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­­Your contract vote matters, big time!

By SHERRY HALBROOK

July 13, 2021 — Have you received your orange contract ballot in the mail?  When it arrives, please open it, vote and return it to the American Arbitration Association (AAA) quickly to be sure your voice is heard.  Remember, nothing in the contract can take effect unless it is ratified when votes are counted July 27 by the American Arbitration Association (AAA). (NOTE: If you have not received your ballot at this time, please call AAA immediately at (800) 529-5218 to request one.)

Who is listening?  It’s not just PEF and your fellow union members who want to know that you voted.  The Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER) and state legislators are also waiting to hear how powerfully PEF members speak out on the crucial issues addressed in this contract.  The more members who vote, the more respect you and your workers in PEF will get whenever your issues are on the line at the bargaining table and in the Legislature.

That was the overarching message delivered to members during a pair of telephone town halls on July 8 and 12, when PEF President Wayne Spence was joined by staff to review the contract ratification timeline and answer questions submitted by members about the new tentative agreement.

Only employees in the state’s PS&T bargaining unit who were dues-paying members of PEF as of June 22, 2021, vote on the contract.  Follow the directions included in the orange envelope carefully, vote and put your ballot in the secret-ballot envelope, which should be sealed and then placed in the envelope addressed to AAA and mailed.  The postage is already paid.  It must reach AAA by 5 p.m. July 26 in order to be counted the next day.

During the town halls, Contract Chair Darlene Williams, PEF Director of Contract Administration Debra Greenberg and Contract Team member Ricardo Cruz reviewed the most important features of the tentative agreement with the state.

Pay raises

The pact is for four years, running from April 2, 2019, to April 1, 2023.  Annual 2 percent raises to base pay will be retroactive, and that includes employees who retired or left state service after April 1, 2019.  Not only would those retirees receive retroactive pay, it would increase their final average salary on which their pensions are based.  So, their pensions also could increase.

If the contract is ratified, raises and retroactive pay would likely be paid starting a few months after ratification.

If the tentative agreement is not ratified by members, it cannot take effect and negotiations would resume between PEF and GOER.  Greenberg said it might not be possible to retain full retroactivity for raises if this agreement is rejected, because the longer it takes to get a ratified agreement, the greater the cost to the state for retroactivity and the harder it may be for the union to get it; a lot could depend on unknown economic circumstances down the road.  The state likely wants to focus now, she said, on new agreements it is preparing or already beginning to negotiate with other state-employee unions.

Performance awards

In addition to base pay raises, performance awards (also called longevity bonuses) for working five years after reaching the job rate for your title and receiving satisfactory performance ratings, will also go up if the agreement is ratified.  Those payments, which are currently $1,250 for five years at top of grade and $2,500 for 10 years at top of grade, would increase to $1,500 and $3,000, respectively.  In addition, a $4,500 15-year payment is added.

Overtime pay

Greenberg said the state will adjust the way it calculates overtime payments, because while it is supposed to pay “time and a half” for OT, the current formula has been producing payments that are more than 1.5 times the regular pay rate, instead of the required time and a half.  The tentative agreement would correct that.

Co-pays

Cruz said one thing PEF had to accept in this new agreement was higher medical and drug co-pays. For example, co-pays for Empire Plan in-network doctor’s office visits, X-rays and lab work would go from $20 to $25.  You would still see no change for generic drug co-pays, but the co-pay for a 31-90 day supply at the retail pharmacy for Level 2 drugs would be $60, instead of $50, and you would pay $120, instead of $90 for Level 3 drugs.

The maximum annual per-person dental benefit would increase from $2,300 to $3,000 and the lifetime orthodontic benefit would also be increased to $3,000.  And, for the first time, dental implants will be covered up to $600 per implant.

PEF also achieved a breakthrough at the bargaining table by getting the state to agree to put the contract for dental insurance out to bid for the first time in more than 20 years.  PEF is optimistic that putting it out to bid will result in securing a more comprehensive dental provider network.

Telecommuting

The state learned some important lessons about employee dedication and productivity when it told many employees to work from home during the pandemic.  Under the terms of the tentative agreement, all state agencies will be required to develop and implement telecommuting programs within nine months of contract ratification by PEF members.  Previously, pre-pandemic, agencies had full discretion as to whether or not to have an agency telecommuting program.  The new agreement also would allow members who are denied telecommuting by their supervisor to appeal that decision to higher management.  Additionally, the cap on telecommuting a maximum of four days per pay period would be eliminated if PEF members ratify the contract, although the agency would still retain discretion in approving telecommuting applications.

Family leave

Another win for PEF members is a provision in the tentative agreement that would allow them to use up to 25 days of sick leave accruals annually to care for ailing family members.

Vacation leave

Essential workers had little chance to take vacations during the pandemic and many members saw their vacation accruals build up beyond maximum limits to carry forward into the next year.  The tentative agreement would temporarily raise the accrual cap from 40 to 50 days for one year effective April 1, 2022.  The cap would go back to 40 days on April 1, 2023.

However, accruals in excess of 40 hours that were carried over in April 2020 and 2021 under a prior COVID-related negotiated agreement with GOER must be used by December 31, 2021.  Accruals earned after April 1, 2021, are not affected and will be subject to the 50-day cap and may be carried over in accordance with the one-year cap of 50 days from April 1, 2022, until March 31, 2023.

There’s more

These are only some of the important features of the tentative agreement that could benefit you if you ratify it.  Copies of the tentative agreement with all of the changes from the previous agreement noted have been mailed to PEF’s PS&T members, along with a useful document highlighting the gains and trade-offs.  You can also find all the information on the PEF website here.  For questions about how the tentative agreement would apply to your individual situation, please contact your PEF field representative at your PEF regional office.