Home » Media Center » The Communicator » September 2018 Meet Your Leaders – 1st in a series


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Wayne Spence, PEF President

Wayne Spence enters his second term as the union’s ninth president, a proud parole officer at the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Spence hit the ground running during his first term and put together a PS&T contract team that delivered a contract to members with raises and no givebacks, with 97 percent member ratification.

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Spence joined rank-and-file members on several door-knocking campaigns to bolster member awareness of PEF’s mission, or to explain the consequences if voters supported holding a constitutional convention, which was overwhelmingly defeated.

He stood with PEF members at rallies such as ‘Save Bernard Fineson’ or to fight for pay equity at Stony Brook University Hospital. Under Spence’s leadership, PEF gained support in its legislative endeavors, and established and has maintained a respectful relationship with the governor. For members, he initiated new benefits through PEF’s Membership Benefits Program ranging from college tuition assistance to legal defense.

“There were challenges during my first term as a PEF president, but our accomplishments speak for themselves. I am a proponent of working together and stand by our ‘stronger together’ motto. During the next three years, I will have the added benefit of working with a cohesive PEF-elected leadership team.

“This leadership has already begun assembling a new contract team with members who have proven to have sharp negotiating skills. And we will remain devoted to all the occupational needs of our members by continuing to meet with them on a regular basis and keeping them informed,” Spence said.

“PEF will face new challenges in this post-Janus era, and this leadership will remain committed to keeping the union strong, for we realize the power must remain with the workforce, and not those whose goal is to privatize the nation.

“The labor movement was under heavy assault when Lane Kirkland was AFL-CIO president. He said, “We have come too far, struggled too long, sacrificed too much and have too much left to do, to allow that which we have achieved for the good of all to be swept away without a fight. And we have not forgotten how to fight.”

Kay Alison Wilkie, PEF Secretary-Treasurer

Kay Alison Wilkie enters the position of PEF secretary-treasurer with a wealth of experience, both in the financial realm and as a union activist since 1991.

Currently, an economic development program administrator working in finance and administration at the state Department of Economic Development, Wilkie’s other financial experience includes work as a senior budget analyst for the state Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, and as an assistant vice president at Mellon Bank.

“My goal is to be part of the team that finds and implements solutions to keep the union financially solvent, so it can continue to serve the membership during a time of unprecedented anti-union attacks.

“I am devoted to building upon PEF’s reputation for excellence, securing its future and bringing our union to national leadership,” Wilkie said.

She helped spearhead successful fightback campaigns against state mergers, and has held union positions ranging from assistant council leader to Executive Board member. She is a trustee for PEF’s Membership Benefits Program, a member of PEF’s Anti-Privatization, PRIDE and Political Action committees, and chair of the Real Estate Facilities Special Committee.

“What our union accomplishes will go down in history during this post Janus-decision era,” Wilkie said. “This is not the first time that there have been threats to unions, collective bargaining rights and workers’ very survival.

“Remember the words of Frances Perkins, America’s first woman appointed as secretary of labor, in the wake of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.”

“There was a stricken conscience of public guilt and we all felt that we had been wrong, that something was wrong with that building which we had accepted or the tragedy never would have happened. Moved by this sense of stricken guilt, we banded together to find a way by law to prevent this kind of disaster.”

Wilkie added, “I am proud to be part of PEF’s strategic, collaborative work advancing safe working conditions, job security, fairness and decent benefits, while rejecting privatization and attacks on public employees.”

Michele Silsby, Region 1 Coordinator

PEF Region 1, Buffalo: Coordinator Michele Silsby

Michele Silsby is the new coordinator for PEF Region 1.

“We have more than 4,000 PEF members in Region 1,” Silsby said, “and I am excited and eager to lead this region into a new vibrant era of union activism.”

She is a registered nurse and case manager in utilization management at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Bufflao. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and certification in case management.

Silsby began her public service career in 1988 as a nurse at the Niagara County Health Department. She also works independently as a legal nurse consultant.

Silsby is a member of the International Nurses’ Association and the Western New York Professional Nurses Association – District 1. She was nominated for the Nurse of Distinction award.

Silsby has been very active in PEF at Roswell Park, where she worked to triple the number of stewards during her first year as PEF Division 196 council leader. She is also PEF labor-management chair at Roswell Park.

Silsby led the division officers and stewards in engaging and talking to employees in the PEF bargaining unit about the union and its values. As a result of this strong effort, approximately 200 feepayers chose to join PEF and become dues-paying members.

Silsby chairs the PEF Region 1 Nurses Committee. She is co-chair of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) committee and is a PEF member mobilizer.

Somehow, Silsby still finds time to be an active member of her community, serving on the Board of the Hartland Conservation Club, Niagara County, and was a vice president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association.  — Sherry Halbrook

Nora Higgins, PEF Region 12 Coordinator

PEF Region 12, Long Island: Coordinator Nora Higgins

Nora Higgins was automatically re-elected as the leader of a region that encompasses Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island. It is a region boasting of more than 4,000 PEF members whose participation in union events continues to grow.

Higgins’ has a magic touch when it comes to engaging members, and keeping them interested and active in their union. Her formula mixes a lot of work, purpose and some fun.

For example, PEF Region 12 members participate in the Marcum Workplace Challenge, the largest running event on Long Island, and also get together for a barbecue before a Long Island Ducks baseball game.

“These events provide a platform to get more members involved, informed, and an opportunity to have fun,” Higgins said. “I created a PEF Region 12 Facebook page that lists our activities and reaches friends, and they are able to tell other friends. It’s working. Last year we had 100 members attend the Ducks game, and this year we had 140. It was an opportunity to remind members about the many values associated with union membership.”

Higgins also holds an annual leadership conference bringing in people and workshops that address the changing needs of the labor movement, as well as political action meetings.

“Our regional PAC meetings are an excellent way to get younger members involved. Recently, we had two Stony Brook University Hospital nurses who were students attend the meeting. They received the experience of watching us interview an incumbent Assemblywoman and a new contender for a state Senate seat.

“At the PEF Health Care Lobby Day, we motivated two new recruits, both under 30, who were very inspired by the opportunity to talk directly with their legislators.”

Higgins, a neonatal intensive care nurse at Stony Brook, said her goals now are to keep the labor momentum going strong in this post Janus-decision era. -— Deborah A. Miles

AUGUST 1 – PEF President Wayne Spence and Secretary-Treasurer Kay Alison Wilkie (far right) address the audience at PEF headquarters after they took the oath of office.         Photos by Mayra Ithier

A NEW BEGINNING – Nine of the 12 regional coordinators were sworn into office August 11 by PEF President Wayne Spence in Rye Brook, witnessed by PEF General Counsel Ed Aluck. They are Diane Jaulus (Reg. 9); Roberta (Bobbi) Stafford (Reg. 4); Ricardo Cruz (Reg. 10); Andrew Puleo (Reg.2); Nora Higgins (Reg. 12); Colleen Williams (Reg. 3); Virginia (Gini) Davey (Reg. 7); Bernadette O’Connor (Reg. 11); Michael Blue (Reg. 8). — Photo by Jane Briggs

Table of Contents – September 2018