By SHERRY HALBROOK
A wide range of mainly financial issues and policies including the union’s budget for its coming fiscal year were addressed by the PEF Executive Board at its two-day March meeting held at the New York State United Teachers headquarters in Latham.
The board adopted a $26.1 million operating budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year starting April 1, and it reviewed and approved many other important matters including an updated synopsis of benefits for the union’s management/confidential employees. It endorsed a new draft policy providing financial guidance for regional coordinators, and the board approved an updated travel, meals and lodging reimbursement policy for non-convention expenses and an updated policy regarding the purchase and distribution of giveaway items to PEF members.
In addition, the board considered continuing discussions of allowing representation of its two small, private-sector bargaining units to move to a sister union that represents many private-sector employee groups.
Board members also received an update on a new computerized grievance-tracking program that PEF is developing and heard updates on labor-management issues, along with reports on PEF’s membership engagement and legislative efforts.
In further action, the board, at this March meeting, amended and adopted the rules for electing delegates to this year’s PEF convention that will be held September 15-18 in Albany. In addition, the board chose the sites for the next four annual PEF conventions. The board selected Saratoga Springs for the 2020 and 2021 conventions, and Niagara Falls for the 2022 and 2023 conventions.
A change to the constitution and bylaws of the PEF Retirees organization was debated and approved by the PEF Executive Board at this meeting. The change, which had already been unanimously approved by the PEF Retirees Executive Board, limits its membership to people who have retired from public service in NY state or from other bargaining units represented by PEF.
Robert Harms, who represents PEF Retirees on the Executive Board, said the change will eliminate 15 people from membership in PEF Retirees who have not retired including five who are not PEF members. Those five individuals have been using their less expensive membership in the retirees group to access benefits offered by the PEF Membership Benefits Program. The constitutional change will stop that. It will not affect retirees who go back to work for their former employers.
The board overwhelmingly voted not to hear an appeal of a decision by a hearing panel in the matter of PCP members v. Brate. The panel heard the case after PEF member Nikki Brate appealed an earlier decision by the PEF Ethics Committee.
PEF finances and budget
In her quarterly report to the board, PEF Secretary-Treasurer Kay Alison Wilkie said she is focusing on bringing PEF’s financial practices and policies “into the 21st Century, by a host of process and IT improvements such as sending division quarterly reports and PEF’s internal auditor’s reports by email, rather than mailing hard copies, and by working with Bank of America to have bank statements for PEF divisions sent via email twice as quickly as in the past.
In presenting her 2019-20 budget proposal, Wilkie said she had worked to align the union’s values and strategic priorities: membership engagement, securing a great contract, addressing members’ employment concerns, fighting privatization, fighting discrimination and empowering PEF’s political agenda.
The union had kept to a very conservative budget in 2018-19 in case it lost significant revenues following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June Janus ruling that public employees can no longer be required to join unions or pay fees in lieu of dues. Although PEF lost those fees following Janus, many of the former feepayers have chosen to join PEF and few members chose to leave, so the union’s membership has actually increased.
Wilkie said she still wanted to be cautious in the new budget and based her revenue estimates on maintaining an average of 51,828 members, even though current membership is higher. The budget projects total net annual revenue of $26.1 million, about $1.2 million more than anticipated in the previous budget year.
The budget adds a net increase of 4.8 full-time staff positions. It drops one full-time position and adds five full-time positions and one part-time (80 percent) position. Among the new positions in the budget is a full-time political director to be based in New York City. President Spence said PEF has hired Leah Gonzalez, the former labor liaison for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for that job.
Wilkie indicated that, in consultation with PEF President Wayne Spence, she doubled the funding for the PEF Affirmative Action Advisory/Equal Opportunity Committee from $4,268 last year to $8,600 for the new fiscal year, expanded funding for the PEF Nurses Committee to $50,000 and generally provided resources for committees’ important work.
She said PEF regional coordinators are also receiving more financial guidance, including ongoing consultations, emailed trial balances and collaboration on a working draft document that streamlines and updates applicable policies. Other policies recommended by the secretary-treasurer and approved by the board covered travel and meal reimbursement and reservations, and the purchase and distribution of giveaways to PEF members.
The board supported a motion by PEF Region 8 Coordinator Mike Blue to amend the budget by taking $20,000 in funding from advertising and promotion and allocating it for the regional coordinators’ social gathering at the 2019 PEF Convention. In 2018, that event was funded directly from PEF regional budgets.
Board member Steve Nawrocki commended Wilkie for including funds for depreciation and cyber security in the budget.
Region 6 Coordinator Jeanette St. Mary said, “I don’t have a problem with increasing funding in the budget for committees, as long as I see what they’re doing with the money.”
“To improve accountability, information sharing about activities and results, and compliance with existing policies, the president and I are asking the committees for quarterly reports,” Wilkie said.
Wilkie said the new budget reflects very careful consideration at every level and she thanked directors, statewide officers, staff and the Budget Advisory and Financial Compliance Committee for helping her assess and estimate the union’s prospective revenues and expenses.
Wilkie summarized outside legal expenses totaling $493,823 that the union has incurred in the past two years in defending itself in seven lawsuits. Two of the lawsuits were brought by Brate, two by other former officers, one by a former feepayer and two by former PEF staff members. Wilkie said PEF’s international affiliates and insurance have covered part of that cost, leaving PEF with a net combined cost of $303,169 so far. While some of the cases have been resolved, some of the others continue.
State budget, legislative strides
Vice President Randi DiAntonio and PEF Legislative Director Greg Amorosi reported the union’s hard work is paying off and both the Assembly and Senate have removed all of the items from their “one-house” budget bills that PEF opposed in the governor’s Executive Budget proposal.
Amorosi said that for the first time PEF was able to get its cost-benefit language included in those Assembly and Senate budget bills. The bill would force state agencies to take a closer look at doing work in-house before contracting it out to private consultants.
Additionally, both legislative houses, in their design-build negotiations with the governor, are contending the state should require state engineers inspect state projects produced by design-build contractors.
“We generated a ton of letters from PEF members on our budget priorities,” Amorosi said. “We couldn’t have achieved these successes without having all of you behind us.” (For information on the final state budget, see the President’s Message.)
Board member Steve Drake, who is PEF labor-management chair at the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said he worked with PEF staff to call all 180 PEF steward council leaders and assistant council leaders about contacting their state legislators to oppose the governor’s plan to close up to three state correctional facilities with just 90-days prior notice to the unions and the public. Drake said the legislators responded by rejecting the 90-day notice, insisting that DOCCS follow the current requirement of 12 months prior notice.
Spence said he took advantage of an unusual invitation from state Assembly Corrections Committee Chair David Weprin to speak directly to the committee at its meeting, rather than at a public hearing.
Board member Doug Wilburn warned, however, that when DOCCS closed Camp Summit a few years ago, it removed all of the inmates and staff early, except for one caretaker who remained until the requirement was met for one year’s prior notice before “closure.”
Drake said the last time state correctional facilities were closed, only seven state employees across all bargaining units chose to be laid off, rather than take advantage of other state job opportunities they had that might pay less or require longer commutes.
Board member Steve Nawrocki drew the board’s attention to a state proposal that would close the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance’s operation in Chicago in 2022. PEF represents most of the New York state employees who work there.
“It costs the state $5 million a year to operate that office and it brings in $150 million a year in revenues,” Nawrocki said.
Moving forward on L-M concerns
President Spence said he is meeting with state Education Department officials and state Senate and Assembly leaders regarding PEF’s labor-management concerns at the state Education Department and at SUNY. The union, Spence said, may need to enlist the help of members in writing letters to state policymakers regarding these issues that have not been resolved through the labor-management process.
PEF Region 9 Coordinator Diane Jaulus reminded the board that the union represents small groups of nurses who provide student health services at SUNY campuses, as well as the large numbers of nurses working at the three SUNY hospitals.
Board members were asked to support an April 3 protest by PEF Division 191 of discrimination and other issues at the state Office of the Medicaid Inspector General at 90 Church St. in Manhattan. The division also held a protest on this issue in March.
Engaging members, building unions
Blue reported that he met in February with officials from Canadian Public Employees Association who are concerned about a growing anti-union movement there. Blue said the Canadian unionists wanted to talk to him because he is PEF member who has been actively engaging his fellow members about the value of the union.
“They wanted to talk to me because they recognize that union members are the most effective ambassadors to our fellow members,” Blue said.
PEF Associate Director of Field Service Organizing Dan Carpenter reported on work he and DiAntonio and PEF field representative George Fernandez did with a recently merged AFT local in Montana during a one-week member-engagement training blitz there in March. Carpenter also mentioned meeting with Nigerian unionists at a meeting in New York City.
“I saw they have many of the same issues as ours, and it was a great opportunity to hear about how they are tackling those issues,” Carpenter said. “The labor movement is growing stronger across this country and globally.”
DiAntonio said she has been working with PEF departments to break down silos.
She said the Membership Engagement work group is focusing on two main issues – engaging new state employees and orienting them as new PEF members; and continuing to reach long-time members individually to engage them and ask them to sign and return the PEF recommitment cards.
“Please make these cards a priority,” DiAntonio told the board members. “Not only is that contact a great opportunity to talk with members, the cards raise our visibility and credibility with the public and the cards may be valuable with legal issues that could arise in the future.”
“We need to ensure new employees understand the value of union membership, how our dues are spent to serve their needs and how we support each other on the job,” DiAntonio said. “You have the opportunity to be their first friend and best friend on their new job; please reach out to them.”
Federal requirements burdensome
The board voted to approve the continued exploration of possibly handing off to SEIU 1199 the two, small private-sector bargaining units represented by PEF, which are staff at Eastern Niagara Hospital in Lockport, and NDRI staff in New York City.
Spence said the federal laws and regulations for private-sector unions are much more burdensome than those New York imposes on public-sector unions. PEF, he said, will save money and time if it ceases to represent private-sector bargaining units and, therefore, no longer needs to meet the federal requirements.
Spence said PEF’s 46 private-sector members at Eastern Niagara Hospital have expressed a willingness to consider the switch to SEIU 1199. He said NDRI no longer has any grants to support its operations and PEF now has 12 members still working there.
Regional guidance welcomed
PEF Region 3 Coordinator Colleen Williams thanked Wilkie for developing the financial guidelines for regional coordinators.
“I commend you, because when I was elected, I was given a PEF purchase card with little or no guidance,” Williams said. “I’m extremely grateful for this. Now I feel at ease knowing this will be done properly.”
Several regional coordinators said they are worried they might get in trouble if they don’t correctly understand the new guidelines, and Darlene Williams who was recently elected to fill the mid-term vacancy as Region 10 coordinator, asked Wilkie to provide training.
Jaulus said PEF should give the regional coordinators a full day of training on the guidelines. “It needs to be a full day of training just for this, not as part of a regional leadership conference,” she said.
Wilkie said the updated policy is almost entirely new because “a lot of financial controls have never been in place that should have been in place.” She said she sees these new guidelines for regional coordinators to be an initial draft that is now in circulation and she promised, “We’ll come back with more when we have your comments and experience with it.”
Regarding the new policy on the purchase and distribution of giveaway items such as hats, T-shirts, buttons and pins to PEF members, Wilkie recommended that regions and divisions simplify the messages they put on those items so they can be used for more than one event or purpose. The union can save money when it buys in bulk, she said.
“We need to take buying union-made and USA-made items seriously,” Wilkie said. “And for items that cost $20 and up, we need to know who gets them ideally through signed receipts from people receiving them.” When giving a member a gift card, it should be for a store or restaurant, she cautioned. “You may not give cash (or bank) gift cards.”
Board member Joe Donahue moved to amend the policy to eliminate the requirement for written, signed receipts. The motion carried.
Wilkie said PEF’s local divisions are making significant progress in submitting timely financial reports, with approximately 70 percent of them in full compliance or showing strong improvement. She added that she and a team from PEF Divisions Finance and member-engagement staff will attend regional leadership conferences throughout the year to meet with division officers and help them understand what they need to do in terms of financial management and timely reporting.
Travel, meal policy updated
The revised policy for non-convention-related travel, meal and reservations that the board adopted emphasizes that all such expense and reimbursement claims must refer to the specific union business or purpose to which they are related. The claims must be accompanied by written approval from the person, meeting or event that authorized the expense. For full details of the new policy see this updated version includes the new Travel & Meal Reimbursement & Reservation Policies (non-Convention-related) policy.
The website address is http://www.pef.org/about/pef-documents/
The direct link to this file is http://www.pef.org/pef_files/docs/memos/PEFPolicyManual.pdf
Board hails grievance tracking effort
Board members were excited and enthusiastic about the progress report on PEF’s efforts to create a computer program to track contract grievances and make that data easily accessible. The computer program is being developed by the PEF Membership Information Services Department under the leadership of PEF Chief of Staff Chris Leo and in collaboration with the union’s Field Services Organizing, Membership Information Services, and Contract Administration departments and a vendor, Union Built PC.
As PEF slowly expands its efforts they will be analyzed to take cybersecurity and confidentiality concerns into consideration.
“This is one of the most impressive and progressive things we’ve ever done,” said PEF board member Jeanette Clark. “This is one of the most important data gathering opportunities we have.”
Spence credited Vice President Adreina Adams for launching the effort by making it her course project during her studies at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
Good civil service news
Board member Aseem Kumar announced the union was successful in getting a group of nearly 25 engineering geologists (pay grade 15) at two state agencies promoted to the grade 18 title of geologist trainee. That promotion provides them an annual pay raise of $8,577. The efforts of Wilkie and PEF Assistant Director of Civil Service Scott DeFruscio were hailed as key to PEF’s success in moving the promotions forward.