Lawmakers pass cost-benefit bill; Cuomo helps nurses, health care workers
By SHERRY HALBROOK
For PEF, June 2018 was both “the best of times and the worst of times,” to use Charles Dickens’ opening line in “A Tale of Two Cities.”
Scoring top legislative goal
It was the best of times because PEF’s long, hard haul to get its Cost-Benefit Analysis legislation approved in both houses of the state Legislature finally prevailed, and now it will be up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the bill that would require state agencies to take an honest look at whether letting state workers do state work would cost less and make more sense before handing it off to private contractors.
“I would like to thank every PEF leader that helped in our legislative engagement and anti-privatization campaigns and also those that encouraged members to write legislative letters, make phone calls and office visits,” said PEF President Wayne Spence. “We give special thanks to Assemblyman Harry Bronson and state Sen. Joe Robach who sponsored this legislation that is so important for state taxpayers and who have fought tirelessly alongside PEF’s staff and members for this amazing victory.”
State leaders value workers
No friends are so dear as the ones who step up to help you when the chips are down. And those friends of PEF have been stepping up.
They made this spring the best of times because Cuomo and the Legislature came forward to protect the voice and bargaining power of state and other public employees in New York state as the threat of a negative U.S. Supreme Court decision loomed.
Cuomo and the lawmakers amended state law to make it clear that members who pay union dues will receive certain benefits and services, and the unions — while they serve the interests of all workers in the bargaining units they represent — cannot be forced to provide full benefits of membership to those who do not pay for them.
In addition, the legislation strengthens unions by requiring public employers including state agencies to:
• Notify the relevant union within 30 days of a new employee being hired, rehired or promoted into a bargaining unit represented by that union;
• Provide the new employee’s name, address, and work location to the union; and
• Permit union representatives to meet with new employees within 30 days, for a reasonable amount of time, and without charge to leave credits.
The legislation also supports unions by:
• Ensuring union membership is maintained so workers’ benefits are protected if they take leave;
• Enabling unions to send dues deductions to employers electronically, which makes it easier and faster for unions to receive dues; and
• Requiring dues to be reinstated automatically if a union-member employee leaves service, but is reinstated to a position with the same employer and covered by the same bargaining unit within one year.
In announcing that he had signed this legislation, Cuomo said, “We will do everything in our power to protect the right to achieve the American Dream.”
The governor also acted to slam the door on the billionaires behind Janus who are paying for groups to call and visit union members at their homes to persuade the members to abandon their union. Citing the potential threat of harassment and intimidation from anti-union groups, Cuomo ordered state agencies to protect their employees’ addresses and other personal contact information and keep them confidential.
Cuomo supports safe staffing
At PEF’s urging Gov. Cuomo also moved June 22 to help lift the heavy burdens carried by PEF nurses and other health care professionals. Noting that “legislative solutions have not been forthcoming,” Cuomo said he recognizes that “quality of care is directly linked to appropriate staffing levels” and he promised to introduce legislation in the next session, which begins in January 2019, allowing the state Health Department to set safe staffing levels by regulation.
In the meantime, Cuomo said he has directed the state Labor Department to “vigorously enforce workforce protections. Reports of nurses being forced to work through their lunch breaks, additional hours and without fair compensation, are not only unwise, as it diminishes the quality of care, but they violate state law, which will result in penalty-pay to each nurse, which I am directing the DOL to aggressively pursue.”
Worst of times? No
So, while the enemies of labor meant this to be the worst of times when SCOTUS issued its anti-worker Janus decision in late June, PEF has made it the best of times.
Meant to be a death blow to unions and workers’ political and workplace power by forcing them to let non-members in their bargaining units receive their services without paying for them, the unions saw the Janus danger coming, locked arms and were prepared for it.
“As long as PEF members value what they have and will achieve through this union, no challenge or roadblock the billionaires throw at us can stop us. Our unity can overcome every obstacle,” Spence said.
The union leader cited several more of the many achievements PEF and its members have made this year, including efforts to prevent erosion and circumvention of the state Civil Service merit system.
PEF was able to:
• Stop term appointments at the state Office of Information Technology Systems;
• Stop the hiring for non-competitive and exempt positions included in the Title Modernization Initiative at the state Department of Financial Services;
• Get DFS to establish a workgroup of DFS management and PEF leaders to evaluate the administration of exams, opportunities for continuing education, and communication with DFS employees about the Title Modernization Initiative;
• Make union dues deductible on your New York state income taxes;
• Stop the expansion of design-build; and
• Protect state services in the 2018-19 NYS budget;
• For the first time ever, get Civil Service agreement to hold quarterly Executive Labor-Management meetings with PEF leaders to discuss timely promotion exams, a fair process for scoring exams, and selective certification safeguards that include justifying any profile changes; and
• All PEF members are now entitled to sign up for the “Civil Service Institute,” in-person and online classes designed to help you fully understand the civil service system and how mobility opportunities work.
“Sign your new PEF membership card and put your skates on,” Spence told members. “This union is on a roll.”