Discrimination, civil service issues dominate PEF board concerns
Photos and story by SHERRY HALBROOK
PEF’s constant efforts to reach out to its members, inform them, listen to them and involve them in the union are working well, according to several reports provided to members of the PEF Executive Board at its quarterly meeting in Albany held May 23 and 24.
A nationally coordinated and funded effort to destroy public employee unions has been trying to get members to leave and PEF expects another wave of attacks to hit soon.
Jane Briggs, PEF’s director of communications, showed the Executive Board members a new 30-second digital ad PEF and other unions created to counter those attacks. The ad is designed to appear on YouTube, Facebook and other social media.
“It just ran a few weeks, will run again in June and then again in September,” Briggs said. The ad run by PEF was viewed 39,266 times, and the total for all of the participating unions so far is 782,454.
PEF ended March of this year with 52,359 dues-paying members compared to 51,882 on April 30, 2018, which was shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that forced public-sector unions to represent “free riders” — employees in their bargaining units who refuse to join the union and pay dues.
PEF Vice President Randi DiAntonio told the board that these strong membership numbers give the union clout both in contract negotiations and with state legislators and the governor.
“The governor is looking at these pictures of members supporting the PEF contract team, and he’s noticing that PEF members care,” DiAntonio said.
She credited members for supporting many local activities that PEF has been involved with in recent months.
“You put it in action, whether it was Easter baskets, Buffalo Kids Day, Tony Otto (a New Yorker with disabilities whose state services are threatened) or the new Upstate Black Caucus,” DiAntonio said. “We’ve held rallies. Our members are standing together, showing our unity and our power on Nurses Lobby Day, at steward trainings, regional leadership conferences, labor-management meetings and health and safety. We are building up our local PEF divisions around the state. This is work that’s all being done by you. When we reach out to divisions that need new elections, we find people are actively ready and willing to step up and do the work. That’s so important when issues boil over, because you need local leaders to represent you.”
PEF is working especially hard to reach out to new employees and tell them about the union and their role in it. “We jumped from enrolling 75 percent of new state employees in March to 80 percent in May,” she said.
Meanwhile, DiAntonio said the union has been updating its steward training to focus more on how to involve new members.
PEF Secretary-Treasurer Kay Alison Wilkie asked how many new division officers are being elected.
PEF Assistant Director of Field Service Organizing Dan Carpenter said, “Ninety percent of the meetings we hold (with divisions that have vacant offices to fill) result in the election of division officers.”
“You are our boots on the ground,” DiAntonio told the board members. “We want to hear from you about issues and the initiatives you want.”
“The state’s program and service cuts are hurting New Yorkers, such as Tony Otto. We need your help identifying these people and showing the public who is being hurt and how,” Carpenter said.
“You may even have a loved one who is experiencing this,” DiAntonio added.
PEF President Wayne Spence reported on his recent activities with PEF’s two international affiliate unions: the American Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union. Spence is a vice president of AFT and serves on its executive board as well as on the SEIU executive board.
Spence introduced two staff members from AFT and SEIU who are assigned to work closely with PEF. They are Chris Runge from AFT, who has become familiar to many PEF members, and Cathy Sarri from SEIU.
Spence praised PEF members who are attorneys and who used their leave accruals to volunteer and travel to Georgia last November, in conjunction with the international unions, to help residents document and respond to voter suppression efforts on election day.
SEIU’s board, he said, focused at its January meeting on the needs of families and communities. And in February, the AFT board took up human rights issues, economic and racial justice and the need for greater funding of public education.
Spence said his work with the international unions took him to Miami where he visited Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. His visit was on the day before the first anniversary of the tragic shootings there and Spence said some teachers told him they are still too traumatized to come to work on that anniversary. Florida’s response, he said, has been to pass a law allowing teachers to bring guns to school.
PEF is also active with Public Service International (PSI), which brings leaders and members of public employee unions in the US in touch with those from other countries. Privatization is an issue of concern to many of these unions including those from Canada. Spence said a meeting with unions in Argentina is coming up, and Runge said privatization of prisons in Brazil will be an issue. These travels and expenses are all paid by AFT, not by PEF.
Discrimination at work is a problem at many PEF worksites, Spence said, and he said the issue was among those that prompted a protest in February at the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General in Manhattan.
To respond, Spence said he has hired a consultant, Eric Josey, to conduct training on how to identify, document and file charges of illegal employment discrimination. A training was held last year in Manhattan and recently trainings were held in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany. Many PEF field representatives have attended these trainings, but Spence said he will have Josey provide additional training for field staff that is tailored specifically to help them help PEF members who are experiencing employment discrimination. In addition, Spence said the union will offer a workshop on discrimination at the PEF convention.
“They have so many problems at OMIG, we are going to take a Saturday to meet with our members at OMIG on this and Eric Josey will be there,” Spence said.
A board member commented that his agency has a strategy for promoting their favorites even if racial minorities or immigrants have higher civil service exam scores. “They promote us off the eligible list and then see to it that we fail our probation so they can demote us. They keep doing that until they can reach the person on the list that they want.”
Another board member told of a member at his agency who was an immigrant with a PhD who has been passed over for promotion every time even though he has had the highest exam score for the past 10 years.
A board member said nepotism is a problem at his worksite and has contributed to his being locked in the same job title for 12 years. “They write and rewrite job descriptions to tailor them to the person they want to hire.”
Still another board member said employees where he works, who have higher exam scores, are asked by their managers to say they aren’t available when they are offered promotions.
“They are discriminating against females and minorities. The hiring and promotions don’t reflect our population,” said board member Ade Oluwo who represents members at the state Department of Financial Services.
“We feel your pain,” said board member Ken Ferro. “It’s going on everywhere. We need to do something new to fight it differently.”
Ved Shravah said, “In my office, eight minority employees were forced out in six months.”
“We need more documentation,” DeSilva said. “If you can’t prove it, you won’t win it.”
“Let’s not just start filing these charges, let’s start winning!” Spence said.
Discrimination based on age is an issue troubling nurses at SUNY Stony Brook Medical Center, Spence said. PEF held a protest there May 2, that AFT President Randi Weingarten attended. That event was meant to draw attention to a lawsuit PEF has filed that charges the medical center with discriminating against its senior nurses by offering them a substantially lower ($5,000 less) geographic pay incentive than nurses who are recently hired and typically younger.
The incentive is meant to help boost recruitment and retention of nurses, because the regular pay is not competitive in the Long Island labor market. Spence said that members told him they are so understaffed they can’t get time to eat or even go to the bathroom. As a result, some of them have resorted to wearing “Depends.”
In contrast to the members reporting discrimination, board member Danielle Bridger, who represents members at the state Department of Audit and Control, said that agency has launched an initiative to help its employees feel good at work. She also said employees there are being surveyed to find out if they feel they have been unfairly passed over for promotions.
DeSilva reported on progress being made through the joint labor-management process established in the PEF contract.
“The labor-management process is extremely important,” DeSilva said. “Share the information from your L-M meetings with your members. We find erosion of civil service is our members’ number one issue, followed by telecommuting, parking and other issues. Please discuss them at your labor-management meetings. Our members need to see the minutes from those meetings.”
Oluwo raised the issue of management disrespecting the union.
“There are a lot of holes in Contract Article 24 (which establishes the labor-management process). We have penalties, but none are for management,” Oluwo said. “They totally ignore our concerns. We need to bring this to the Executive Labor-Management Committee.”
“We will, but we need specifics,” Spence said. “You can force them to meet with you, but you can’t force them to work with you.”
PEF Contract Team Chair Darlene Williams said the contract team expects to take up Article 24 at the June 24 bargaining session.
Spence reported meetings are being held with members at both Livingston and Lincoln correctional facilities, which the state has announced it will close by September.
The president said 55 members at Livingston and eight members at Lincoln will be affected and they are being informed of their seniority and “bumping” rights to certain positions at other state prisons. Members at Livingston can bump into positions at Groveland CF, which is also in Livingston County. Members at Lincoln, which is in Manhattan, can bump into positions at Edgecomb CF, which is also in Manhattan. The state has said it will provide job options for the employees if they choose to take them.
The board was told that PEF’s new digital system for tracking contract grievances is moving steadily forward with the initial emphasis on getting information about current grievances into the system and tracking them as they move forward. PEF operates 12 regional field offices and the system will need to be brought into each office.
Kate Vorwald, PEF’s director of field services for regions 7-9, said the union has 10 field representatives for the 24,000 PEF members in those three regions. In addition to representing members with grievances or who are being disciplined, the field staff are also tasked to help with organizing.
“We want to increase our capacity for organizing,” Vorwald said. “We will hold steward training June 20 in Region 8. Please encourage your field representatives to attend. Make sure your members know who their stewards are, and we need to know where those stewards actually work.”
It’s harder to organize members, she said, when you aren’t certain at which worksite a steward is located, and which worksites have no steward on site.
PEF Constitution and Bylaws
After lengthy debate, the board voted to approve a proposed amendment to the PEF Constitution and Bylaws that provides for appointment of an interim secretary-treasurer if that office becomes vacant before the end of the three-year term. The ammendment, was proposed by the PEF Constitution and Bylaws Committee because the constitution currently does not include a succession policy for the position of secretary-treasurer.
The amendment must be taken up again by the board at its August meeting. If it is also passed at that meeting, then it will go the PEF Convention in September where it will be up for approval by the delegates.
Specifically, the proposed amendment calls for the PEF president to appoint one of the three PEF vice presidents to assume the additional duties of the secretary-treasurer until the vacancy can be filled by a special election. PEF holds quarterly special elections to fill any mid-term vacancies that occur on the Executive Board, the statewide officers, trustees, and regional coordinators. The amendment provides that the Executive Board shall review and approve the interim appointment if the board meets before a special election can be held.
In addition to the proposed amendment to the PEF Constitution and Bylaws, the board also debated and approved two new policies.
The first policy calls for the secretary-treasurer to post on the PEF website the complete text of any referenda, as well as its rationale, fiscal impact, its author/s and staff comments at least 30 days before the referenda is mailed to the PEF members for voting.
The second policy, which also was approved by the board, requires PEF to provide “in a timely manner” (at least 30 days before the apportionment is to be discussed at the PEF convention) the necessary information for the triennial reapportionment of Executive Board seats. Furthermore, PEF is to post this information on the delegates-only section of the PEF website. The information must include the number of seats and if that number has changed since the last triennial apportionment, and the current alignment of divisions represented by each seat, as well as the number of members in each division.
2019 PEF Convention
Tom Comanzo, who chairs the PEF (2019 Convention) Delegate Committee, reported that it met May 22 to review the nominating petitions submitted and found 616 petitions were received out of a potential 1,069 delegate positions available. Eight petitions were ruled invalid, leaving 608 valid petitioners. Of those, 498 delegates were seated by the committee with a potential for 83 more delegates to be added after elections are held for contested seats and those ballots are counted.
“We will have a starting count of roughly 715 delegates for this year’s convention once the PEF Executive Board members, who are automatically delegates, are added to the database,” Comanzo said.
Ballots for the contested elections were to be mailed May 31 and must be returned by June 21 for counting June 26. Candidates will be sent letters July 1 with the results of their elections, and the election results will be immediately posted to the PEF website when ballot counting concludes.
The board also approved the agenda for the convention, which will be held September 15-18 in Albany, as well as the convention rules and voucher.
PEF finances, policies
Wilkie reported on the union’s finances and answered board members’ questions about them.
She said the union ended its 2018-19 fiscal year March 31 with an unaudited balance of approximately $1.8 million. She attributed that to PEF’s decision in 2018 to budget austerely in case the union lost significant income after the expected Supreme Court decision allowing public employees to benefit from union representation without paying for it.
The apparent net income at the end of the fiscal year may give PEF a one-time opportunity to address previously overlooked infrastructure needs such as building repairs and upgrades to its information technology system.
She said the first phase will involve upgrading hardware systems and next will be improvements to email services. In addition, PEF is preparing to install a card-entry system for its offices in coming weeks.
These improvements will help PEF better communicate with its members, Wilkie said. “That’s what our budget is for: to support our strategic goals and help our divisions.”
Meanwhile, PEF has been working to keep more detailed and accurate financial and membership records.
In just a few months, “We’ve turned around many of our divisions. Seventy-three percent are in good standing now. That’s because of hard work in the trenches,” she said.
Wilkie said she and PEF staff are gathering information on best practices that they can share with PEF regions and divisions. They are also working on improving record-retention policies, reducing unnecessary storage, and looking for ways to save money at all levels.
Wilkie also announced that PEF is preparing to open an “E-Store” where members, divisions and regions will be able to order customized PEF gear online, which will be limited to a few items at first. However, bulk orders by divisions and regions should still be coordinated with the PEF Communications Department to ensure best pricing and union/USA suppliers, per policy.
The board accepted her report and approved the new policies she presented on record retention, fixed assets and capital purchases, and revised rules for the formation of divisions and their financial management regarding equipment inventories.
Committee on Political Education
The board received a report from Joe Fox and Don Morgenstern on PEF’s strenuous efforts with the assistance of its international affiliates to help members understand how the federal budget, federal laws and regulations all affect their state jobs and services, but federal law does not allow their dues to be used to support candidates and campaigns for federal offices, such as the president and members of Congress.
The law allows the unions to use only voluntary contributions from members for these federal campaigns. These contributions are to the Committee on Political Education (COPE). Spence and others told the board that PEF’s level of contributions is very low compared to members of many other unions.
Spence said he was shocked to find guards at airports, some of whom earn so little that they are homeless and live out of their cars, still have $10 donations to their COPE fund deducted from their paychecks because they understand how important this activism is.
Board members were strongly encouraged to donate to COPE and to help their members understand why it is so important.
In addition to their previous discussion of civil service issues, Oluwo brought up concerns about job titles and civil service changes from 2018 that affect members at the state Department of Financial Services. The agency was created a few years ago and combines both state banking and insurance services and regulators, which used to be two separate agencies.
Members working there now are seeing their job titles changed and they are being expected to do work that involves both state banking and state insurance laws regulations. If they were insurance examiners or banking examiners, now they are just called financial service examiners. These are two very different responsibilities that each require very specialized knowledge, but they are being conflated.
Spence said he got DFS to stop hiring for four months to allow a workgroup to analyze the problem and propose remedies. Unfortunately, the workgroup did not produce an answer.
DiAntonio said PEF has put a civil service complaint form on its website for members to use in reporting abuses to the union. “It’s under Member Resources. Please use it and tell your members to use it. Also send your complaints to PEF Region 2 Coordinator Andy Puleo who chairs PEF’s Jeff Satz Civil Service Committee.”
DeSilva said PEF wants to continue to document abuses and fight at every level. “Take it to your labor-management committees at the local, agency and statewide executive levels. Bring it to PEF field services, to our Affirmative Action Committee and our Privatization Committee. Let’s talk about discrimination and civil service erosion at every forum we can.”
Board member Leisa Abraham, who represents members at the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, asked PEF to take action on behalf of its members, mostly women, in dietician job titles who are being denied the opportunity to take promotion exams for the treatment team leader title.
Jodi Nettleton, who also represents some members at OPWDD, said the state Division of Classification and Compensation “is examining those job titles right now.”
“We tried to get this addressed the last time the test for treatment team leader came up,” DiAntonio said.
A member of PEF’s civil service enforcement staff said it will be essential to get the state Office of Mental Health to support allowing dieticians to take the test. “We need that one agency to support it,” he said.
Members of the PEF Executive Board received many reports at their May 23-24 meeting in Albany, including an update on the status of negotiations with the state on a new contract for the Professional, Scientific and Technical employees bargaining unit that PEF represents.
PEF Region 10 Coordinator Darlene Williams, who chairs the contract team, said they have passed proposals and discussed many contract articles.
“We prioritized every contract article that people told us on the survey was important to them, and we’ve also opened bargaining on bullying at the request of Mike Blue (who is Region 8 coordinator and PEF co-chair of the Joint Committee on Health and Safety),” Williams said…READ MORE