Conference empowers PEF leaders in Region 8
By DEBORAH A. MILES
The ballroom at the Saratoga Casino Hotel was the site of the PEF Region 8 Leadership Conference that took place Friday, April 21, through Sunday, April 23. The 120 council leaders, stewards, activists and retirees were there to learn about the challenges facing the union and solutions to bring back to their members.
Along with facts and action strategies to bolster union power in a time when special interest groups are trying to dismantle unions, speaker after speaker instilled new enthusiasm and motivation among the participants.
At the opening reception, Saratoga Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Congressman Paul Tonko applauded the labor movement, saying they were proud to stand with PEF because unions are the backbone of our communities, state and the country.
Melissa Amernick, research director at Service Employees International Union (SEIU) spoke passionately about how a few airport workers managed to make changes in their fight for economic justice.
Several topics were addressed when Tony Richards, an organizational development and change practitioner, involved the members in his presentation. He spoke about the importance of motivating young people in the union, saying the labor movement won’t survive without their activism. He talked about global oppression among workers and the importance of unity without regard to age, gender or race.
Aseem Kumar, a professional engineer 1 at the state Department of Environmental Conservation and steward in PEF Division 169, said he was inspired by the speakers.
“I came here to learn how to promote the union and how to better educate my members. I learned how the power of a few can make change occur, and when we are all driven by the same thing, love, anything is possible,” Kumar said.
“If only a few members can make change, imagine the amount of work PEF can accomplish with 54,000 members. I became a steward a couple of months ago, and
decided to have an active role so I can tell new employees coming into state service what PEF does for its members,” said Sarah Betancohurt, a legal affairs specialist at the state Office of Temporary Disability Assistance. “I’m looking forward to being a part of the changes we can make as a union together.”
Member engagement plays a paramount role within PEF, and this leadership conference provided the participants with tools to reach the people in their divisions.
Caitlin Janiszewski, a PEF organizer, encouraged and taught the group how to make a brief Go Public video for PEF’s official Facebook page to help highlight the value of the state workforce.
PEF Education and Training Specialists, Tammy Carney and Kim Loccisano, along with PEF Field Representative Heidi Warwick, concentrated on strategies to engage members and have one-on-one conversations, by provoking interest with topics such as understaffing or unsafe workplaces.
That theme continued when Stuart Savelkoul, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) director of organizing, and Eric Borlaug, AFT chief of staff, both in Connecticut, spoke about the recent Region 8 mobilization blitz. They demonstrated the best ways to start a conversation with a member, and to use facts to emphasize the importance of certain labor issues, such as the ramifications when a “right-to-work” law gets adopted in a state.
William Denn, PEF Division 268 council leader at the state Department of Financial Services, said, “I am glad to pick up some tools and ideas to help improve the quality of life for our members. I am just looking for ammunition, such as how to prevent outsourcing of jobs, if our agency is tempted to do something like that down the road.”
PEF Region 8 Coordinator Michael Blue said the conference was designed to energize local leaders, so they would share information with their members.
“It touched on everything, from the importance of a COPE contribution to motivational member engagement tools.
“This conference took it to another level. The last day, groups of participants put into action what we had learned and knocked on doors of PEF members who live in Saratoga. It was a mini-blitz, but we were able to connect with members who were receptive and glad to see that PEF is an active union,” Blue said. “This is just the start. To keep the labor movement alive and healthy, we must never stop engaging and working for our members.”