News From OSA - October, 1999

Main Event. At the Council of Jewish Organizations in Civil Service breakfast October 24, Randy Weingarten, head of the Municipal Bargaining Coalition, strongly urged all attending to vote against the proposed city charter changes on November 2.

Upon reading the proposed charter changed as outlined by our brothers and sisters at the New York City Campaign Finance Board, we agree. Vote No. Leave your house on November 2, go to the polls, and vote NO.

The proposed charter changes are an attempt by the Mayor and his friends to group a wide variety of disparate issues (some good, some bad, some dreadful), under a single yes or no question. The only proper response to such a clearly dishonest attempt to deceive the voting public is to vote NO, and in decisive numbers. Enclosed is DC 37's take on this issue, as well as CWA Local 1180's view as expressed by Linda Jenkins, their first Vice President.

Drugs Redux. OSA'S efforts to change, improve, or at least make sense out of GHI's new mail-order program for maintenance drugs have led to the formation of a coalition. There is a meeting set for this Thursday evening. Invited and expected to attend are a majority of the unions whose members rely upon drug riders as part of their health insurance.

Our coalition has thus far received tentative support from unions representing Marine Engineers, Assistant Deputy Wardens, School Custodians, Fire Alarm Dispatchers, Deputy Sheriffs, the Doctors Council and the Supervisors and Administrators of the Board of Education. Meanwhile, we are receiving reports of some members paying full price for their prescription to avoid the hassle of the mail order process.

If you are having problems with the GHI mail order program, write OSA a letter, attention Eric Mayr or Bob Croghan.

Our tentative names for the coalition are either:

A. The Coalition of Unions Whose Members are Covered by One or Another Drug Riders (the CUWMCOADR for short) or

B. The "Easy" Rider Coalition. Hopefully, the unions will choose option B.

Coming Attractions. Our next regular meeting will be held in December to avoid the Thanksgiving Holiday. Again, we will use the union office at 23rd Street. You will be getting a mailing in November to confirm this. Our problem is what else goes into the envelope next month. We have the new Citywide contract to vote upon, and that will require a fairly elaborate effort with return envelopes, etc.

We also are set to solicit for financial support for our P.A.C. and that will also involve a return envelope. It would be awkward and confusing to send two different return envelopes in the same mailing, so we will probably have separate mailings.

Meanwhile, at this time, we enclose a newspaper article from the New York Press of October 13-19, 1999 by George Szamuely entitled "OZ." It cites many of the issues that concern our union. It is our task, as a union, to respond to problems that affect our members directly and immediately. It is our task, as a political force, to address those issues that concern us long term or indirectly.

OSA has tried, for the past few years, to be an effective political force without using money. Our Political Action Group members deserve much credit for their involvement and interest, but the bottom line, today, in our country, is money. As long as OSA is not in a position to contribute to the election campaigns of our friends, we are, in effect, a non-player and will tend to be ignored.

At the same time, our union continues to be unwilling to expend members' dues money on political contributions since some members would be unhappy with the way in which the funds were expended. We wish to avoid this. We have therefore gone to work to set up a voluntary contribution mechanism through the use of a payroll check-off system.

The mailing next month will not only ask for money but will also come up with a wide variety of premiums (just like Channel 13) depending on one's level of contribution.

So, next month, look forward to being enticed by tote bags, umbrellas, mugs and a variety of cute "collectibles". Our political goals will, we hope, be shared by most members. We do not think it is right for the rich to get ever richer at the cost of the workers getting ever poorer. It is that simple.

Photos The photos in this month's edition of News From OSA were taken at the September general membership meeting.

"Oz" by George Szamuely

The New York Press October 13-19, 1999

The American prisoner population-as I have had occasion to reflect on the matter this week-is rising spectacularly. This is not so surprising. Incarceration is a vital ingredient of American-style capitalism. While Washington pundits and editorial writers high-five one another about America's apparently unstoppable economy, prisoner numbers increase at an annual rate of more than 6 percent. In 1996, the U S. prison population was more than 1.6 million. In 1975, it had only been 380,000. In other words, in 20 years America's prisoner population had quadrupled. In 1996, moreover, 3.9 million people were on parole or probation. This means that 5.5 million Americans were in prison or within the prison system. In mid-1998, the United States had 668 detainees per 100,000 citizens-a rate between six and 10 times higher than that in the countries of the European Union.

The other day The Washington Post ran the standard story about the European economy. There was the usual head-shaking about Europe's high unemployment rate and the lack of something called "labor flexibility." Unemployment was 9.1 percent, the reporter bemoaned, as against America's glorious 4.3 percent. European workers are too cosseted and overpaid: "Measures originally intended to shelter workers from the pain of layoffs have had the reverse effect of discouraging companies from hiring people." (I don't know why newspapers bother to hire reporters anymore. They can as easily get their copy from the corporation press office.)

Suppose, however, that to the American 4.3 percent unemployed you add the nation's prisoner population. Suddenly, the number of people not in gainful employment in the United States approaches European levels. If, in addition, you take into consideration the vast number of people employed administering this gigantic correctional apparatus, then the dark side of the so called "Goldilocks" economy becomes apparent.

"FIexible" labor markets produce an awful lot of losers. Such losers have to be accommodated somehow. They can be placed on welfare rolls (the fate in store for women) or they can be shoved into prisons (the fate of men). In the meantime, the downwardly mobile are taught to accept their lot since they know where the bottom rung of the ladder is.

Who benefits from "flexible" labor markets? Certainly it is not American workers. They are doing much worse than workers in Europe or Japan. Recently, the International Labor Organization published a report arguing that "U.S. workers put in the longest hours on the job in industrialized nations, clocking up...the equivalent of almost two working weeks more than their counterparts in Japan where annual hours worked have been gradually declining since 1980." It turns out that in the United States the annual hours worked per person increased by 4 percent from 1980 to 1997. European workers, on the other hand, are progressively working fewer hours. U.S. workers put in an average of 2000 hours per person in 1997; French workers put in 1656 hours; German workers put in 1560 hours.

Not only do American workers work longer hours than their counterparts in Europe and Japan, they are paid less. From 1979 to 1993 the American net wage fell from $500 to $479 a week. In 1975 the hourly compensation cost of a U S. worker in the manufacturing industry was $6.36 an hour; for a German worker it was $6.31 an hour; for an EU worker $5.03 an hour; for a Japanese worker $3 an hour. By 1997 the respective situations were very different. American workers were paid $18.24 an hour; German workers $28.28 an hour; EU workers $20.24 an hour and Japanese workers $19.37 an hour.

As for the unemployed, it is clearly far better to be out of work in Europe and enjoying generous welfare payments and medical coverage than being employed and making starvation wages in America.

Still, if "flexible" labor markets are doing little for American workers, they are working wonders for the take home pay of U.S. corporate chiefs. In 1996 their average pay was $5.8 million (including retirement benefits, stock option gains and so on). This , was an increase of 54 percent over the previous year.

Some years ago, in The Revolt of the Elites, the late Christopher Lasch argued-or I think he did; , I don't have the book at hand- that America's elite had opted out of America. Through its cultural tastes, exorbitant incomes and political attitudes, it has effectively ceased to belong to America. When it bothers to think about America at all, it is only to berate fellow countrymen for their unenlightened attitudes. The American people are racist, homophobic, devoutly religious, hold retrograde views on art and smoke too much.

If Lasch was right, then America's elite is extraordinarily ungrateful. For there has scarcely ever been an elite that was as fortunate as America's in having such a subservient populace under it. Mainstream America is amazingly content with its lot. It would be inconceivable for Europeans to accept a system that rewards a tiny minority so handsomely while forcing everyone else every year to work harder and earn less.

America's elite has perfected a system to make sure the American people stay in line. The more they are encouraged to abandon their traditions, tastes, prejudices and lifestyles, the, more pliant they become with regard to the requirements of the economic system. They are ready to work anywhere, do anything and take as little pay as possible.

In the meantime, America's elite embraces the ideology of free trade with almost religious fervor. It serves its interests very nicely. Corporations can switch their operations around the world. Goods from the supposedly "uncompetitive" Europeans and the imitative Japanese pour in and wipe out America's industries. Normally, this would cause unemployment. It would do so in the United States too, were there not a mechanism in place to take care of it. High immigration levels help drive wages down. "FIexible" labor markets instill in workers a permanent fear of unemployment. High rates of incarceration make sure that the system's losers are kept out of sight and the downwardly mobile are more than happy to take whatever miserable jobs they are offered.

The trade deficit is also taken care of. As everyone knows, the net outflow of capital must always equal net the inflow of capital. What America loses through wrecked industries is "paid" for by the capital that pours in every year buying up Treasury bonds as well as company stocks. Hence, the apparent paradox: U.S. companies move out while Wall Street is perpetually booming.

Europe's elite looks with envy at its American counterparts. For years Europe's employers have been trying to get workers to swallow their bitter medicine as uncomplainingly as the Americans. First Chancellor Kohl tried to force German workers to accept cuts in pensions, vacation time and health benefits. He was swiftly ejected from office. Now it is Chancellor Schroeder's turn to take up the cause of "flexible" labor markets. He will be ousted even faster than his predecessor was. Unlike the workers of America, those of Germany do not seem to want a perpetually deteriorating way of life. They are unable to see the necessity of mass firings that serve no other purpose than to improve a company's balance sheet and thereby raise the value of its stock. They get very unhappy when high immigration levels keep pay down. In other words, they want no part of an economic system whose raison d'etre is that people must sacrifice themselves for the sake of its smooth functioning.

Europe may not have America's low unemployment rate. Neither does it have a miserable mass streaming in and out prison cells or welfare centers, and an even bigger mass terrified that that is where they are going to end up.


Reasons to vote NO on charter Nov. 2

With Hurricane Floyd and an encephalitis outbreak grabbing the headlines, and the kids going back to school, many union members have probably not focused on the Nov. 2 ballot item that could make it easier for the city to privatize their jobs.

Lurking in the fine print for Election Day, Nov. 2, is a take-it-or-leave-it City Charter amendment that could make contracting out easier, threaten members' employment and chip away at the democratic rights of all New Yorkers.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's handpicked Charter Revision Commission rushed through the proposed changes last month with limited public comment.

Since then, the Municipal Labor Committee and the New York City Central Labor Council have joined District Council 37 in urging union members to reject the charter change ballot item.

DC 37 activists began making thousands of phone calls against the ballot item on Sept. 21, end the political action volunteers will continue calling voters day and night up until Election Day on Nov. 2.

Here are some important reasons to vote no on charter change:

× VOTE NO because it's a one-shot deal-you get the bad with the good. Although some of the proposals may sound good, such as gun-free school zones, union members shouldn't be fooled. The Giuliani administration is using innocent proposals like this to hide the less desirable ones. Remember, this ballot item is a one-shot deal. If you vote for proposals you like, you get the bad ones, too.

× VOTE NO because the proposed charter changes would make contracting out city jobs easier. Proposed changes would decrease competition by streamlining the procurement process, raising small-purchase limits and expanding the use of pre-qualified vendors. This would amount to a fast track for contracting out.

× VOTE NO because jobs are at stake and funding for the services DC 37 members provide for the public could be hurt. A proposed spending cap artificially and arbitrarily limits some budget expenditures This could damage city services at agencies staffed by union members.

The proposed consolidation of the Health and Mental Health departments could mean a loss of jobs and redeployment of members, and making the Administration for Children's Services permanent under the charter could reduce transfer and other rights for employees.

× VOTE NO because the mayor would get more power and the City Council less. The mayor would have a bigger role in budget decisions, because the ballot item mandates joint decision-making on some items. Instead of a simple majority, the City Council would need a super-majority or two-thirds vote to raise taxes to pay for city services provided by union members. Overriding a mayoral veto would take an astounding 80 percent of City Council votes. Putting these items in a charter amendment circumvents the City Council's authority, since most of the proposals can and should be accomplished by legislation. Overall, the plan would weaken checks and balances in city government.

× VOTE NO because the charter revision process was undemocratic. The Charter Revision Commission's mid-summer rush to action left little time for legitimate public outreach and debate on proposals to change the rules on how New York is governed. As a result, most voters have no idea what they are voting for or against. The proposals have been placed on the ballot during an off-year election, when voter turnout is expected to be low.