OSA Newsline November 27, 2000

The latest News From OSA should arrive in your mailbox early or late this week and should be posted here on the website shortly under News From OSA – November 2000. If you don't get the mailed copy by the weekend, call George Morgan at the union office. George will check your address.

Members whose time on the job is between one and two years have a welcome surprise due to them. In our prior and now expired contract, the unions had agreed to a two-year reduction in the minimum hiring rate for new employees, but that provision should have expired on April 1, 2000. There is still a one-year reduction due to new employees but any member whose second year on the job started anytime after April 1, 2000 and before now is due a small but welcome retroactive payment from the city.

If this is you, you can call our grievance office, if you do not see the adjustment and extra money on your December 8th paycheck.

OSA Newsline November 20, 2000

It was an excellent rally that was held at City Hall last week. Randi Weingarten called forth her troops and twelve thousand showed, even though the Board of Education set open school night for that very evening.

The Mayor is publicly looking forward to putting the leader of the Municipal Labor Committee into a jail cell and he talks about it about as frequently as he does his entirely mythical merit pay proposal.

We were actually looking forward to the kinder, gentler Mayor we had heard so much about, but he is nowhere in sight at present. Last week the Mayor snarled that the teachers should think about the children for a change. Actually, teachers think about their students all day long, mostly because kids are hard to avoid when they are in a classroom with you. It's now Rudy's turn to think about his teachers.

OSA Newsline November 13, 2000

In last week's civil service weekly, The Chief, Richie Stier did an excellent investigative piece on our current collective bargaining. OSA members are aware from our last mailing of the half billion dollar surplus in the Health Stabilization Fund. The Chief article tells of the recent divisive developments. The text of the article appears below.

Progress on contract negotiations this year are certainly slow, mostly due to the Mayor's lame duck status and his unwillingness to put real money on the table.

Nonetheless, the process is very interesting as Randi Weingarten works hard to keep the municipal labor force united. If she succeeds, our final gains will be greater than the crumbs currently being offered.

As part of the effort to unite the City labor community, OSA has been invited to participate in a rally called by the United Federation of Teachers for this Thursday, November 16th. That's the date the UFT contract with the City expires. The rally is to be held on Chambers Street near Broadway at 4pm. If you can join us, look for the OSA banner – its green on white. Last December, quite a few members and retirees turned out in force to support our brothers and sisters of the Transport Workers Union in their contract struggle. Lets do it again. A large turnout demonstrates to the City that municipal workers are serious about demanding a fair contract settlement.

The Chief – November 10, 2000

Razzle Dazzle: Fear and Loathing at MLC

By Richard Steier

The unity among city labor leaders that Randi Weingarten has nurtured and cultivated during the 23 months she has served as head of the Municipal Labor Committee is facing its stiffest test as the MLC seeks to reach agreement on a deal that would bolster the unions' health and welfare funds.

After successfully negotiating a deal providing pension improvements for city workers that exceeded the expectations of most union leaders, Ms. Weingarten figured to gain their endorsement when she broached a plan last month to pursue a deal to shore up their benefit funds.

Opposition cropped up, however, at an Oct. 25 meeting; with most of it coming from the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. And the differences in calculations between what Ms. Weingarten's numbers expert posited as a reasonable deal and those presented by the PBAs bargaining advisers, Bob Linn and Howard Green, left many union leaders wondering whether the disagreement wasn't about some larger agenda.

Head 'em Off At the Pass?

Namely, whether the PBA would prefer to sidetrack the benefit fund talks long enough to move its wage negotiations into arbitration without having to worry that another union would reach contract terms first that presented an undesirable pattern.

Such a fear is rooted in recent history, some of which Mr. Linn himself carved out when he was Ed Koch's top negotiator. Both he and Jim Hanley, Mayor Giuliani's Labor Relations Commissioner, during the past 15 years have managed to thwart unions' aspirations in arbitration by negotiating other contracts and then convincing the arbiters that deviating sharply from the patterns set in those deals would invite bargaining chaos.

Ms. Weingarten, during her union apprenticeship as a young United Federation of Teachers lawyer 15 years ago, was on the losing end of one of those gambits. One of her predecessors as UFT president, Al Shanker, broke away from a civilian union coalition in April 1985 in hopes of getting a superior contract for his members through arbitration. Before the month was over, Mr. Linn ignited what had been dormant talks and struck a deal with District Council 37 that heavily influenced the arbitration panel that decided the UFT's contract terms five months later.

Experiences like that one, and the resentment many union leaders still hold for Mr. Linn from his days as the city's chief negotiator, suggest that the bargaining on health and welfare fund issues will be a lot more complicated and acrimonious than the process that led to key pension gains for the unions in return for letting the city remove nearly a billion-dollar surplus from the pension funds.

Ms. Weingarten, one of the few prominent women in the city labor movement, has to this point succeeded in convincing normally headstrong labor officials that their common interests should overcome longstanding rivalries that often become most pointed at the bargaining table. She kept them together even amid the visceral tensions early in her tenure as MLC chairwoman that were created by union leaders' differing reactions to the February 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo.

When the MLC negotiated major pension improvements six months ago, including the city's support of a reduction in employee pension contributions, added pension credit for many workers and a more favorable calculation formula for cops and firefighters, it seemed to underscore the wisdom of Ms. Weingarten's strategy and consolidate the support enjoyed by the UFT president among her fellow labor leaders. And then along came Bob.

Too Smart for His Own Good?

Mr. Linn earned the enmity of many labor leaders with his tough, shrewd bargaining on behalf of the Koch administration in the late 1980s. Despite his strong track record, the bad feelings engendered in that era made most city unions reluctant to hire him until his recent retainer by the PBA to do a major portion of its negotiating work.

Fifteen years ago, Mr. Linn crafted a pay package for Mayor Koch that three arbitrators chose over a more generous proposal served up by a UFT bargaining team that included Ms. Weingarten, then a young attorney with the union's outside law firm.

In 1988, he struck a deal with the PBA that put virtually every other uniformed union at a severe disadvantage trying to match its terms; several labor leaders who did so only by making givebacks to help pay for the same economic gains were soon after forced out of office.

And so there's a history that would have led some union officials to regard Mr. Linn with mistrust even if he had not, at an MLC meeting Oct. 25, taken a position that seemed a bit prominent for, in Ms. Weingarten's wry phrase, "the new kid on the block."

A Withheld Blessing

The UFT president, according to one person who was present, essentially asked her fellow union leaders for their blessing to seek a deal involving the benefit funds. Mr. Linn questioned whether she was getting appropriate value under her proposal, and then PBA officials including President Pat Lynch left the room to caucus privately.

When they returned, the source said, Pat Lynch said, `We would really prefer that you not go forward with this."

Ms. Weingarten ruefully remarked last week, "I may be too democratic. It gets too many people involved in the process."

One negotiator not involved in the talks agreed, saying that by soliciting input rather than presenting her decision to negotiate the matter as final, "She's allowed herself to be stymied."

The fact that Mr. Linn's argument that Ms. Weingarten's plan did not offer appropriate value was based on the same economic principles that so frustrated and infuriated union leaders when he was on the opposite side of the bargaining table helped fuel reactions that ranged from seething anger to unbridled rage.

An Unkind Assessment

It's one thing for a labor official after being assured he would not be identified, to remark, "I'm embarrassed that Bob's on our side of the table -- he's been screwing workers his entire life."

But Teamsters' Local 237 Secretary Treasurer Nick Mancuso, who was among those willing to speak on the record was only slightly less cutting as he implied that Mr. Lynch might be putting too much stock in what Mr. Linn, was telling him.

"The position that Randi has taken, I think, is in the best interests of all of us," said Mr. Mancuso, who retired as head of the Uniformed Firefighters' Association 11 years ago in large part because of angry member reaction to the contract problems created when he tried to match the economic gains under Mr. Linn's 1988 deal with the PBA.

"Pat Lynch," he continued, "is a very capable labor leader. This is his first negotiation and he's under a lot of pressure, particularly because of the [police] settlements in other jurisdictions."

Ms. Weingarten remarked, "Bob has this approach of cost-parity bargaining." This theory holds that benefits should be doled out to the unions based on their cost to the employer, rather than giving each group the same longevity benefit, for example, when some employee groups have a lower turnover, rate and their members are more likely to all qualify for that benefit.

A Demographic Tango

"If we had applied that to pensions," Ms. Weingarten said during a Nov. 2 interview, "we never would have gotten the pension deal." That is because key elements of the pension-bill package have different costs, both in the immediate future and long-term, based on the differing demographics among the unions. Having to account for those differences and then work out separate agreements for each union would have been an impossible task simply from a logistical standpoint, given the unions' determination to get it done before the State Leg islature adjourned in early summer.

The issue that provoked trouble in the MLC's garden of good will involves a possible trade-in of a recently won right to health benefits for employees who leave their jobs with between five and 10 years' service.

That right followed from a bill signed into law last year by Governor Pataki that among other things allowed cops and firefighters to vest their pensions after five years on the job instead of the old requirement of 15 years. (Civilian employees previously could vest after 10 years.)

Overlooked Health Costs

Apparently nobody in either state or city government paid much attention at the time to the added costs the vesting bill imposed on the city because it entitled less tenured employees to health benefits once they became eligible for pensions.

That was very much a concern for Labor Relations Commissioner Hanley when he began talks with the MLC on how to use a $500-million surplus in the Health Stabilization Fund, which was created in the early 1980s to guard against the effect that rising health-care costs might have on union members and the city treasury alike.

The Giuliani administration and the MLC are hoping to make a deal not unlike the one that produced major pension gains as a condition for the unions allowing the city to divert $850 million in excess contributions for the five city pension funds.

In essence, a big chunk of the Stabilization Fund surplus would be used to cover increases in city health and welfare fund payments that normally would come out of the city budget in conjunction with new wage contracts.

But Mr. Hanley has sought an additional gain for the city by presenting the MLC with several proposals that could further reduce city costs in these areas.

"The city wants radical reformulation of the health plans," Ms. Weingarten said. "The unions want to make sure we can maintain the level of benefits and improve them."

Mr. Hanley initially proposed that the unions forsake the health-benefit right for all employees who had vested but not yet met the service requirements for a full pension. Ms. Weingarten balked at that demand, but apparently got indications that Mr. Hanley was amenable to discussing a deal under which the unions would only give up health-benefit rights for those with more than five but fewer than 10 years on the job.

(Mr. Hanley declined comment on this and other aspects of the benefit bargaining, saying, "It's been my experience that professionals don't talk about these things in the press while negotiations are ongoing.")

Gone While Still New?

The unions were willing to forsake that right for vested employees who left service with less than 10 years, according to one person involved in the talks, because the are not considered bedrock union members. And the fact that this benefit had only recently been granted made it less onerous to kiss it goodbye, this official noted, recalling, "Randi was saying, `If we're going to do it, we have to do it now.'"

At the Oct. 25 meeting, Mr. Linn used projections under a 20-year model produced by his partner, former Associate City Budget Director Howard Green, to contend that the PBA should receive a bigger bargaining credit for a trade-in than other unions, according to several officials who were present.

Mr. Linn denied framing his argument that way, saying his concern about Ms. Weingarten's numbers extended beyond his client. "We thought everybody should be taking a careful look. at the value of this," he said.

Cops' Unique Status

But the 20-year projection is particularly significant concerning the ex-cops who under the trade-in would lose the right to health benefits at the time their pensions kicked in. It is not uncommon for civilian employees who vest and leave their city jobs after, say, 10 years, to receive their pensions a short time afterward, even though they must be at least 55 to do so.

For police, the rules are different. Cops who vest qualify for 'pensions on the 20th anniversary of their hiring date, regardless of age, meaning an officer who began work at 21 and left for another position at age 30 could begin collecting both his pension and city health benefits at 41.

Since the city's age limit for police hiring eliminates the possibility of rookie cops starting work at 45-as opposed to say, new Architects or Teachers-the savings from eliminating health benefits for 5-to-10 year cops might be proportionately less than for civilian jobs at first, but by the 20-year mark is likely to be greater. And those younger cops would have a greater life expectancy than most retirees, meaning the city would be paying for their health benefits for a much longer period.

Rolling Back the Years

Thus, there was a certain suspicion about Mr. Linn trotting out the 20-year model, particularly since his original cost-parity deal-the 1988 PBA contract-relied on an 11-year model constructed by Mr. Green.

That suspicion was exacerbated by the belief of several union officials-disputed by Mr. Linn-that there was still only a minor difference between the value of the benefit, put forth by Mr. Green and that estimated by Jeff Goldstein, Ms. Weingarten's numbers expert at the UFT.

Mr. Mancuso argued that whatever the number, it probably would be whittled down once the MLC gets more serious in the benefits bargaining with Mr. Hanley.

"Randi isn't going to agree to something the majority of us can't live with," he said. "We've got a pot of money sitting out there. We don't want that money to go stagnant, because there are some unions with funds that are in serious need of infusions."

He continued, "Bob wants all the proposals off the table. But if Hanley says then we're taking our stuff off the table,' we're back to Square One. Let the [union] numbers, people lock themselves in a room and decide on an estimate for this."

Linn: No Ulterior Motive

Mr. Linn insisted that he was questioning the numbers on the merits, rather than using the issue to stall the benefit bargaining as part of a grand negotiating strategy for the PBA under which it would couple that bargaining with its wage contract. "My advice to my client is that if we can do it fairly, then let's do it," he said of the trade-in.

Ms. Weingarten remarked, "Bob's trying to establish his credentials [as a union advocate]. He's been hired by the police, and some other unions may hire him because they've grown frustrated with this Mayor and with the pace of bargaining. But the bottom line is, is there a [wage] deal that can be done ultimately with the city in which our needs are met, and is there a benefits deal that can be done?"
The most interesting part of her statement was the suggestion that frustration with the Mayor-union leaders' favorite demon until now -would help Mr. Linn expand his municipal union clientele. It remains to be seen whether more labor leaders conclude that hiring someone who seems to share Mr. Giuliani's capacity for staying cool while infuriating others is the best way
to bargain.

OSA Newsline November 6, 2000

Tomorrow is election day and all union members are reminded to vote. Vote for whomever you want, but do vote. It's a fine habit.

If you're going to vote Democratic anyway, you might want to cast your vote on the Working Families line (row H) since they attempt to push a union agenda and are a bit more pro-labor.

In any case – VOTE!

Also, this coming Sunday, November 12th, OSA is co-endorsing a screening of two classic labor films for the benefit of striking workers of Domino Sugar and Rode and Horn Lumber, both based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The screenings, organized by the Direct Action Network's Labor Solidarity Working Group, will take place at 7pm and 8:30pm at Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue at Second Street.

Since October, 1998 more than 300 members of ILA Local 1814 employed by union-busting transnational Tate and Lyle's Domino Sugar subsidiary have been without a contract. Forced to strike in June 1999, there has been little movement in this long-standing strike since then. And
in October 1999, Rode and Horn lumber illegally locked out and replaced its workers – members of Teamsters Local 1205 – many of whom have worked there their entire lives.

At 7pm, Finally Got the News will be screened, a document of the struggle of African-American auto workers in Detroit in the late 1960s. The film will be introduced by Mike Davis, author of the book City of Quartz. At 8:30pm, filmmaker Barbara Kopple will introduce her Academy-Award winning documentary Harlan County USA, which documents the struggle of United Mine Worker members for a contract in Kentucky in the mid-1970s.

So, come out and show your solidarity and have a good time as well. Admission is $10 for the general public, $5 for union members, with a card. Since OSA has no membership card, print this newsline from our website and bring it to the theater for the discount. All proceeds go to the two union's strike funds.