October 14, 2015
By Steven Wishnia
Few New Yorkers understand what the city’s staff analysts do. A video filmed in Madison Square Park by the Organization of Staff Analysts, the union that represents almost 5,000 of them, found a dozen-odd passers-by utterly clueless. One woman guessed they were in-house psychiatrists for stressed-out civil servants.
In reality, staff analysts do the complex research, budget projections, and logistical planning that enable the city government to put its policies into practice, says Sheila Gorsky, the OSA’s cofounder and longtime executive director. “Everything that runs the city is what our people do.”
If the mayor wants to open a new homeless shelter, she explains, staff analysts will be the ones who find the site, arrange the lease, handle the staffing, and figure out what needs to go into the building, from office desks to beds. If the city is concerned about traffic, Department of Transportation staff analysts will be “out on the corner counting cars.” When an agency needs workers, “we do the paperwork for hiring, we do the job description.”
The OSA “started in my living room,” Gorsky says. Begun as a professional organization in 1969, it first won recognition as a union for 38 Board of Education staff analysts in 1985. Its big breakthrough came in 1991, when the city recognized it as the bargaining agent for almost 3,000 workers. Today, it represents analysts in more than 20 titles at more than 50 agencies, including the Board of Education, the Health and Hospitals Corporation, the Transit Authority, the New York City Housing Authority, and the Department of Environmental Protection.
To help people get and keep these jobs, OSA runs a massive training program—one largely developed by Gorsky, from the curriculum to the study guides. “How to run a city—that’s what I train,” she says. From February through May of this year, the union held classes from 6 to 9 p.m. every single evening to prepare people to take examinations for positions as a staff analyst, associate staff analyst, administrative staff analyst, and staff analyst trainee. More than 2,500 people took the seven-week courses, which covered topics such as management, budgeting, personnel, statistics, and communication; prospective administrators did an extra session on how to manage their in-basket. To accommodate those numbers, the union needed more than 15 trainers. Gorsky’s logistical duties ranged from checking the course material to making sure people taking the class got something to eat for dinner.
Gorsky says it takes about two years from the time someone applies to take the exam to when they’re certified as a permanent employee. She and the union assist them through the whole process, from helping people navigate the city’s new online job-application system to trying to ensure that those who passed the tests get jobs—making sure they go to city agencies, and making sure the agencies call the people on the list of those who passed.
She prides herself on the union’s personal touch. They hand out OSA-logo cases containing pencils, calculators, and candy to people waiting on line to take the exams. And people calling the union’s office won’t get an automated “press 1 for a staff directory” message. “We want human beings,” Gorsky says.