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Cancer brings value of PEF contract benefits into sharp focus

Most of us didn’t realize or appreciate how free we were until last year, when we suddenly lost that freedom to be safe from the COVID-19 pandemic. The same goes for the blessings of union membership and the contract PEF negotiates for its members. It’s easy to ignore them or take them for granted, until you suddenly find that your job or even your life may depend on them.

PEF member Christine Werns had that experience and she took the opportunity recently to post her gratitude to PEF’s contract team on Facebook:

“I want to say thank you to the PEF contract teams past and present. Today I went for my last cancer treatment. Thanks to the contract teams’ hard work on our health insurance plan, not once did I hear that I couldn’t get the treatment or the drugs I needed because my health insurance wouldn’t cover it.

“I have the Empire Plan and I only had co-pays to pay ranging from $20 to $70. At a time when people are paying thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs for the same treatment I had, I feel extremely lucky that I had contract teams that stood strong to make sure we have the best insurance plan.

“So, once again, a big Thank You to the PEF Contract Teams.”

Contacted by phone, Werns said she worked in the private sector for years and never had the benefits of a union contract until 2005 when she took a state job represented by PEF.

“I know what it is to work without a contract and without health insurance or paid sick leave,” Werns said. “Another thing that I really appreciate is the ability to rollover unused sick leave and vacation time from one year to the next. I had been saving up my leave in case I ever needed it, and when I did need it I had it. In the private sector, it was use-it-or-lose-it every year.

“We have a lot of benefits in our contracts that people just take for granted. We are so lucky our contract teams fought for those benefits, but we don’t appreciate them until we need them.”

Werns is a supervising labor services representative at the state Labor Department in Albany and a PEF Division 202 steward. She has formerly served as Division 202 assistant council leader and as a member of the PEF Executive Board.

While she saved enough leave to get her through, Werns said she recognized the tremendous workload the pandemic created for the Labor Department and she has tried to keep working as much as possible through months of cancer treatments.

“It’s great to hear from a member that their contract benefits are helping them get through a tough time,” said PEF President Wayne Spence. “We wish those times never came to any of us, but PEF and our contract teams do everything we can to create the benefits and safety net for members if and when it happens. Christine’s post was very welcome and inspires us to continue these efforts, no matter what situations and obstacles arise. We thank her for expressing her gratitude and telling us that the contract met her need.”​​

By SHERRY HALBROOK