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Contract breakthrough didn’t come easily


For the head of a municipal union like the Organization of Staff Analysts (OSA), crafting a successful contract that satisfies your members in many ways depends not on the big-ticket items but your work around the edges.

Mayors and the city’s Office of Labor Relations, when seeking to establish a contract pattern for the entire municipal workforce, usually first settle with the larger unions. And so, it wasn’t until the city reached agreement with the 125,000-member AFSCME District Council 37 last February that it agreed to start negotiations with OSA.

We knew from experience that key elements of the DC 37 pattern would apply to our members. Those included four 3-percent pay raises and a final 3.25-percent wage hike, spread over five years, as well as a $3,000 pensionable signing bonus for OSA members on the city payroll on the day the contract was ratified. Many of our members were also very enthusiastic about another aspect of the DC 37 agreement that would allow employees to work up to two days a week from home.

The challenge, then, was to address our members’ priorities that did not merely replicate portions of the citywide pattern.

The OSA bargaining team, under the leadership of OSA Vice-Chair Adam Orgel, set out to negotiate a deal that poured enough money into the union’s Welfare Fund to finance a new prescription drug benefit. Historically, OSA’s Welfare Fund has delivered excellent vision, dental, insurance and superimposed major medical benefits. However, as the price of drugs soared in recent years, the idea of adding a drug benefit became more pressing and was our focus for going beyond the pattern in this round of bargaining.

During the first two bargaining sessions last May, there were promising signs that the union could pull it off. City negotiators advised us the contract could be extended by six months to generate extra benefits aside from the pattern pay raises. When we told them we wanted most of the additional benefit gain to go towards our Welfare Fund, they did not object.

There was one sticking point — a problem that had festered for four decades after then-Mayor Ed Koch was unwilling to correct an imbalance in the pay relationship between Associate Staff Analysts (ASAs) and those in the then-managerial title of Administrative Staff Analyst (Admins).

First-level admins were paid just marginally better than the ASAs they supervised while shouldering greater responsibilities. This led some ASAs to turn down the promotion and the extra pressure that came with it. First-level admins also had minimum salaries that were actually lower than the unionized ASAs they supervised. The three mayors who came after Koch also ignored the problem, usually stating that they lacked the funds to rectify the discrepancy.

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the issue finally got attention at City Hall, but he and his negotiators wanted the appropriate jump in minimum salary for the admins to be funded by the union. Since years of neglect by other mayors had created the mess, we felt there was no reason that OSA should pay anything more than a small share of the toll. We successfully negotiated new minimum salaries for employees newly appointed to the titles, but incumbents did not contractually receive the pay bump.

During our most recent negotiations under Mayor Eric Adams, OLR demanded that the union pay for the salary jumps for all admins who were not given these new minimums in the last contract, whether the city had decided to unilaterally pay these employees the new minimum or not. The union held the line on how much we would be willing to pay toward the goal of bringing all admins up to the new minimums.

The city was, in effect, demanding that every OSA member pay for decisions the city has already made unilaterally. When we refused to cave, the city began stalling. Officials promised us numbers on the cost of the changes, but failed to produce them in a timely manner. City negotiators then submitted a proposal to our bargaining committee that we had already rejected.

By November, OSA had brought the dispute to the Office of Collective Bargaining for a possible resolution. It was clear to us that the union would prevail in an impasse hearing. However, the city could appeal that ruling, further delaying the process.

Members would be harmed potentially by these delays in three ways. They would continue to have their raises delayed. Members who were planning to retire soon would have to remain on the job to benefit from the $3,000 signing bonus. And members would have no access to remote work until the contract was ratified.

And so, we came to the conclusion that waiting to prevail in an impasse hearing was not worth what many members might lose in the meantime. When the city came up a bit on its offer for welfare fund contributions in late November, we agreed, with each side paying a portion of the cost of the admin salary upgrade.

When we presented the terms at a Nov. 30 membership meeting, most of those who spoke were pleased. That viewpoint was punctuated with an exclamation point when the counting of members’ ratification ballots on Jan. 22 showed an overwhelming 100 to 1 approval rate.

OSA’s welfare fund has long been in good shape because of prudent spending, and the infusion of funds taking effect Sept. 6, 2026 will go a long way toward bringing members a quality, sustainable prescription drug plan.

Accomplishing our goals takes time, but it also exemplifies the essence of how union leaders can advance their members' interests: look to be creative and fight vigorously for the best terms possible. However, when time becomes a force against our ambitions, figure out when to say we have gotten enough to shake hands. There will be another negotiation down the line to make further gains.

Robert J. Croghan is the chairperson of the Organization of Staff Analysts, a municipal union representing more than 5,100 active and 3,000 retired members.

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