster for the Mayor and a serious concern for those persons relying upon PICA for their chemotherapeutic drugs.

As this section opened by noting, the negotiations have become quite intense.

NYCHA. Our members at the New York City Housing Authority have recently become somewhat unsettled by a number of changes that are in progress or have recently occurred. The main issue is a reorganization in the Capital Projects area. Also, a second problem arose due to management insensitivity in Budget.

A meeting was held last week with the Chapter and a meeting thereafter with the Office of Labor Relations. Chapter Chairperson Tony Lee was able to obtain full and generally satisfactory answers on the Capital Projects reorganization. Also, Labor Relations agreed to investigate our complaints related to the Budget office.

Generally, the New York City Housing Authority has been a good example of a career oriented civil service agency. Their goal of decent housing for low income New Yorkers often has been assaulted by outside forces. In bad economic times, we are told we cannot afford to maintain that housing; in good economic times, developers cast larcenous eyes upon the sites and the buildings themselves. The bottom line is that NYCHA was the "Rock of Gibraltar" that stabilized neighborhoods in the late 60's and early 70's when the Bronx and large parts of Brooklyn were abandoned and burning. We have reason to be proud that our City's Housing Authority has done so well compared to other cities, and we are.

RECOMMENDED READING. On the rare occasion that nothing more demanding is going on, it is a pleasure to read. The following are a few items that might be of interest to other members. First, a Pulitzer Prize winning book about our city, Gotham (Oxford Press) was written by two of our colleagues from the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY (Professors Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace). The book sets forth a history of New York City from its very beginning until 1898. Gotham tells the fascinating story, in detail, of a city of immigrants that never ceased to reinvent itself generation after generation. At 1,238 pages of text and illustrations, this is not a book for a single afternoon. It is, however, well written, thoroughly researched and a joy for any person who loves New York.

Second, our Transit Authority members and subway buffs in general should take note of Tunneling to the Future, the story of the great subway expansion that saved New York (published 2001 by New York University Press). The book, written by Peter Derrich, covers a more recent part of New York City history but meshes well with Gotham. Tunneling is the more analytical book, and the charts, tables and maps are clear with photos and illustrations that are a pleasure to see.

Would you like to see a picture of a moment in time when the IRT had reached Mosholu Parkway, but before the shopping area, the nearby hospitals and high schools and densely built apartment buildings were built? Equivalent photos are included of empty sections of Queens and Brooklyn. First, we built the subways and only then did we build the neighborhoods to go with them.

Finally, those of our members, who grew up or lived in the Bronx between 1925 and 1975 will be interested in a nostalgic magazine that is issued sporadically. Called "Back in the Bronx", it is a look at a borough that has changed a lot over the years but, is still close to the heart of many former or current residents. "Back in the Bronx" can be reached by calling 1-914-592-1647.

INVITATIONS. The first invitation gives details on our holiday party. The second invites you to the OSA PAC meeting with Robert Jackson. Bob is a very strong pro-union member of the City Council. His record is so good that he has been personally denounced by the local anti-labor tabloids. For a politician to be denounced by our local press for being pro labor makes him sound pretty good to us. So come and meet a true friend.