OSA Newsline - June 28, 2010

A number of members have been inquiring about the funeral or memorial services for Charles Ensley. Charles left a letter asking for privacy – and his wishes are being respected. Had a memorial been scheduled, it would have been very well attended as he is missed by many.

The civil service newspaper, The Chief, gave OSA Chairperson Bob Croghan his moment of fame last week. There was a front page picture in color, going along with a story about the ongoing fight over the future of the civil service.

Mayor Bloomberg is apparently eager to add thousands of non-competitive and exempt workers to the payroll, while laying off thousands of workers from the competitive class. This is called civil service “reform” by some people, but not by us.

OSA is not alone in fighting for civil service and the merit system. At the hearings being reported on were a number of DC37 locals, CWA 1180 and the Marine Engineers’ union, to cite a few.

Members seeking a souvenir copy of this issue will note it is still on sale until Monday night. Or you can download the article by clicking this link.

Finally, a small OSA delegation attended, by invitation, the Office and Professional Employees International Union’s convention last week.

We had sent a delegation to the American Federation of Teachers’ convention this time last year. As it turned out, both conventions were at the same hotel in Washington DC, just a year apart. The conventions were, in both cases, very impressive and wonderful. The enthusiasm of the union activists in attendance is contagious and even inspiring. More later on this topic.

OSA Newsline - June 21, 2010

We had both very good news and very bad news last week.

We’ll start with the good news.

After nearly two years of off-again on-again negotiations, our efforts at the Transit Authority have finally borne fruit. The Transit Authority was the last area where we were trying to conclude a contract for the 2008 to 2010 period.

This past Friday, our bargaining team agreed unanimously to send the contract offer out to the members for a vote. Assuming the offer is accepted, retroactive payments of the 4% and 4% will be going out to the members just before the two year contract period expires.

The achievement of this contract would normally be unremarkable, but given the fiscal problems of the MTA and our City and our State, we were most relieved over the successful conclusion of this bargaining.

Thanks are due to the bargaining team and also to the members, who were patient and understanding over the many months of negotiations.

The very bad news concerns the passing of Charles Ensley, the former president of the Social Service Employees Union, pictured at left with OSA Chair Bob Croghan at the union's 2003 Black History Month celebration.

Charles started as a caseworker for the Department of Social Services many years ago. He became an active on-location activist and, later, was tapped to work as a grievance representative for that union, located at 817 Broadway.

Charles was an excellent grievance representative for a number of years before he was asked to assume a new role as traveling representative of the SSEU Local 371 Welfare Fund. Charles visited hundreds of locations, holding meetings, alerting members to their benefits and solving Welfare Fund problems as they arose.

By 1982, Charles had been elected president of the union and he remained in that role for the unusual period of over a quarter century, twenty-six years to be precise.

The Social Service Employees Union is an extremely active and socially conscious union and Charles fit in well with the aggressive nature of that union.

To cite some high points. Charles, at first, strongly favored David Dinkins for mayor, then, when Dinkins permited the HRA commissioner to act unfairly towards staff, Charles became the mayor’s most energetic opponent.

An exam had been given for Supervisor II and Supervisor III Welfare. The HRA commissioner complained that candidates who passed the exam were, in her opinion, too male and too Jewish. Since the Human Resources Administration had historically been the most diverse workforce of any City agency, the commissioner’s actions were both offensive and shocking.

Charles took up the defense of his members and, when the mayor was not responsive, Charles took on the mayor as well. Eventually, the wronged candidates had the wrong corrected. A sign of how intensely Charles fought against an injury to his members came with the change in administration. Rudolph Giuliani, as the new mayor, asked Charles to serve on his transition team, because of Charles’ clear integrity.

A second illustration from that time period related to Child Welfare. Mayor Dinkins ordained the layoff of 1,100 Child Welfare workers. In this case, Charles worked closely with Child Welfare Commissioner James Little and the courts were used as a weapon to reduce the numbers of layoffs to 400.

Charles’ role as a vice-president of DC37 was equally impressive. It was Charles Ensley who publicly questioned the honesty of DC37's vote in favor of the famous five year contract that started with two zeros.

The fact that Charles turned out to be right led to a great many consequences. Eventually, individuals were convicted of mail fraud and wholesale vote tampering, jail terms were served and, because it happened on his watch, DC37 Executive Director Stanley Hill was forced to step aside.

Thereafter, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees placed DC37 into receivership for an extended period.

Charles Ensley was one of two key players who were eventually able to end the receivership.

In recent years, Charles had been frequently considered for the position of Executive Director of DC37 and it was argued that he could even have won if the voting system had been handled differently.

Charles came to our city and chose to go to work in a low-paid job that helped people. Thereafter, he began to help the caseworkers through his union activity and he ended up helping more and more people as his career progressed. Charles was a leader and a good one.

We are fortunate that he was here among us for a while and we are forever diminished by his loss.

OSA Newsline - June 17, 2010

Thousands of municipal workers and community group members gathered yesterday on the Broadway side of City Hall park for the Municipal Labor Committee's "Save Our City" rally. The crowd stretched from the stage at Barclay Street all the way north of Chambers Street to 26 Federal Plaza at Duane.

In addition to speeches by a range of union leaders, including OSA chair Bob Croghan - Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz addressed the crowd.

The speakers were united in their call on the mayor to reconsider layoffs and budget cuts in the midst of an economic downturn. There were demands that Wall Street pay its fair share for the crisis they created and that the mayor (and governor) stop demonizing public employees.

Then there was the memorable call by one 9-year-old Queens student to find the funds to protect the school system and avoid layoffs. She told the crowd that the mayor should focus on finding the money for adequate city services, especially those that would benefit kids like her who represent the city's future, rather than the funds for building stadiums.

OSA members were spread out among the crowd. If you were there, thank you.

Below is a video of several clips from yesterday's Rally as presented online by the United Federation of Teachers.

OSA Newsline - June 14, 2010

The City Hall rally this Wednesday is the news for this week. All of the City unions are making common cause, since, we are currently all under attack.

The rally runs from 4pm to 6pm on the Broadway side of City Hall park. If you can’t get there til after 4pm, you will probably be steered toward Broadway, north of the park and a large screen will be set up there to relay the speeches, so you can hear them.

It’s this Wednesday. Even if it’s raining, come to the rally.

To download a flyer promoting the rally, click on the rally button at the left or click here. Make copies for your colleagues, friends and relatives -- and ask them to attend.

OSA Newsline - June 7, 2010

We had a bit of good news last week. The bill for early retirement incentive was passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor. Now, we must await the mayor’s decision. As of now, he has shown no sign that he will offer the incentive. Details are in last week's newsline message below.

Also last week, Mayor Boomberg announced he will not be laying off 4,000 teachers, but he will give them no raise at all instead. From his mouth to Rupert Murdoch’s ear.

He had hoped to lay off the older teachers and keep the less expensive newly hired ones, but that cruel abomination of a policy was never going to be allowed to happen in New York State, so he backed off.

He is still laying us off, a few here and a few there and the criticism of our pensions, our health benefits and, on occasion, our overtime is non-stop.

We really ought to talk back and tell our side of the story and, in fact, we are planning to do so.

On Wednesday, June 16, all of us are getting together for a monster rally outside City Hall from 4pm to 6pm. (The monster himself will probably stay inside his office for the event.)

Many OSA members work within a mile of City Hall, so it will be easy for them to get to the rally after work. Members at more distant locations in the outer boroughs may need to request to use vacation time so they can leave early to get to the rally. Do so.

This mayor is seeking to scapegoat us for Wall Street’s sins. We owe it to ourselves and to our families to tell him where to go – and that is the point of the rally.

To download a flyer promoting the rally, click on the rally button at the left or click here. Make copies for your colleagues, friends and relatives -- and ask them to attend.

OSA Newsline - June 1, 2010

To our regret, neither of our special guests for last week’s general membership meeting could make the meeting. Peter Abbate had warned us on Monday that he might not be able to make the meeting, due to budget negotiations. State Senator Diane Savino kept trying to have the time for a quick trip back from Albany, but it did not work out.

Since we do want pro-labor representatives involved in the budget negotiations, we’ll have to give them a pass this time and perhaps try again in September.

There was no good news last week as layoffs continued. Last week, we heard from the Department of Education. We will be meeting about those layoffs shortly.

In terms of our response to the layoffs and the constant drumbeat of criticism of all civil servants, the Municipal Labor Committee has decided to hold a rally at City Hall. The rally will be in mid-June with details to follow.

Finally, the early retirement incentive bill was passed by the State Senate late on Friday, after having passed the Assembly earlier in the week. A summary of the bill can be read by clicking here. The full legislation can be seen at this link. An Albany Times-Union story about the bill can be read at this link.

The bill consists of Parts A and B. Part A provides additional service credit of one month for each year of pension service up to a maximum of three years of additional service credit. Part B allows members with at least 25 years of service credit to retire at age 55 without penalty.

The Governor has now signed the legislation, but it remains to be seen whether the City will opt in. The Mayor has not yet indicated that it will. As soon as we know, we will let you know.