PEF President Wayne Spence joins the contract team on a tele-town hall to help answer questions from PEF members on upcoming contract talks. Here are the questions and answers discussed on this call:
Q. What, if anything, is the team going to do to expedite grievance processing?
A. We recognize there are problems throughout the grievance process that we will be trying to address through contract negotiations. Currently, if a grievance goes unanswered, the contractual remedy is to advance it in the absence of a timely decision. We’re looking at all options that would result in grievances being resolved more quickly, fairly and efficiently. We know the process can work better and we definitely plan to address these grievance process issues.
Paid Family Leave:
Q. What are the chances that Paid Family Leave will be part of this contract?
A. Paid Family Leave is most definitely on the table. As you may know, PFL is mandatory in the private sector, but must be negotiated for public sector workers that are unionized. A few things to understand about Paid Family Leave is that it is actually paid for by the employees, there is a cap on the maximum benefit that can be received by an employee (currently it’s 10 weeks of leave at 55% of the employees average weekly pay or 55% of the State Average Weekly Wage, up to a maximum weekly benefit of $746.41), the program cost will increase in future years based on utilization and most importantly, a bargaining unit is either “in or out” – this is not negotiated on an individual basis. The statute sets forth a minimum benefit and we may wish to try to negotiate something different. Right now, it’s on the table and we will be exploring the benefit.
Dental and Vision:
Q. Is the contract team going to negotiate improved dental benefits?
A. We know our dental and vision plans are inferior to the union administered employee benefit fund plans negotiated by some other bargaining units. And the State knows it too. They agreed to improve the dental benefits for both the PBA and NYSCOPBA including covering white fillings on all teeth and dental implants. Improving our dental and vision plans is a high priority for us. We are looking at enhancements to the dental program like expanding the network of providers available to PEF members and improving the fee schedule . And we are interested in getting an annual benefit in the vision plan. We are really focused on improving our dental and vision plans and we will be pushing hard to get something better than what we currently have.
Q. Location pay does not make up for the difference in the cost of living in NYC and surrounding areas. Will the contract team be negotiating increases in location pay?
A. The last time we got a contractual rate increase in location pay was 2008. Obviously, this has not kept up with inflation. We believe location pay must reflect the reality of the amount of money our members living in certain cities have to pay for things like housing and food and just the general higher cost of living in big cities.
Q. Will longevity pay be increased in this contract?
A. We are looking at increasing the amounts of longevity pay and to expand eligibility. 5 and 10 year longevity awards were last increased in 1987. They have not even been increased by inflation. We know some of the other bargaining units negotiated increases in the amounts of longevity pay and we will be taking a close look at that. We are also interested in expanding eligibility so that those employees who accept promotions are not stripped of their eligibility for longevity awards – the current system of requiring 5 or 10 years at job rate seems to discourage professional advancement.
Q. Is PEF going to negotiate a 2- person (Employee plus one) premium that is less expensive than the family plan?
A. We are actively considering whether to propose creation of a two-person premium. We will be doing an updated analysis to see what impact implementing a two-person premiums would have on all of our members enrolled in NYSHIP. Past analysis has raised the concern that creation of a two-person premium could actually harm more PEF members than it helps. A two-person premium would reduce premiums for the roughly 20 percent of PS&T Unit employees enrolled in NYSHIP who have only one dependent, but it would increase the cost for family (3-plus) plans for the roughly 40 percent of the PS&T Unit employees enrolled in the NYSHIP family coverage who have two or more dependents.
PEP (Productivity Enhancement Program)
Q. Will there be negotiated increases in the value of the accruals traded to offset health insurance premiums?
A. We think the State could be open to expanding eligibility so more members can participate in PEP, and increasing the monetary value of the days being traded, based on what we’ve seen other bargaining units have negotiated in their agreements. We had thousands of members participate in PEP in 2018 and we will be looking to improve this program in our new contract.
Q. Can the contract team negotiate to make telecommuting more available? Right now, it is offered to very few employees.
A. We heard from a lot of members about telecommuting. We are living in a time where technology allows many of us to do our work from remote locations. We view telecommuting as a win for everyone, our members and the State alike. This team is committed to bringing telecommuting issues forward and will be looking to expand – where feasible – the telecommuting provision of our current contract.
Q. Many employees are working as “hourly” employees on a full-time basis, but don’t get the same benefits as their full-time salaried coworkers? What is PEF doing to help hourlies?
A. We are committed to finding a path to permanency for our hourly employees. As a former hourly temp at the Department of Labor I understand the concerns of non-permanent employees firsthand. The contract team is fully aware of the situation and is committed to addressing it. This is inherently unfair and correcting this situation for our hourly members is a priority for this team.
Across the Boards
Q. What raise percentages can we expect in the next contract?
A. Across the board salary increase was the top issue with our members everywhere we’ve gone around the state. We know the State is going to say there is already a salary hike pattern established based by what other unions have agreed to in their contracts. But we don’t have to agree with that. Here is where the member support President Spence mentioned earlier is so important. If we want to break that pattern, we have to show we are a strong and united membership. So, when we ask you to support the contract team by wearing stickers or pins or taking photos for social media, keep in mind that these types of actions have a purpose; and that is to give the contract team added strength at the bargaining table. Our ultimate goal is to negotiate a salary increase that reflects the tremendous contributions PEF members make to the state of New York.