Exec. Board takes on big issues at first meeting in new term
Story and photos by Sherry Halbrook
One hundred thirty-seven PEF officers, trustees and Executive Board members who were elected in the 2018 PEF Triennial Elections began the first Executive Board meeting in their new three-year terms August 23. In a continuing effort to save union dues, PEF held the two-day meeting at the NYS United Teachers headquarters in Latham.
PEF President Wayne Spence administered the oath of office to the new board members, who were seated and immediately began tackling many important decisions and issues at the meeting.
Those decisions included making hundreds of political endorsements for candidates to fill all of the seats in the state Legislature, state governor, a U.S. Senate seat and New York’s entire delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives, among others.
The board endorsed the re-election of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who thanked and addressed the board the day after the endorsement vote.
“Many of the most onerous federal budget cuts will force the state to either raise taxes or cut services and that could create a big, big problem for us,” DiNapoli said. He added that while the stock market is fairly strong now, “it won’t last forever.”
DiNapoli congratulated PEF on on using its political strength to get its cost-benefit analysis bill passed in both houses of the Legislature this year. He said that he has found strengthening the reliance on PEF members at the state Department of Audit and Control and the state Retirement System has worked well.
“We save money when we bring the knowledge base in-house,” the comptroller said.
The state pension fund, he said, is 98 percent funded and the PEW Research Foundation found New York was just one of four states with pension funds that were funded at more than 90 percent. And while that’s reassuring to know, “It’s really about the people behind those pension numbers. It’s about dignity. Unions ensure dignity in the workplace, and pensions ensure it in retirement.”
The board held off on making an endorsement for state attorney general until after the September 13 primary. The board also approved proposed agendas of PEF’s state and federal legislative issues. The agendas will be presented to the PEF 2018 Convention for final action. (See related story, page 24, for the complete report on endorsements.)
PEF contract teams
PEF President Wayne Spence announced and introduced the new PS&T Contract Team that will negotiate a successor to the current 2016-19 agreement that expires April 1, 2019. Spence said Gov. Cuomo has assured him the state will be ready to begin negotiations with PEF in January.
PEF member Darlene Williams will chair the new team. Attorney and professional negotiator Mark Richards, who was PEF’s chief negotiator for its last two PS&T contracts and who also works for the American Federation of Teachers, and PEF Deputy Chief Counsel Rita Strauss will lead the negotiations. The PEF team also will be assisted again by outside attorney and labor negotiator Vincent Pitta.
Additional PEF members of the contract team include:
• PEF Region 2 Coordinator Andrew Puleo (Transportation);
• PEF Region 3 Coordinator Colleen Williams (Transportation);
• PEF Region 4 Coordinator Bobbi Stafford (Upstate Medical Center);
• PEF Region 10 Coordinator Ricardo Cruz (Corrections and Community Supervision);
• PEF Trustee Christopher Buman (Tax and Finance, PEF Region 1);
• Gloria Thomas (Mental Health, PEF Region 10);
• Executive Board member Amy DeMarco (Health, PEF Region 8); and
• Executive Board member Conrad Davis (Tax and Finance, PEF Region 11).
In addition to the main PS&T Contract Team, Spence appointed Executive Board member Victoria Stockton and Catherine Klein to the team that will negotiate the contract provisions for the state School for the Deaf. Spence said he is waiting for recommendations from PEF Division 298 before he appoints members of the team to negotiate for the state School for the Blind. PEF Region 1 Coordinator Michele Silsby, Yatram (Bruce) Jagroop and Marilyn DiCara will represent PEF members at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in negotiating that contract.
Spence said he decided to keep the PS&T team a bit smaller this time to maximize efficiency and reduce costs. The president said he struggled to come up with just the right members to appoint to the team and wanted to ensure they could work together well and be unified behind any tentative agreement with the state that they will bring to the board for action.
“Our past practice is to have team unanimity of support for a tentative agreement,” he said.
Williams told the board she has worked at the state Office of Mental Health for more than 30 years and has previously served on a PEF PS&T contract team. She said she will operate on three basic principles: Be ready to listen; Don’t put up with any nonsense; and “Get it done.”
Williams said the team will undergo training in September through November, and it will want to hear from members about their needs and expectations for improving the contract.
For now, members may email their comments to members of the team or contact their regional coordinator. The union may also establish a special email address and phone comment line to receive members’ suggestions and comments.
Spence said he plans to hold town-hall style events for team members to meet with members, and a workshop will be provided at the PEF convention this October for delegates to speak with the contract team members.
Spence announced that he had reappointed PEF Retirees member Don Morgenstern to represent retirees on the PEF Executive Board.
Spence appointed members to the PEF Special Elections Committee, which conducts quarterly elections to fill mid-term vacancies in any PEF statewide office, trustee seat, regional coordinator post or Executive Board seat. Appointed were Conrad Davis, Iris Bonilla, Stephanie Champagne, Carrie Saunders and Mohammed Chowdhury.
Spence said he is assigning Vice President Randi DiAntonio to head PEF’s membership engagement efforts.
Spence said that, in response to three resolutions passed at the 2017 PEF convention, he is combining the PEF Budget Advisory Committee with the PEF Financial Compliance Committee and has appointed PEF members Danielle Freeman and Margaretann Paczkowski to this committee, along with PEF staff members Director of Finance Russell Kuon, Internal Auditor Monica Drumm, and Rebecca Lalli who is executive assistant to the secretary-treasurer.
PEF Vice President Sharon V. DeSilva was named by Spence to head the union’s Labor-Management Advisory Committee which includes the PEF chairs of all agency-level labor-management committees.
Executive Board member Prakash Lal asked PEF to work with the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations to help re-establish the joint labor-management committee and process at the state Office of Information Technology Services. The board voted to refer this request to the L-M Advisory Committee.
DeSilva said she is eager and excited to tackle such issues.
“It’s time to deal with these issues,” DeSilva said. “It’s hard to generalize about them. We require meetings, but sometimes they don’t happen or they achieve nothing.”
A board member suggested the advisory committee might survey PEF labor-management committee chairs and PEF divisions to find out how well the L-M process is working at their agencies and worksites.
Fighting for services
A request from board member Lisa Couperus for $50,000 to fund a campaign to protect state psychiatric services in the Rochester area was approved by the board. The money will come from the PEF Contingency Fund.
Couperus said the state is reducing bed capacity for mentally ill New Yorkers at Rochester Psychiatric Center and its community residences. She said the Elmwood Transitional Residence is slated to lose an unspecified number of beds soon. The residence housed approximately 150 people in 2014, but can now accommodate just 82.
Couperus said closing beds at residences operated by state employees may result in some of those patients being transferred to residences operated by private agencies. Such patients may have issues too challenging for the private contractors to accommodate, and the patients end up roaming the community without appropriate homes, treatment and programs. It doesn’t take long for those patients to end up being arrested and sent into the local and state correctional facilities.
“What’s happening in Rochester is a human rights travesty,” Collen Williams said. “People are dying in the streets.”
“Clearly, we must stop this dangerous practice of sending people into the community who are not getting services,” DiAntonio said.
A board member said the state is only operating a total of 150 beds now for all of the mentally ill adults in the state.
PEF Region 6 Coordinator Jeanette St. Mary said she has spoken with law enforcement officers in Midlletown and they told her they do not want to arrest mentally ill or developmentally challenged individuals, but sometimes they have no alternative.
PEF Region 9 Coordinator Diane Jaulus urged Spence to ask the governor’s office for help in addressing this issue.
“Please go to the governor. We’re putting our members at risk when the clients are not properly medicated. It’s not always feasible to treat them properly in the state prisons and jails,” Jaulus said.
“I’ve been trying to do it for two years,” Spence said. “The state has criminalized people with mental illness and developmental challenges so they end up in county jails. That’s how the state is transferring its Medicaid cost for treating them in state facilities to the counties, which must pay for operating the jails.”
“The lobbyists are running the Medicaid program,” said board member Ken Ferro.
DiAntonio said, “We tend to deal with this in silos. We must get labor-management chairs and council leaders together to address these issues on broader levels.”
Jagroop recommended PEF work with its sister unions to prevent privatization and save these important state services.
Spence said he introduced a resolution at the American Federation of Teachers 2018 Convention this summer that commits AFT and its affiliates to opposing the criminalization of mental illness and developmental challenges. The resolution further calls on AFT to advocate for a United Nations resolution on inclusiveness that identifies inappropriate incarceration of persons with mental illness as a human rights issue. This resolution was passed by the AFT delegates.
PEF Associate Director of Field Organizing Dan Carpenter recommended that PEF develop a campaign that draws from the successful model that it developed to prevent the closing of Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.
Another important decision the Board addressed was choosing a site for the 2019 PEF Convention. After hearing and viewing a presentation by the Discover Albany organization touting the combined facilities of the new Albany Capital Center and the Empire State Plaza Convention Center and the additional services and amenities that would be provided, the board members discussed the issue with PEF Convention Committee Chair Barbara Corse-Johnson.
Ultimately, the board chose to bring the convention to Albany in 2019 for the first time. Among the prime considerations were the significant resources and hotel space now available in Albany and on Wolf Road, as well as potential savings estimated at between $30,000 and $40,000 just for the convention site, plus additional savings on travel from locating the event in the Capital District (PEF Region 8) which has the most members and likely delegates.
PEF had delayed contracting for a site for 2019 because a proposed amendment to the PEF Constitution that would switch the conventions from annual to triennial was sent to members in May for their votes along with the ballots for candidates in the 2018 Triennial Elections. A majority of the members who voted supported the switch, but it required a two-thirds majority to pass. The same question will be posed to the 2018 Convention delegates who will meet in Lake Placid this October. Again, it would require a two-thirds majority of those votes to pass.
Membership at 98%
Spence reported the union is at 98 percent of its internal capacity, meaning only 2 percent of the employees PEF represents are not members. He said of the approximately 1,200 employees who were previously classified as feepayers, more than 400 have joined PEF this summer and only about 800 are still holding out as non-members since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that public employees in a bargaining unit represented by a union cannot be compelled to pay fees in lieu of dues if they choose not to join the union.
Carpenter said PEF had braced for a possible onslaught of members asking to withdraw their membership, but that has not happened.
“The worst case scenario didn’t happen,” Carpenter told the board. “Your union is very strong. We’ve already had 10,000 of the updated membership cards returned by members and 426 former feepayers also have joined.
PEF feels the updated cards may provide greater proof of members’ commitment to the union if the very powerful groups attacking unions throughout the country try to challenge PEF in court.
Board member Amy DeMarco, a scientist at Wadsworth Laboratories in Albany, said it is becoming difficult to determine whether some recently hired employees there have joined the union yet or not.
Carpenter said PEF is struggling to keep up with the data entry for all of the membership cards that are flooding into the union.
“Nobody expected 10,000 cards to come back so fast, and we have only had 73 members drop out,” Carpenter said. “The team we have answering members’ questions about this is doing an amazing job. History has its eyes on us, and it will record how we have fought back.”
More attacks likely
Spence said PEF has learned a great deal from its international union affiliates, AFT and the Service Employees International Union, and especially from unions in “right-to-work” states.
“It works,” Spence said, “when you listen to people who know what you don’t know.”
Based on those insights, Spence said he believes the anti-union attacks will intensify, especially between Thanksgiving and Christmas when members may be looking for additional cash for holiday shopping.
“The worst is yet to come,” Spence predicted. “We expect $20 million will be spent in the next four months on attacking public employee unions in New York state.”
Ferro said many members at the state Office of the Medicaid Inspector General are very unhappy about a hostile work environment there and various forms of discrimination they are experiencing.
Spence responded that he is aware of the problem and that some members are filing charges of discrimination with the state Division of Human Rights.
A board member representing members at the state Labor Department said some members there are waiting “to see what’s in it for us if we stay in the union.”
Spence said, “That’s happening in a lot of right-to-work states. In New York, you are losing life insurance and many other benefits if you aren’t a member of PEF. Members don’t understand that none of their dues money goes to pay for the many benefits provided by the Membership Benefits Program. Those benefits are funded by the many programs that MBP operates.
Although everyone in bargaining units that PEF represents is covered by the contract that PEF negotiates for those units, they need to be members of PEF to receive the full benefits of membership. The extent of this legal obligation was clarified by state legislation enacted this year and by a new PEF policy adopted by the Executive Board at its June meeting.
He cited the example of work performance evaluations. “Everybody is supposed to get an annual performance evaluation, but if you get a bad evaluation and you aren’t in the union – Oh, well.”
DiAntonio said members often say they don’t expect to need the union’s help because they are good employees and they get along well with their supervisor.
“What happens when your supervisor changes, and your new supervisor doesn’t like you?” DiAntonio asked.
PEF Region 8 Coordinator Michael Blue stressed the importance of PEF stewards and division leaders speaking directly with their members one-on-one to ask them to sign the updated membership cards.
“The governor and other political leaders are looking at our 98 percent membership,” Blue said. “They saw that 67 percent of our members voted on the 2015-16 PS&T Contract. It’s seen as a sign of our strength and it is a big talking point for us in bargaining and lobbying. If we lose members, it will become strategically harder to get a good contract.”
PEF Secretary-Treasurer Kay Alison Wilkie reported that PEF continues to maintain a strong financial position In the three months ending June 30, net income totaled $644K on revenues of $9,760K.
Understanding that some may wish to spend beyond the conservative budget for 2018-19, Wilkie asked the board members to be patient and wait until early 2019 for a clearer picture of how the union’s finances may be affected by income and expense shifts after the Janus court decision with intensifying anti-union attacks anticipated during the holiday season.
Wilkie said that she and PEF Finance Department staff are “willing, able and eager” to assist PEF divisions stay current with their financial auditing and reporting requirements, to answer questions and help divisions resolve any financial issues.
“About 57 percent of PEF divisions are in good standing,” Wilkie said. The other 43 percent that are “not in good standing” and/or are over their maximum allotment may be facing a range of issues, currently being analyzed so that we can provide effective assistance strategies,” she added.
“Some divisions lack a council leader or treasurer and they might need help recruiting division officers. Or their financial reports may have not been submitted on time and they might need financial training, or they may lack strategies for how to best expend their division funds,” Wilkie said. “Since PEF is one entity for regulatory and tax purposes, we have fiduciary responsibility for every expenditure by a PEF division. We want to know how we can better help you.”
Drumm reported that she had completed audits of the PEF statewide officers and of nine divisions to date.
Drumm said she is working with the secretary-treasurer to draft policies to guide divisions regarding gift cards and other give-away items for members such as pins and hats, ensuring the PEF union purpose is clear, in compliance with the federal Labor Management and Reporting Act.
“Audits are not ‘gotcha’ moments, “but opportunities for us to provide advice and assistance,” Drumm said.
Wilkie said she, with the Budget Advisory and Financial Compliance Committee, including, Drumm, the PEF trustees and the PEF Finance Department staff are gathering information to help them formulate best practices to share with PEF divisions.
She cautioned that it is very important for PEF leaders and members at every level to realize that any problem, however small, might become a weapon for anti-union forces to use against PEF.
“They are looking for problems and opportunities to create embarrassing videos. So, please be aware of how your actions and your conduct might be seen,” Wilkie told the board. “We should hold ourselves to the highest standard of conduct.”
In keeping with that concern and reflecting 2017 PEF convention resolutions’ mandates, the board adopted a new official “Code of Conduct for PEF Elected Officials, and new guidance for purchasing, requests for proposals (RFPs) and contract management. The Code of Conduct is consistent with the policies of both of PEF’s international affiliate unions. The board also amended the PEF Code of Ethics to give the PEF Ethics Committee jurisdiction in enforcing the new Code of Conduct for PEF Elected Officials.
The board went into executive session to discuss a new synopsis of benefits for the union’s M/C (management/confidential) staff. Following that session, Spence announced the board had approved amendments to the synopsis. The amendments included cost-sharing for health insurance and prescription coverage offered to its M/C staff and the adoption of a new actuarial table for the use of sick leave to pay for health insurance upon retirement. These amendments provide savings to PEF to help meet the anticipated revenue implications of the Janus-case decision.
To provide further savings, Spence also announced that he directed M/C staff who are either on union leave or who left the state with health insurance coverage will now be using the state’s plan, rather than PEF’s.
Recognized by AFT
Spence said he was pleased to report that two retired PEF leaders were honored this summer by the American Federation of Teachers at its convention in Pittsburgh. Both former Vice President Pat Baker and former Region 12 Coordinator Doris (Dee) Dodson were recipients of AFT Living Legacy Awards. Spence presented the awards to both Dodson, who is currently PEF’s nurse coordinator, and to Baker at the PEF board meeting.
The board voted not to hear three appeals of decisions by the PEF 2018 Triennial Election Committee. They involved complaints lodged by a former PEF vice president against two successful candidates in that election and also against the Triennial Elections Committee, itself.