PEF 39th Annual Convention:
Convention delegates take on challenges together
By SHERRY HALBROOK
The nearly 800 delegates to the 39th Annual Convention in Lake Placid in late October worked hard to prove the convention’s theme: “We Are Stronger Together.”
They focused on passing measures to put PEF in the best position possible to meet the toughest existing and future challenges.
Meeting in the ice arena at the two-time Olympic games site, the delegates worked their way through the jam-packed four-days of tasks that ranged from amending the PEF Constitution and Bylaws to competing in a membership-engagement activity.
They debated and got through 20 of the proposed resolutions, amended the union’s state and federal legislative agendas for 2018, placed thousands of calls to their fellow PEF members reminding them to vote November 7 against holding a state constitutional convention in 2019, heard a wide variety of reports and speakers on a range of subjects, attended workshops, luncheons for nurses and veterans, a health and safety breakfast, a cultural diversity event, departmental and committee meetings, and much, much more. They even raised money for United Way and to aid the victims of hurricanes.
PEF President Wayne Spence commended the delegates for their hard work and determination. “It’s great to get through the first round of resolutions on Monday. That’s almost unheard of. We really are stronger together!”
He further commended and encouraged them in his annual State of the Union Address, saying, “PEF is a great union because of the great things you do every day.” He reviewed the union’s major accomplishments and urged the delegates to read the 2017 PEF Annual Report detailing all of the work of PEF’s departments and staff.
While recounting their many achievements in the past year, Spence warned that coming challenges will test PEF’s ability to survive and that members’ loyalty and unity will be absolutely essential. (See related story on Spence’s address)
That theme of strength in unity echoed over and over again throughout the event. Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Hintz reported that, thanks to PEF’s membership engagement campaign, the union has converted enough feepayers to members to offset the gradual losses resulting from the state’s failure to replace employees as fast as they are retiring or leaving state service. And thanks largely to the raises negotiated in the 2016-19 PS&T Contract, the union’s income is keeping pace with its expenses.
However, Hintz said it’s likely the union will face an enormous challenge starting next spring if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that public employee unions must provide free services to non-members in the bargaining units they represent. He said the lawsuit, Janus v. AFSCME, is intended to break the back of labor nationwide. (See related story)
Just say: NO!
Defeating Proposition 1 on the November 7 ballot, which would authorize a 2019 NYS constitutional convention, was another important theme at the PEF convention, because such an event could open the door to extreme attacks on bargaining rights and even public-employee pensions. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and four state legislators – Sens. Betty Little and. David Carlucci, and Assemblymembers Addie Jenne and Billy Jones – also declared their opposition to the constitutional convention at the PEF President’s Reception on opening night.
“We don’t need this (state) convention. We don’t need to spend the money when we have so many other priorities,” DiNapoli said. He estimated, “It would cost at least $50 million, probably more.”
NYS AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry (by video), keynote speaker Lisa Graves, NYSUT President Andy Palotta and AFT legal counsel Mark Richard, addressed the full convention. (See related story)
Making PEF proud
The delegates proudly honored the PEF nurses who traveled to Puerto Rico for two weeks to aid the victims of Hurricane Irma. Speaking for the nurses, delegate Carolyn Cole said, “We went because we’re nurses and that’s what we do.” (See related story) The nurses also were honored by the state Senate with commendations presented by Sen. Little at the President’s Reception.
Friendly competition paid off for PEF Division 198 – SUNY Downstate Medical Center, delegate Scarlett Ahmed of Division 245 at the state Labor Department, and Division 376 – the state Education Department. They created the top three entries in a poster-making contest that helped build on the spirit of engaging one another and working together.
Debating and voting on the three proposed constitutional amendments was the first major business the delegates addressed. They passed all three. The first amendment is to Article 10 and it clarifies that mid-term vacancies on the PEF Executive Board are addressed in the next quarterly special election if the vacancy occurs before the last three weeks of a quarter. (Special elections for vacancies that occur at the end of a quarter are held in the second following quarter.) The second amendment is also to Article 10 and addresses situations where more than two candidates are vying for an office. The amended language says the winner will have the highest vote total, since none of the candidates may actually receive a majority of all the votes cast.
The third constitutional amendment is to Article 17 and it states that any member referendum that’s called in a triennial election year will be included with that triennial election.
The three PEF Trustees, Maureen Kellman, Maddie Shannon-Roberts and Sarah Lauser, presented their annual report to the delegates, including their recommendations for improving PEF operations and updates on how the resolutions adopted at the 2016 convention have been implemented.
The trustees hailed President’s Spence’s hiring of PEF’s first internal auditor as an important step for the union to ensure its financial practices are sound and in keeping with federal labor law and regulations. They said this is a big challenge in light of all the people involved in PEF financial transactions at the statewide, regional and division levels. They also said they are heartened to see the percentage of divisions still in need of treasurers declining. (See link for the full, written Trustees Report).
Voices of experience
The delegates were addressed by PEF Retirees President Jim Carr and two former PEF presidents, Susan Kent and Ken Brynien.
Carr invited the delegates to join the retirees organization when they retire or even up to five years in advance of their retirement, and to speak to their fellow members about it. And he outlined the many activities and benefits offered to retirees. PEF Retirees is a voice and active supporter of PEF members’ interests from the fight to defeat a state constitutional amendment to speaking out on federal and state legislative issues. “Help us to help you,” he said.
In her remarks, Kent urged the delegates to read the PEF constitution and bylaws, and read the comments from PEF staff before they voted on proposed resolutions to ensure they fully understand the potential advantages and pitfalls.
Brynien told the delegates to look beyond their responsibilities in PEF and see their important role in the national labor movement.
“You are the leaders and the stewards of the great labor movement that brought us the 40-hour workweek 70 years ago. Unfortunately, we are under attack,” Brynien said. He recalled how shocked he had been when attending national labor conferences and meetings to see representatives of unions in “right-to-work” states who had to hold bake sales to raise enough money to pay for their travel to those events and then hold raffles to pay for their return tickets. “Those unions couldn’t afford lawyers, field reps or to create and publish newsletters,” he said. “These attacks on labor will occur every year. Our enemies only need to win once, we must win every time.”
Unions cannot hope to win these battles, Brynien said, unless they have loyal and unified members. It’s OK to disagree sometimes with fellow members on specific issues, but a union’s ultimate strength and survival will depend on its members’ unity and ability to set differences aside and work as a cohesive team.