PEF 39th Annual Convention:
President Spence speaks of PEF’s accomplishments, challenges
The delegates at PEF’s 39th Annual Convention listened intently as PEF President Wayne Spence delivered a powerful message about what union solidarity can accomplish. Throughout his State of the Union Address, he echoed the convention’s theme, “We Are Stronger Together.”
Spence pointed out the union’s achievements since he took office August 1, 2015, saying, “I made a promise that as a union, we would be working more strategically and efficiently to ensure our members receive the best possible service. The changes I have made, as allowed by PEF’s Constitution, have enabled us to do just that.”
One example was the hiring of an independent auditor to ensure fiscal transparency, proper use of PEF funds and financial oversight.
“I created a PEF Finance Compliance Committee to address issues raised by the PEF auditor and the PEF Trustees. Being fiscally responsible means being ethical and avoiding conflicts of interest. Ethical integrity goes a long way in communicating a strong professional culture of financial and legal compliance to our members, the governor, state legislators and to the citizens of New York,” Spence said.
PEF’s president then spoke about how the union is saving thousands of dollars, citing examples such as combining the Region 10 and 11 offices into one location, The Communicator going digital, and cost efficiency with the hiring of a building manager.
Another important improvement was the implementation of a grievance tracking system to document dates, actions, and to meet deadlines.
“We must make sure nothing falls through the cracks,” Spence said.
To give PEF leaders more tools to educate and engage members, Spence said online training for new stewards and council leaders is now available on the PEF website, along with a new comprehensive Steward Handbook, which was mailed to every PEF steward.
He reminded the delegates of PEF’s recent PS&T contract which includes 2 percent raises, no givebacks and a “me too” clause that allows PEF to re-open the agreement if another state-employee union negotiates something better during the term of PEF’s contract.
“The historic voter turnout and 97 percent ‘yes’ vote was a show of unity that can not be ignored,” he said as he thanked PEF’s contract team and chair, Jemma Marie-Hanson.
“Our show of strength in this contract vote alone led to a historic legislative session for PEF, with a dozen of our bills passed in one or both houses of the Legislature, including the PEF pay bill, which was passed before a state budget was in place,” Spence said. “I want you to understand that this has never been done before. This was historical and in real terms, it allowed us to get your money to you faster.”
Spence also credited Michele Silsby, the council leader at Roswell Park, and Executive Board member Bruce Jagroop for their successful efforts in resolving what might have evolved into a potentially disastrous contract issue.
Acknowledging the PEF nurses who traveled to Puerto Rico to help its people in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Spence also praised other nurses and health care professionals who wanted to volunteer but were unable to go with just a couple of days notice. He credited their willingness, and said perhaps they can assist in future missions.
Spence said unions are not perfect, but his administration is devoted to working to fix the problems that exist at certain workplaces. He mentioned the union’s legislative achievements and the partnerships it has formed with various legislators, including several who attended the convention or sent video messages, each reiterating their support for public employees.
Spence’s address to the delegates focused in depth about the union’s multi-level campaign to urge citizens to vote against Proposition One, calling for a state constitutional convention.
“When we started this campaign, the majority of New Yorkers didn’t know what a constitutional convention was, yet they said they would vote ‘yes.’ Now, after months of our relentless efforts with our coalition partners to educate the public, we are closing the ranks and we will push harder for the remaining two weeks to make sure this proposition is defeated.”
Spence continued to carry the “We Are Stronger Together” theme by asking delegates to be a part of PEF’s Con Con Twitter campaign, visiting the phone banking area, and looking for a postcard that details what is at stake if a convention is held.
Right to work
The delegates were informed about a large member engagement effort that Spence spearheaded with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) during a week in March when the Capital Region was hit with a major snowstorm.
“During that week, AFT members came to Albany from all over the country, some as far away as Alaska, to participate in our membership “blizzard” blitz. The snow did not dampen our spirits. Everyone who participated felt inspired and reinvigorated by the eagerness and desire of PEF members who wanted to learn more about their union,” Spence said.
“But I must be candid. As inspirational as these one-on-one member engagements can be, there is no denying that all public-sector unions are facing hard times, including PEF.”
Spence was referring to the upcoming decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case known as Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) which could significantly alter the way public-sector unions are supported by member dues.
“Corporate America smells blood and is launching an assault on our funding and our very existence. You might start getting letters or phone calls from ‘right-to-work’ groups. What they don’t tell you is the ‘right to work’ really means the right to work for less. When they tell you ‘give yourself a raise’ by not paying dues, they don’t explain it will cost you negotiated raises, your pension, health care and in some cases, even your job.
“I’d like everyone in this room to take a minute and think about what that means,” Spence said.
PEF’s president ended his address by asking members to fill out a PEF commitment card. Spence added, “PEF brothers and sisters, there is a lot at stake. We must fight back to secure a better future for ourselves, our children and children’s children. I know the union makes us strong. We are stronger together.”