Executive Board adopts 2017-18 PEF Budget
Story and photos by SHERRY HALBROOK
Members of the PEF Executive Board adopted the union’s budget for 2017-18 when they met March 8 and 9 in Albany.
Although faced with a lengthy agenda, the board members made time to take a bus to Rensselaer to participate in a division protest at the state Office of Children and Family Services worksite.
Members of the PEF Veterans Committee, who also serve on the Executive Board, distributed red roses and carnations to female board members and staff at the meeting on International Women’s Day.
And on the evening of March 8 board members attended a dinner meeting to learn about attacks on labor in many states and in Washington and also about the union’s member engagement blitz that was set to begin March 12 in Region 8.
In his report, PEF Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Hintz said the union experienced “a perfect storm” of unusual financial circumstances in November and December that led to a situation in January where the payment of retroactive raises to staff created a sudden shortfall of cash.
“We depleted our cash and had no way to meet payroll,” Hintz said. “So, we moved money (temporarily) from the PEF Fightback Fund into the general fund.”
Looking forward, Hintz said the union should either cut its expenses or save more. He said there is a good chance PEF could lose the ability to assess fees in lieu of dues on the non-members it is legally required to represent. That could happen in 2018 or sooner, he said.
Seeing that danger, which could affect all public–employee unions, Hintz said PEF’s two parent international unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have already begun to take strong steps to economize. SEIU, he said, cut its spending by 10 percent last year and by another 30 percent for this year. And AFT raised its monthly dues by 25 cents per member.
PEF, Hintz said, is taking smaller steps, such as consolidating its Region 10 and 11 field offices in New York City. And, in fact, his budget proposal to the board would fund two new law clerk positions in PEF’s Office of General Counsel, and two intern positions: one for Field Services and one for the Communications Department, (formerly Public Relations).
Hintz reported on increased PEF expenses for members who take leave from their jobs to work for PEF, serve as elected officers or attend board meetings and other functions. Annual convention expenses have also been increasing, and are now at $1 million.
Vice President Adreina Adams, who chaired PEF’s 2016 convention, said PEF’s budget allocation for the committee is “really low and doesn’t allow for enough meetings to properly plan the convention.”
Hintz said, “This year we raised it from $5,000 to $8,000.” However, he added,“Last year, it cost just over $1,200 for each delegate to attend convention and this year (the projected average cost) “is $1,322. Maybe, it’s time we don’t wine and dine every delegate every night.”
PEF President Wayne Spence said he has asked former Vice President Joe Fox, who chaired the PEF conventions for many years and is now retired, “to assist us in coming up with cost-effective ways” to conduct the convention.
Hintz and the board also discussed PEF’s headquarters in Latham that was built in 1987 and opened in January 1988. The building’s equipment, such as HVAC, is “beyond its useful life,” and PEF has not had a building or facilities manager for several years.
“We need to take a slow and calculated approach to the future of our building,” Hintz said. “I think our resources are better spent on our members.”
In response to a board member’s question, PEF Finance Director Valerie O’Dell said the union raised the health insurance premiums by 45 percent this year that it charges to retired staff members. “We are trying to move retired staff to Medicare plans and off of the Blue Shield plan for current employees.” O’Dell said.
And in response to a related question about what else PEF is doing “to control this cost,” Hintz said, “We either have to save more or reduce the commitment.”
The board also discussed a sharp rise last year in complaints filed with the PEF Ethics Committee that require the committee’s members to meet and hear the complaints and defense. Once the committee rules, the losing side may appeal that decision to the Executive Board, which may choose to hear the appeal and then authorize a hearing panel to review the committee’s decision. The hearing panel, then, also must meet to review the evidence and issue a ruling. That ruling also may be appealed back to the board again, which may or may not choose to hear it.
The Ethics Committee chair said it dealt with 20 cases in 2016, compared to just six in 2015. Now, another eight or nine new ones are already before the committee in 2017, but most of these were filed by the same person. He said the workload is monopolizing the time of a PEF staff member who has other duties.
A board member proposed adding a part-time position to handle the committee appeals workload and also a managerial position to handle facilities matters at all of PEF’s 14 (soon to be 13) offices statewide. The member moved to delete the position of director of organizing (temporarily being done by an AFT staffer on loan to PEF) and split that money to pay for the two new positions.
In fact, the board’s debate on the 2017-18 budget was interrupted by its commitment to hear an appeal of an Ethics Committee decision at 10 a.m. March 9. The board had declined to hear two other appeals, one of a decision by the PEF Divisions Committee and the other of a decision by the PEF Special Elections Committee. An Ethics Committee appeal in yet a different matter was withdrawn by the maker of that appeal.
The board paused in its budget deliberations to hear Ethics Appeal ERC #2016-003 Caraway v. Street. This matter dealt with a dispute between PEF Region 9 member Michelle Caraway and PEF Region 9 Coordinator Vivian Street who both work at Hudson Valley Developmental Disabilities Services Office. The dispute arose out of Caraway’s requests for a union sweatshirt and Street’s complaint to management that she felt harassed by Caraway. The Ethics Committee ruled against Street and the hearing panel upheld the committee. However, the board voted 47-40 to overturn the decision of the hearing panel.
When a board member complained that she felt belittled by a post by the Ethics Committee chair on an unofficial PEF-related Facebook page, the chair said, “I resign as Ethics chair.” His resignation was accepted by Spence.
When the board returned to debating the budget, it voted to table the motion to create the facilities manager until its June meeting. It then debated and voted to add to the 2017-18 budget a temporary part-time position to handle the Ethics Committee appeals work.
The board approved a motion by a board member to take $47,000 out of the allocation for advertising to fund a campaign to fight service reductions at Hutchings Psychiatric Center in Syracuse. The board also approved a motion to take the remaining $7,000 in the advertising line and add it to the convention funding to pay for the union leave used by an estimated five members working on planning or at the convention. The board also approved a motion to reimburse a PEF labor-management committee chair who was forced to use his accrued leave to testify for PEF at a civil service hearing.
The board approved the 2017-18 PEF Budget as amended. The budget totals $26.9 million. The board heard a report of PEF’s internal auditor in closed session.
In an unrelated matter, the board voted to approve the secession of 12 members of PEF Division 302 at the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and their annexation by PEF Division 204 at the state Department of Criminal Justice Services and the State Police.