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September 5, 2019

Region 3 stalwart retires, but’s still focused on union’s challenges ahead

BY SHERRY HALBROOK

Ask around and you will find very few of your co-workers were around to witness the birth of PEF.

Jim Hooper was one of those few, and he finally retired this past July after 43 years of state service at the state Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities, which was called the Office for Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities when he joined it.

Jim Hooper

Hooper, who missed attending PEF’s organizing convention in 1978, was a delegate in 1979 and has never faltered in the ensuing decades in his support of the union and his tireless efforts to improve the lives of the people he served and the people he served with.

Working in the Rochester area, PEF Region 3 leaders have always known Hooper was one member they could count on to show up and work hard. He was there to march with PEF in the Rochester Labor Day Parade.

Interviewed a few weeks after his July retirement from his job as a training specialist 2, mental hygiene, at Finger Lakes Developmental Disabilities Services Office, Hooper’s mind was still focused firmly on the future, not his, but PEF’s.

“I’ve got to get a chance to talk to Randi,” Hooper said, referring to PEF Vice President Randi DiAntonio, who also is from OPWDD in Region 3. “I want to tell her that I believe privatization will continue to be the biggest threat to PEF and its members in 2020.”

Throughout his career, Hooper has been part of the union’s fight to preserve state services and the jobs of PEF members who provide them.

“Privatization rose above all other issues (as a threat to state services and employees),” Hooper said, and he commented on the leadership of another Region 3 stalwart, Bonnie Cannan, who retired some years back but still shows up for PEF events and supports the union. “Bonnie led the PEF Anti-Privatization Committee,” he recalled.

It takes courage and determination to be a union activist and the state smacked Hooper down for his efforts, laying him off in 1989. He fought back, charging it was unlawful retaliation for his protected union activities. Eventually, a judge at the state Public Employment Relations Board agreed, but did not order the state to reinstate him.

Hooper was undaunted and got rehired by the state.

Looking back over the years, he can see the struggles over state services and jobs both in terms of meeting the special needs of New York residents and regional economic needs of rural counties..

“Both PEF and OPWDD need to find out what has so radically depleted our staffing resources. What has changed to make it so difficult?” Hooper said.

“My goal has always been to make our workforce strong and to retain workers in numbers that ensure the work continues. Each of the recent times I stood as a teacher in front of groups for staff orientation, I could see there were fewer new hires in front of me,” Hooper said.

“What can we all do by working together to fix this? I sense this staffing problem can only be resolved by labor and management coming together to find a solution.”

Hooper said he believes PEF members and the union are up to meeting these and the many other challenges they face.

It has always been a struggle, but somehow, “We had great success.”


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