eCommunicator Plus Exclusive:
PEF on the march to get members involved, informed
By SHERRY HALBROOK
Nearly every day, PEF members are learning more about PEF, their contract and benefits and getting answers to their questions about the significance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Janus v. AFSCME case. Members are also stepping up to sign membership cards confirming their decision to stick with PEF.
Check with your regional PEF office to learn about meetings and events near you.
In August, PEF Associate Director of Field Service Organizing Dan Carpenter participated in many meetings with members to help them learn about and become more involved with PEF. He conducted 10 worksite meetings and two trainings downstate in just three days.
On August 6, for example, Carpenter and PEF Region 8 Coordinator Michael Blue conducted a meeting with Region 8 members at PEF headquarters in Albany to discuss the Janus decision, review how the case is part of a nationwide strategy funded by extremely wealthy individuals and corporations to destroy unions, and to answer members’ questions and hear their concerns about the decision.
Carpenter had notified PEF Region 8 members by text about the meeting, and so many members quickly signed up for it that reservations had to be cutoff at 100. An additional 15 members were added to a waiting list for a future meeting on this subject.
Some of the many benefits of union membership were discussed at the meeting, such as paid vacation and sick leave, a defined pension, and a safe and healthy workplace. Blue said those are all things the union has had to negotiate and fight to get.
“I’ve served on the PEF Contract Team and I can tell you we get what we negotiate. We aren’t given anything,” Blue said. “We have to negotiate and fight for every penny. And our success depends on the governor seeing that our members are really unified behind us.”
Representing members goes way beyond just negotiating a good contract, Blue said. He cited the example of an urgent call he had received early that morning from PEF Division 202 Council Leader Frank Kasper alerting the union that a fire had broken out on the roof of a building in Troy where more than 400 PEF members at the state Labor Department and Office of Information Technology Systems work.
Blue and Kasper, who was at the Region 8 meeting, reported on how they and PEF Health and Safety Department staff and PEF leaders from ITS were repeatedly on the phone with the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations, and with DOL and ITS management to assess and respond to the situation. Although the fire was quelled without directly endangering the workers in the building, the electrical and air conditioning systems were damaged.
Kasper said the PEF stewards kept track of mounting temperatures in the offices, and the union passed that information to GOER.
“By noon, all of our workers were allowed to leave,” Kasper reported.
“PEF has stewards, division leaders, staff, and labor-management and health and safety committee members who are working behind the scenes all the time to keep you safe and to make your working lives better,” Blue said. “Somewhere, somebody in PEF is working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to find solutions to problems. This goes on around the clock and even on holidays. We are constantly working on behalf of one another.
“Some members question our political involvement, but when we lobby lawmakers it is not for other issues. It is for things that benefit our members’ terms and conditions of employment, such as safe staffing. Did you know that this year we got the state to make your union dues deductible on you state income taxes? We lobby in Washington to keep federal aid flowing to support state services.”
Carpenter spoke about the higher average incomes of workers in unions compared to non-union workers and said the average pay for workers in so-called “right-to-work” states is significantly lower than in union friendly states.
Supporters of the Janus case want to kill unions, Carpenter said, and asked the members to share the information in brochures they received at the meeting that provides answers to the 10 most frequently asked questions about the court case.
Some members said they resent the court’s decision to let employees benefit from the union contract without paying membership dues to support its negotiation and enforcement. Carpenter and Blue said the state this year amended the Taylor Law and the PEF Executive Board amended the union’s policies to limit its representation and non-contractual benefits for the “freeloaders.”
Blue and Carpenter said that, although the Janus decision automatically released PS&T employees who had chosen not to join the union from the obligation to pay agency shop fees to PEF, very few PEF members have expressed an interest in leaving the union and most of them decided to remain members when they were reminded about the many benefits of membership.
“We expected to get lots of calls after the Janus decision, but the majority we are receiving are from members asking for the membership cards. The number of members opting out of membership is very low,” Blue said. “So far, we’ve had 53 people, out of more than 52,000 members, choose to opt out of membership. In fact, we’ve been mailing and calling former feepayers and some of them are deciding to become members. We had a net gain of 250 members in just two weeks. We actually have more members now than we had before the Janus decision.”
Carpenter said it is very important for PEF to continue to reach out to its members and non-members and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is one of PEF’s two parent unions, “has offered to help us.”
“In January, we sent letters to feepayers, and we wrote to them again as non-members three weeks ago,” Carpenter said. “An alert was printed on the envelopes we sent, saying they should open and act on them immediately to avoid losing benefits. We mailed them on a Monday and by Wednesday we already had 125 replies.”
Carpenter answered members’ questions about the updated membership cards PEF is asking members to sign and the membership cards for new members.
In response to a question about membership for seasonal employees in the state’s PS&T unit, Blue said the union succeeded in getting the state to amend the Taylor Law this year to provide that such employees will automatically resume their membership if they return to employment in the bargaining unit within a year. They will not need to sign membership cards every time they return to state employment.
Kasper said PEF Division 202 at the Labor Department has established a statewide orientation system for keeping track of new employees that updates the list of new employees every two weeks to ensure they are contacted by a PEF steward.
“It works beautifully,” Kasper said. “This is what we need in PEF: good communication.”
Blue said PEF should take a look at that program to see if it could be model for other divisions.
Carpenter said he has initiated the use of texting to alert members about events and it has worked well.
“I texted 800 members in 20 minutes to tell them about this meeting,” Carpenter said. “We want to improve communications locally and we are using more technology such as Google Forms and an application called “Hustle.”
Younger members respond very well to electronic communication, he said, and that’s important because, “We must communicate and find out what matters to our younger, newer members.”
PEF Members – Prepare to protect your union rights with facts. Open The JANUS Toolkit NOW!