Executive Board Report: June 13, 14, 2017
PEF prepares for coming challenges
By SHERRY HALBROOK
Members of the PEF Executive Board shouted and applauded when they adjourned their two-day quarterly meeting June 14 in Albany. They were celebrating because they managed to get all the way through an agenda that began with more than 50 items of business.
And while some additional matters were added during the meeting, and some others were withdrawn, tabled, referred to committees or ruled out-of- order, the board took pride in completing its work on time.
Hearing state AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento describe the statewide fight that group is waging to defeat a public referendum in November on whether a New York State Constitutional Convention should be held in 2019 was not on the PEF board’s agenda. However, PEF President Wayne Spence made time for Cilento’s address during his report to the board. PEF and the AFL-CIO see a constitutional convention as an uncontrollably large and needless expense to state taxpayers that could do boundless harm to current legal protections such those that ensure public employees’ pensions may not be diminished after they retire.
Cilento told the board, “We must educate our members and be supportive of this effort in every way we can. If we fail (to defeat the ballot proposal this year), we’ll spend the next three years playing defense.”
Spence said that last year the AFL-CIO had asked PEF for a donation of $50,000 for the campaign, but PEF only contributed $10,000. This time, Spence asked the board to approve a $100,000 contribution drawn from the union’s contingency fund. The board approved it.
Key committees named
Spence appointed a committee to plan and conduct the 2018 PEF Triennial Elections of all statewide officers and trustees, all regional coordinators and all members of the PEF Executive Board. PEF Retirees Albany Chapter President Karen Danish will chair the committee, which also includes: John Ingram, Region 1; Andrew George, Region 2; Julie Hutchins, Region 3; Colleen Shoemaker, Region 4; Jennifer Landers, Region 5; Christopher Lanz, Region 6; Stephanie Champagne, Region 7; William Moonan, Region 8; Anne Friedman, Region 9; Acting Region 11 Coordinator Charles Roland (for Regions 10 and 11); and Darwish Heba, Region 12.
Spence also appointed a PEF Finance Compliance Committee to address issues raised by the PEF auditor and by the PEF trustees. The committee includes PEF member Maryellen Hoffman, PEF Retiree member Pat Spath, PEF Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Hintz, the three PEF trustees (Maureen Kellman, Sarah Lauser and Maddie Shannon-Roberts), PEF Finance Director Valerie O’Dell and PEF Auditor Monica Drumm.
PEF Region 12 Coordinator Nora Higgins, who co-chairs the PEF Nurses Committee, said it is trying to get a nurses committee established in each PEF region and would like to have a representative from each of those regional committees on the statewide nurses committee.
Preparing for convention
The board debated, amended and ultimately approved the agenda, rules of order and expense voucher for the PEF convention to be held in October in Lake Placid.
The board voted to approve changing the job titles of three PEF organizers in Albany and Rochester to field representatives. Spence said he is making the change based on advice he received from PEF’s international affiliate the American Federation of Teachers and labor leaders in states that have attacked unions with “right-to-work” laws and other encroachments on collective bargaining rights. Both AFT and PEF’s other international affiliate, the Service Employees International Union, will provide training to PEF staff affected by this combining of job titles and duties.
“Everybody must be involved with member engagement and internal organizing,” Spence said. “It can’t be just the field reps and it would never work with just the organizers.”
In addition, the board approved Spence’s proposal to change the title of director of organizing (a currently unfilled staff position) to assistant director of statewide field services /organizing, and it approved his proposal to create a position and title of statewide facilities manager.
Spence further announced, “Based on the PEF Nurses Committee’s recommendation I’m going to hire a registered nurse to fill the nurse coordinator position as required by a 1988 convention resolution.” That position is currently vacant, and Spence said he feels the person he hires should be a nurse with experience in nursing. PEF Region 12 Coordinator Nora Higgins, who co-chairs the PEF Nurses Committee, said the new nurse coordinator could be based in Albany or in New York City.
PEF Region 8 Coordinator Michael Blue reported that approximately 4,900 PEF members in that region completed and submitted surveys connected to the PEF membership engagement blitz conducted earlier this year, and 1,175 members signed cards committing to maintain their membership in the union even if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that unions do not have the right to collect fees in lieu of dues from employees they represent, but who choose not to be members of the union. Blue added that 7 such employees in Region 8 who were feepayers decided to become PEF members when they were contacted during the blitz. An additional 53 members in Region 8 authorized bi-weekly contributions to the Committee on Political Education (COPE).
Blue said it is very important to continue to “try to talk one-on-one to members. Nothing substitutes for that. Everything we’ve gained could be lost if we fail to stitch together a network of members to mobilize and respond to issues. We have one member to mobilize 50 members. We need to do one mobilizer for every 10 members, like our old member-mobilizer model.”
Headed your way
Spence said he is beginning a 13-week tour of the state this summer to hold one or two meetings in each of PEF’s 12 regions throughout New York and also with a group of members who work for the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance in Chicago. Those meetings will focus on: privatization; civil service and the erosion of state merit and fitness hiring and promotion standards; and the importance of defeating a state constitutional convention.
Spence said PEF has prepared a comprehensive report, commonly referred to as white paper, on civil service erosion as a way to address this very serious problem. “The state Department of Civil Service has about one-third of its previous staffing. We will ask legislators to join us in our campaign and to hold legislative hearings.”
The president said the PEF Hispanic Committee rented a float for the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City.
“It can be adapted. We can use it again (to spotlight) our campaigns,” Spence said. “We can draw the money for the rental from the PEF Privatization Committee funding.” He added that PEF could use it in New York City for the West Indian Day Parade, the African American Parade, the Labor Parade, and even the LGBTQ Parade and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“We need to be out there (in the public eye) as we get closer and closer to (the vote on) Con Con.”
Spence reported that hundreds of members brought their families and friends to the Family Fun Day in May at the Bronx Zoo, and he reminded board members that more family fun days will be held by the PEF Membership Benefits Program (MBP) this summer in Elmira, Buffalo, Rochester and on Long Island.
In addition, Spence announced the MBP will consolidate its offices including PEF Travel this summer at a new location in Latham at 10 Airline Drive near the Albany International Airport. He said, “PEF will now have a state-of-the-art conference and training room for things such as our very popular drivers education program. Having all of Membership Benefits staff in one location will now make it easier to purchase tickets and take advantage of our robust Membership Benefits Program.”
The president also announced the coming open house for the new combined office for PEF Regions 10 and 11 at 100 William St. in Manhattan.That event will be held Friday, July 14, at lunchtime.
Saving PEF money
PEF Executive Director Todd Kerner reported PEF has taken steps to more efficiently provide health insurance to PEF active staff and its retirees. In furtherance of that, PEF has contracted with a new third-party administrator to update the premium equivalents for the PEF staff health insurance plan (these rates are used for employees on COBRA coverage as well as for PEF staff retirees).
The rates had not been adjusted since 2012. Since the premiums now accurately reflect the cost of the benefits. Kerner said PEF will not only realize savings from eliminating the subsidy PEF was paying for these benefits, but also the change would favorably affect the overall valuation of the unfunded liability for PEF’s retiree health insurance.
A full report to the board on the effect on the unfunded liability is expected later this summer.
According to the quarterly financial report by PEF Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Hintz, PEF ended its 2016-17 fiscal year March 31 with an unaudited net income balance of $1,070,889. The PEF audit is underway and the audited figures may be available in time for the board’s next quarterly meeting, which is scheduled for August.
Over the 2016-17 fiscal year, PEF added 763 members and reduced the number of its feepayers by 666.
Hintz urged the officers of PEF divisions that are overspending their budgetary allotments to call his office or the PEF Finance Department for help.
“We’ll give you as much help as we can,” Hintz said.
The board approved taking $30,000 from the PEF contingency fund to support the continuing fight against state plans to close Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center. A board member asked the secretary-treasurer to provide quarterly reports on how the money is being used.
In response to an inquiry from a board member at a previous meeting, Hintz reported it costs PEF approximately $250 for paper copies of documents for the quarterly board meetings. Many documents for the meetings are emailed to board members in advance.
The board voted to approve reimbursing a PEF member $300.05 for time he spent on PEF business and was forced to charge to his personal leave accruals because it was not approved by the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations for organizational leave.
The board voted to return to PEF Division 235 the money being recovered from the division’s former council leader, except that PEF and the division will split the cost of using a collection agency.
PEF purchase cards
A board member questioned Hintz about why two of the three PEF vice presidents and the trustees were allowed to have PEF purchase cards when PEF policy does not authorize them to have the cards. Hintz said the two vice presidents were continuing to use the same cards they were authorized to use when they were regional coordinators (prior to election as vice presidents). No PEF vice president ever had a P card prior to Hintz’s approval.
The PEF finance director said the vice presidents have not had PEF purchase cards since February 2016.
Spence said he was not aware the vice presidents had the cards. “I had no knowledge, so I could not have approved it.” He said he stopped the practice as soon as he learned of it.
The board member asked what spending limits are imposed on those cards and who set those limits. Hintz said he and the PEF finance director originally set limits of $500 on the purchase cards but found it was not enough to satisfy the requirements of hotels that require a larger line of available credit when accepting bookings and at check in. When rooms are reserved, the hotels put a hold on the funds to cover the bookings and that was leaving the cards short of enough credit to cover other travel expenses. Hintz said PEF found it necessary to increase the limit to $2,000. Hintz said cards usually expire at the end of a calendar year, but a board member recommended PEF close the line of credit when the card holder’s term of PEF office ends.
“That’s a good suggestion,” Hintz said. And when a different board member urged him to keep a tighter grip on PEF’s purse strings, Hintz replied, “I will.” He later added, however, there is no PEF policy specifically allowing PEF staff or regional coordinators to have PEF purchase cards, but some of them do have the cards in order to conduct the union’s business efficiently.
Board members also had questions about how much PEF covers of charges for use of cell phones for PEF business. Hintz said the limit for most PEF staff is $50 per month, but the overall average for all use is about $62 to $63 per phone.
A board member called on PEF to follow all of its policies and not pick and choose which ones to follow and which ones to ignore.
“We need to be consistent and we need to have a certain amount of reasonableness,” Hintz said. “We’ll have to change (some) policies.”
The board voted to re-evaluate at its August meeting the policy on the use of PEF P cards.
The board approved changes to financial audit forms for divisions that use the PEF P cards, and for the forms used by divisions that use checks.
A board member reported PEF has two different and conflicting policies on whether members serving as a regional coordinator may also serve as an officer of a PEF division. The chair of the PEF Constitution and Bylaws Committee said the committee could review those conflicting policies.
Higgins asked what PEF can do to enforce the requirement that divisions’ steward councils meet at least six times annually and that labor-management committees meet quarterly.
“We’re not adhering to these rules,” Higgins said.
“If we are informed of non-compliance, we will enforce our contract (which covers labor-management meetings). If we don’t have those meetings, we are not serving our members,” Spence said.
A board member reported that PEF members working at state Office of Mental Health satellite facilities at the state Department of Corrections and Community Services are too afraid of management retaliation to report numerous health and safety violations at their worksites. The board member asked if these facility-level issues could be brought to the agency’s statewide labor-management meetings.
The PEF chair of the OMH L-M Committee said a PEF board member from OMH has already brought the issues to that committee “and we are trying to work through them. But we need to change our bylaws to address (this) issue. We have no easy fix for it.”
The co-chair of PEF’s Health and Safety Committee said the board member who raised the issue was invited to attend the Health and Safety Committee’s meeting in June.
Spence said PEF will file a grievance “and do whatever we can” to address the problem.
Waste of money
Spence said he is hearing from members whose state agencies are artificially increasing health care costs by requiring their employees to keep going back to their doctors for signed statements verifying that the members are too ill to return to work. Spence alluded to the requirement as a vicious circle that results in raising health care costs.
“We’re thinking about seeking an injunction,” he said. Even if the legal effort was unsuccessful, it would create an opportunity to inform the public about this wasteful behavior by state managers and agencies, he noted.
Higgins suggested the state agencies might accept a statement from the Empire Plan Nurse Hotline, and Spence directed the director of Contract Administration to discuss that with the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations.
New steward manuals
When a board member asked PEF to update its steward manuals, he was informed that effort is nearly complete and a new emphasis on the importance of member engagement is being added to the manuals.
“We’ll try to get them out to the PEF (regional) offices in the next 60 days,” said PEF Director of Field Services Michael Farrell.
The board approved changes made by PEF Division 179 to its constitution and bylaws.