News From OSA - September, 2010

The Mosque. All of us at OSA were affected very directly by the tragedy of 9/11. We all lost friends and some of us lost immediate family on that day. We have as much right as anyone to have an opinion about a mosque being established two blocks away from ground zero.

We knew, before anyone tallied the actual numbers, that Muslim New Yorkers had died alongside Christians, Jews, and persons of other faiths. The New York Times recently reported that about sixty Muslims were victims that day. The report also noted that, before 9/11, daily Muslim prayer services had been held on the 17th floor of the South Tower. The terrorists who attacked us were ignorant and intolerant bigots and we are not.

New York City is a gateway city for immigration and has been so since the Dutch West India Company ordered Peter Stuyvesant to give refuge to Sephardic Jews fleeing persecution in South America. We are accustomed to diversity in nationality and religion, and even if we are sometimes astonished by the speed with which our city changes, we can accept it.

If some of our fellow New Yorkers want to open a house of worship or a cultural center convenient to where they work, it should not upset anyone.

Quinine Sulfate. An estimated three million U.S. citizens take quinine sulfate to relieve nocturnal leg cramps. The FDA is considering banning use of that drug since it can be potentially lethal in a very small number of cases and leg cramps can’t kill you.

Actually, the FDA is wrong. If quinine sulfate is not available, many sufferers will substitute aspirin which also does relieve nocturnal leg cramps. Aspirin, of course, with too much usage, does kill us.

If you use quinine sulfate (brand name qualaquin), please call David Saenz at the union office. We are accumulating a list of users so we can establish the need for the drug before it is banned. The life you save, in this case, will be your own (as well as others).

Forty Years Ago, Locally. Our union started out as C.O.P.E., the Committee of Personnel Examiners. We evolved into the Organization of Staff Analysts a few years later due to the broadbanding of the Personnel Examiner title. We spent fifteen years trying to become a union, but as an organization we were active and growing all the while. From our initial group of twelve Personnel Examiners we grew to over five hundred Analysts in 1985.

In 1985 we became, finally, a union at the Board of Education, covering 38 Analysts. However this victory, while welcome, created a legal problem. Under the Taylor Law, union members and managerial employees can not join in a single bargaining unit.

The legal problem was resolved by creating OSART, the parent professional organization that became a sort of waiting room for OSA. Analysts would join OSART knowing that OSART was seeking to bring them into the union. Our most recent set of OSART members allowed to leave the waiting room and enter the union are the Administrative Staff Analysts, levels MII and MIII. The City is challenging the Office of Collective Bargaining over the decision, but the ruling is in accord with the Taylor Law.

It is nice that OSA, the union, grew from 38 members in 1985 to over 5000 members as of 2010 (assuming victory in court), but we should not forget those who went before. The original OSA (the organization of the 1970’s) had to come into existence and then to thrive for fifteen years before we could ever become a union. COPE/OSA, for fifteen years, kept the faith that we had the right to collective bargaining and the members of our organization spent those years building a fraternal spirit that enabled us to finally succeed.

At our 40th anniversary party this December we intend to honor the Chairpersons/Presidents who steered OSA/COPE through the years before we became a union. We are not sure they will all be able to attend, but we can hope.

They are:

1970 John Becker
1972 Joan Moschides
1973 Betty Fishman
1974 Rosemary Truland
1976 Richard Cooper
1977 Kate Saks Birthright
1979 Rochelle Brodsky
1981 Guy Palumbo
1982 Susan Mulgrav

In honoring these individuals, we are also seeking to honor all the members and activists of those years. Unions do not come into existence easily these days and it took hundreds of members over a great many years to create OSA, the union. We are grateful.

Members can find a coupon to order tickets for the Fortieth Anniversary Party by clicking here. As now envisioned there will be a cocktail hour preceding dinner, followed by speakers and award presentations, followed by coffee and dessert and concluding with live band and dancing. You can also reserve advertising space in our event journal by downloading this form.

Forty Years Ago, Nationally. Labor unions were far stronger then they are today. American workers were paid a higher price for their labor and a working spouse was a choice, not a necessity.

According to the economists there was a 94% increase in American productivity between 1973 and 2007 and a corresponding increase in our national wealth. Unfortunately, starting in the mid 70’s, the salaries paid to workers began a slow decline. Between 1973 and 2007 there was (adjusted for inflation) an 18% decline in real wages. Had wages kept pace with productivity the average American worker would be earning more than twice as much as he or she is now earning.

[Most of the numbers relating to the worker’s declining share of income and wealth come from “The Looting of America” by Les Leopold. Information about the book can be found at this link. This book was highly recommended to us by Arthur Cheliotes of CWA 1180 and now (after reading) is highly recommended by us as well.]

We would now have a robust consumer economy and not a recession/depression. Income taxes would easily pay for all current government services and provide more as well. We would not be facing huge budget deficits and a host of other problems as well. What happened? Well, the rich got richer and the workers got poorer.

It is sometimes considered poor taste, in America, to discuss class warfare. After all, we are all free and equal in a great many ways. Unfortunately, it seems that one class, or one part of one class, the upper upper class (the very very rich) have not been discussing class warfare, but they have been waging it, and very successfully.

Remember Reaganomics? Okay it didn’t work, but at least the rich got richer. Remember the trickle down theory? Okay, it didn’t work, but at least…

Consider the Koch family (pronounced Coke). Not our former Mayor Ed, but the big oil family. Fred Koch, the father, helped pay for the “John Birch” Society. If you are too young to remember, the Birchers were a “grass roots” organization that was convinced that Dwight Eisenhower, Republican (our President from 1952-1960), was a Communist or at least a fellow traveler.

A couple of his sons, Charles and David, are now funding the Tea Party but, in between, founded, funded and directed the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation and many other “intellectual” fronts for their own goals of reduced government regulations and especially and always reduced taxes for themselves.

[The story of the Koch family is told by Jane Mayer in the August 30 issue of The New Yorker magazine. To read it in full please click this link.]

If the average American worker lost ground in real earnings over the last forty years, and yet the American productivity nearly doubled, where did the money go? According to Forbes magazine, our top 400 wealthy citizens gained a lot between 1982 and 2008. Using inflation adjusted dollars, they averaged a bit over 600 million dollars each in 1982. By 2008 they were up to 3,900 million dollars each.

The unions may have been legislatively reduced in strength and numbers by making it nearly impossible to organize, but our CEO (Chief Executive Officer) salaries did very well. In 1970, the top 100 CEO’s made 45 times as much as the average worker, but by 2008 the top 100 CEO’s made 1,723 times as much as the average worker.

This does not happen in other countries. We pay U.S. CEO’s very well comparatively versus other countries CEO’s: ten times more than a South African CEO, twenty times more than a British CEO and nearly fifty times more than a Japanese CEO. So, our country has done very well over the last forty years. It’s a shame that 99% of us have not done as well. Presently one percent of American earners take home nearly a quarter of Americans’ total income.

[See the Op Ed piece by Frank Rich of the New York Times “Time for the big dog to start biting back." The article can be found by clicking this link.]

Here in New York City, we have done better than Main Street USA, but even here our public colleges, (free for over 100 years) now charge tuition. Here, also, the workers have kept a greater share of the wealth due to continued union presence and strength. But even here, most of us have trouble affording the rent in Manhattan and can only look with envy at the 8,000 square foot apartment marketed at $28,000,000 (asking) on the HGTV channel.

We are presently under attack. We have been under attack before, but always in any fiscal downturn there is an increased level of attack on civil service salaries, health benefits, retirement rules, etc. In New York, we do not hear much from the Cato Institute the Heritage Foundation, and even the Tea Party does not usually mention us by name. Instead, we have the Manhattan Institute and the Citizens Budget Commission and the Post, the News, the Wall Street Journal and even the always thoughtful New York Times. It was a writer in the New York Times who, early this summer, asked us all to contact our legislators to demand they lower civil service pensions.

Instead, we would offer a more appealing plan: Tax the Rich. Naturally, they have a great many well-placed advocates who will assure us that our proposal has no merit, will not work, is morally reprehensible and will certainly increase obesity in the work force.

With few exceptions, the truly rich could care less about small business, and really don’t care about the average tax payer or the average American worker. They say they do, but they don’t and probably never will. But we do care about small business (because it does not hurt us), we are the average tax payer and we are American workers. The more they attack us, the more we notice who they are and they are not our friends.

So on December 9, 2010, we will celebrate those folks who helped us become a union because they were and are our friends. We will also break bread together and celebrate each other because we are a large and powerful family of brothers and sisters who will join with all the other union families to resist the forces seeking to diminish us, impoverish our children and totally ruin a wonderful country.