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Contract negotiations set to resume April 27

By KATE MOSTACCIO

The PEF Contract Team and state negotiators will return to the bargaining table April 27. The union is calling for across-the-board wage increases, much-needed improvements to the dental benefit, improving the longevity and telecommuting programs and seeking retroactivity of raises and longevity payments.

“Formal negotiations were put on hold during the pandemic, but the contract team continued to work behind the scenes to protect our members,” said Contract Chair Darlene Williams. “We negotiated the emergency telecommuting agreement, carryover of accruals due to COVID, and the ability to use leftover DCAA and flexible spending account funds beyond annual deadlines. We negotiated telemedicine services with no co-pays and we engaged daily on health and safety issues.”

Throughout the pause on negotiations, the Contract Team met to prepare proposals for returning to the table. Some of that work included delving deeper into the dental benefit. PEF sent out a Request for Proposals in an effort to find a plan that might better meet member needs. The team also learned that the state pays Emblem administrative fees that PEF believes exceed the industry norm.

“The money spent on these fees could be better used to provide an improved benefit for our members,” said Williams. “It makes no sense that the state has not put this contract out to bid and that the state pays such seemingly high administrative fees for a bare-bones benefit.”

The team has had encouraging discussions about expanding the existing non-emergency telecommuting program, including talks of eliminating the four-day-per-pay-period limitation.

“We are optimistic about seeing improvements to the contractual telecommuting program,” Williams said.

PEF, as in past contract negotiations, will push for raise and longevity payment retroactivity.

“We are demanding as we always have full retroactivity,” Williams said. “We have also had some promising discussions about eliminating the sunset provision for the longevity program so that members would continue to get the benefit after contract expiration regardless of when they first became eligible.”

Ongoing discussions on the labor-management process and improving Article 15, which deals with professional development, have also been productive.

PEF President Wayne Spence said the lack of hazard pay in the state budget was disappointing and would be a topic at the bargaining table.

“Hazardous duty pay is an authorized use of the federal stimulus money in the American Rescue Plan,” Spence said. “It was disappointing that it wasn’t included in the state budget. We are going to be pushing hard for some COVID-related hazard duty pay in contract negotiations. Our members deserve this after putting their lives on the line every day for the people of New York.”