News From OSA - November, 2014

EBOLA. The City leadership sat down with the Municipal Labor Committee on the morning of October 20th. This was the second time such a meeting has been held. The first was a number of years ago after Hurricane Katrina had devastated the Gulf Coast and, especially, New Orleans.

Hurricane Katrina was a wakeup call to New York City because it alerted us to the possibility of a similar situation happening here. The initial actions taken were excellent and useful, but we did not go far enough, as we learned when Superstorm Sandy arrived.

For example, maps were created to show which land areas would be flooded by a storm surge. The maps were made widely available but, for the most part, they were treated as an interesting curiosity. We learned, for example, that the union office would be relatively safe because Manhattan, at 23rd Street, slopes gently upward from the East and the Hudson Rivers, and reaches its highest point around Fifth Avenue.

Those same maps showed that flooding would occur on each shore at 23rd Street, spreading salt water inland perhaps to First Avenue on the east and Eleventh Avenue on the west.

Unfortunately, the maps were all too accurate, and when the time came, a vast amount of damage was done because, while the City had studied the problem in advance, little was done to actually prepare for it.

A very clear example was First Avenue in Manhattan. To start with, sea water flooded the Con Edison plant on East 14th Street, so Manhattan went mostly dark south of 40th Street. There were exceptions. The co-op Penn South has its own generators, so a few square blocks of housing, stores and restaurants were lit up as normal.

Our hospitals, both public and private, were not so fortunate. Both NYU and Bellevue were forced to close and their patients transferred by ambulance to functioning hospitals. At that, we were lucky, since if the storm had sent in a few more feet of water, First Avenue would itself have been flooded and the difficult evacuations would have been far more difficult still.

From this storm, we have learned that thinking about disasters in advance is a good idea, but far better yet is preparing, in advance, to mitigate the problems that will arise if the bad stuff happens. It was in this spirit that the city and labor sat down to discuss what needed to be done if the Ebola threat became a full blown crisis.

The meeting on Ebola starred Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett. Dr. Bassett's background is most appropriate. She is a native of our city but, after getting her MD from Columbia, she completed her training in Africa. She spent 17 years as part of the medical faculty at the University of Zimbabwe. Her work included dealing with the AIDS epidemic, which was at its worst in that country. There were representatives from Fire/EMS, HHC and other agencies at the meeting, but Dr. Bassett was the main presenter for the city. Especially important, the audience consisted of representatives of the workforce, and their input and questions were both expert and pertinent.

We were told about the HAZ-MAT suits that would be worn by the nursing staff. Ann Bove, president of the nurses’ union, insisted on knowing how long a nurse would be expected to serve in such a suit. The satisfying answer was that only three-hour shifts were being scheduled.

Steve Cassidy of the firefighters union pointed out that rescues normally exposed his members to very close physical contact with those being rescued. If a person who was rescued turned out to be positive for Ebola, current protocol suggested that the exposed firefighter would be expected to self-isolate at home for 21 days to ensure no contagion. Who would do the shopping and handle emergencies for the quarantined family? The response was that a case manager would be assigned to each such instance.

Issues that the city had not thought out were also bought up. The Teamsters, who represent the hospital police, bought up the possibility of an infected person who chose to refuse to be isolated. How were the HHC police officers to be equipped to handle that problem?

The detectives union noted that, every day, detectives were called to crime scenes where dead bodies were present. Were they to avoid touching those bodies? Who was to be called to remove them? There were more such questions. Finally, the city and the unions formed a subcommittee to continue working on the problem.

THE DISEASE ITSELF. is a frightening disease because its early symptoms are the same as your ordinary flu. That said, it may never get here as an epidemic. It has been slow to spread in Africa, and it is not contagious by breathing. You need physical contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person (blood, vomit or feces in the beginning, saliva or mucus in the more advanced stages of the disease). It is also not very contagious in its early stages, and by its late stages (when it is most contagious) the affected person is very obviously sick.

Hopefully, we will be spared this plague entirely. Even so, there will always be another, sooner or later. We are pleased the city and its workforce are being prepared to cope with such problems, if and when needed.

Information from the NYC Department of Health about Ebola Virus Disease can be found at this website.

CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS. are proceeding. Some members wonder why it takes any time at all. There is, after all, a pattern. Actually, there are two patterns, a UFT one and a DC 37 one.

OSA's School Safety and Transportation Officers unit did not get the 4%, 4%, and .1% that the rest of us did. They are looking to follow our lead and get the same as we received. The city, unfortunately, chose to inform us that those of our members of that unit who had retired would not get retroactivity for 2009 or 2010. We did not react favorably to that announcement. They went back to refine their answer. Next, they told us that the affected members might get some of the retroactivity due to them, but not all. We again disagreed very strongly. Soon, they will get back to us again.

On our main contract, one element that was not addressed by the DC 37 pattern is how to treat titles newly recognized for union representation. Both CWA Local 1180 and OSA have been adding new members to our unions. Since DC 37 did not set a pattern to deal with this, the city would like us to ignore the issue. We certainly cannot and will not do that.

Finally, on occasion, some elements of management try to go backwards rather than forwards. Our newest members in NYCHA have reported being ordered to work over 35 hours per week, but to falsify their time sheets. This ploy is, we believe, an attempt to avoid any potential grievance or lawsuit by the union seeking back wages.

We are not pleased when management orders our members to falsify official documents. We are also wondering if there could be any connection between this exploitation and a lack of desire by the agency to negotiate the contract. Each of these (and still more) issues are why working out the best possible contract is neither easy nor quick. We wish it was.

TRANSFERS. Note well! You must be very careful if you are transferring to another agency. Many of our members are recruited by another agency. Almost always, the new agency offers more money and a title change. That is fine, so long as our member does not have to resign his or her permanent title.

The right sequence is for the new agency to accept the transfer of your underlying, permanent civil service title.

The entirely wrong sequence is for you to resign your permanent civil service title, go to the new agency, and serve as a “pure” provisional employee, just as the city is talking of removing provisional employees.

The not-quite-as-wrong sequence is for you to get a leave of absence from your existing agency in order to take the new job with the new agency. The problem with such leaves of absence is that the old agency can cancel them at any time. Our union has seen this “surprise” cancellation of leaves of absence all too often. It is like having a sword, hanging by a thread, over your head to be serving in another agency, worrying always about a cancellation of leave by your original agency.

It is flattering to be wanted by another agency, and more money is also very nice. Even so, be careful and do insist upon not losing your hard-won permanent status. If an agency says they want you, but not your permanent title, they are telling you to be wary of their intentions.

Also, if you have already transferred to a higher provisional position in another agency, check on the safety of your underlying civil service position. If you have a leave of absence, seek to get your current agency to accept the transfer of your permanent title. It may be difficult to get the agency to do as you ask, but waiting until your old agency sends you a letter demanding your instant return is still worse.

Finally, any analyst who is accepting a job offer at another agency must be very, very aware of the bureaucratic process. Do not sign any letter or form giving up your permanent status. Do not be shy or hurried about this. An error can literally cost you your job.

GENERAL MEMBERSHIP MEETING. Our general membership meeting in November falls on Thanksgiving, so it has to be scheduled earlier in the month. This is also the meeting at which candidates can be nominated to run for office and, as per our constitution, for ten days thereafter. The elections will be held in December. You can download a flier for the meeting to remind yourself of the date, time and location by clicking this link.

HOLIDAY PARTY. On the 18th of December, the Organization of Staff Analysts will celebrate its annual holiday party at the Grand Prospect Hall in Brooklyn. As always, there will be food and drink aplenty, and our entertainment (which was extremely popular last year) will be returning again this year. For more details, including the address of the party, look at the flyer you can download by clicking this link. Directions can be downloaded by clicking this link.

FINANCIAL REPORT FOR 2013. The financial report for the union and the OSA Welfare Fund for 2013 can be downloaded by clicking this link.