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Eboard meets remotely, discusses budget, elections, COVID impact on members

By KATE MOSTACCIO

As New York’s cases of novel coronavirus surged in late March, PEF President Wayne Spence drafted a policy to allow the PEF Executive Board to hold its March meeting remotely via teleconference to safeguard the health of its members.

“During the COVID pandemic, Executive Board meetings shall not be conducted in person,” Spence said over teleconference on March 26. “Instead they shall be conducted by teleconferencing. Any actions taken by the Executive Board shall be subject to formal ratification at an in-person meeting when it’s safe.”

Spence told board representatives that he intends to meet by teleconference once a month as long as the COVID pandemic prevents in-person meetings.

PEF staff has been busy implementing changes as they became necessary and working to protect and serve PEF members facing unprecedented issues in their workplaces.

“We’d all agree the last few weeks have been almost beyond words,” said Spence. “It’s just surreal what’s going on. Since the governor declared a state of emergency, we’ve been in constant motion. We are facing problems more serious than anything we’ve ever dealt with before.”

PEF has been in daily communications with the governor, his staff and with GOER (the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations). “We have made some significant gains,” Spence said. “One of the first was a statewide telecommuting policy. The reality is that 75 percent of our members are currently not working from home, every day and every hour we are pushing agencies to look at telecommuting.”

Other PEF gains include the carryover of more than 40 days of vacation credits starting April 1 – time employees would normally have to forfeit.

The union has been working tirelessly to make sure members are supplied with personal protective equipment.

“We have been advocating daily and vigorously for adequate PPE statewide,” Spence said. “It’s a huge problem not just for our members, for all health care workers. Many of our members are in harms way. We are doing everything we can to address this dire need as quickly as possible.”

PEF worked with the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities on guidelines for quarantine ; collaborated with the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to halt in-person parole visits; pushed for Civil Service exams to be postponed; and has been advocating for more members to be designated as nonessential employees to work from home.

Vice President Sharon V. DeSilva stressed the importance of documenting concerns and requests  in writing so PEF leaders and staff can act on them.

“We’ve issued guidance (several emails) on how to address member concerns at the labor management table,” DeSilva said. “We’re asking that you please reach out to your field reps, and all of your agency PEF Leaders to discuss all concerns and put them in writing.

“We need to push for staggered telecommuting/reduction in working hours. If there is inadequate  PPE or cleaning, we want everything to be in writing,” DeSilva said . “We need evidence we can use down the road, if necessary. We want to memorialize all our concerns/requests in writing.”

Board members engaged in a robust question and answer session with PEF leaders and staff. The information shared during that session is included on the Q&A updated daily on the PEF.org website. Check that page frequently for important information, as it is updated nearly daily.

PEF Budget

PEF Secretary Treasurer Kay Alison Wilkie provided a brief segment on the PEF budget, without going into specifics due to security concerns. Spence detailed difficulties another union had faced being hacked during a teleconference meeting so the decision was made to keep specific numbers out of the update.

“All the budget choices reflect PEF policies, framework and strategic goals,” Wilkie said. “Our strategic goals include increasing new member conversions; securing a responsible, respectful contract; expanding statewide membership engagement; and supporting PEF’s political agenda.”

Wilkie said the PEF membership has no private entities and is set at 51,677. The budget makes no assumptions a collective bargaining agreement would be in place and includes modest staff increases. She said committees were funded following an examination of multi-year patterns and allocations of resources reflect PEF’s priorities.

“COVID-19 crisis adjustments can be made,” Wilkie said. “We can adjust as we understand what the full implications of this crisis are. It’s too early to predict at this point. We have flexibility with contingency plans.”

This budget as proposed will be implemented April 1, subject to formal approval at the next in-person Executive Board meeting that is possible.

Wilkie highlighted one factor in the year-to-date financial statements – division standings.

“We had 79 percent in good standing and 5 percent improved,” Wilkie said. “That’s pretty remarkable.”

Political endorsements

PEF Vice President Randi DiAntonio reported out on the Statewide Political Action Committee endorsements.

“Up until early March we were able to meet and moving along on our endorsements,” she said. “We were able to go through our complete regional PAC and statewide PAC process for primaries and special elections and each region sent out questionnaires and conducted interviews.”

She presented the recommended candidates, which had been approved by regional and statewide PAC members.

Stay tuned to PEF communications for more information.

“The world is extremely fluid right now, as is the political and election process,” DiAntonio said. “We will continue to update you.”

PEF elections

Kristie Furman, Director of Divisions, reported that all PEF elections have been suspended.

“We can’t be sure people can obtain signatures safely,” Furman said. “ All currently elected will remain in office until the elections can be resumed.”

Delegate elections have also been postponed. Click here for more information.

Convention update

Director of Special Events Kim Partridge reported on the 2020 PEF Convention, including proposed changes to the rules and agenda that would need to be ratified at a future in-person meeting.

One proposed change is that cash will no longer be accepted as payment for ticketed events.

“We had some difficulties doing tickets on site because of cash being handled,” Partridge said. “We are going to institute no cash.”

She reminded board members of the importance of timely hotel and travel cancellations.

“We’ve had some issues with cancellations at the last minute that result in charges and increased expenses to PEF,” she said. “We are asking for delegates to follow the deadlines and be responsible on their end for changes that come up in a timeframe that allows us to notify the hotels.”

Proposed agenda changes include ending the President’s Reception at 9 p.m. again, giving delegates time afterward for other events. The Monday Nurses Committee breakfast would also be moved to a luncheon at 12:30.

Partridge said tentative plans are being made for another solidarity event, similar to last year’s walk to the Empire State Plaza steps, for Tuesday during the lunch hour.

“We would like to do something involving brother and sister unions in Canada on the bridge,” she said.

The proposed changes also include ending plenary session earlier on Wednesday to allow time for delegates to get to the train station.

Stories from the frontlines

President Spence invited two Eboard members, working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response, to speak to the members of the board about their experiences.

Susan Billi, a registered nurse surveyor, normally works in Central Islip on Long Island. She is a certified infection control nurse and has been an RN since 1976. Billi found herself called into service in New Rochelle and shared her story.

“I received a call from my supervisor stating there was a call put out for volunteers to go to New Rochelle to address the coronavirus issues,” she told the board.

Billi soon got her first taste of being a first responder.

“As an RN I have never been called on to be a first responder to a ground zero type of situation,” she said. “There was a command center set up. I will tell you that things were not running quickly at that command center. It took time to get that site up and running.”

Billi was part of a team of three sent to collect nose and throat swabs from those identified as high risk in the neighborhood.

“We had to be fit tested for n95 masks,” she said. “That’s beyond a surgical mask. We filled out paperwork submitted to NYS Workers Comp and NYS Employee Health Services. We were asked questions related to our health. Did I have asthma or heart problems? That took seven hours to give clearance for me to be fit tested.”

Billi said staff in New Rochelle were well protected.

“At all times while I was in New Rochelle we had all of the PPE that was recommended by the CDC in Atlanta for this particular virus,” she said. “That included protective eye ware, n95 masks, impervious gown, gloves in every size.”

The runs for swabs soon expanded beyond New Rochelle, into Washington Heights, the west side of Manhattan, Harlem, and as far north as Hasting-on-Hudson and Croton-on-Hudson.

New Yorkers were thankful for the attention of the health care workers.

“Many of the patients whose homes we entered, their first words were, ‘I want to thank you for being here to address this medical issue that I have,’” Billi said. “It was a humbling experience because as a nurse with over 40 years of experience, it’s very rare that I hear a thank you.”

PEF member and Executive Board member Richard Fletcher, a disability analyst with the state Office of Temporary Disability Assistance in Region 5 (Binghamton area), was assigned to the drive-through testing site at Jones Beach (Long Island).

“My agency put out a request for volunteers,” Fletcher said. “I’ve been here for 11 days. Jones Beach is a drive-through COVID testing site. Members of the public and law enforcement come here to be tested. They drive up, register, are tested by a three-person team, then go on their way.”

Fletcher said Jones Beach is a massive operation with a lot of moving parts. “The fIrst day was chaotic. A lot of state employees have been mandated here. This is an unprecedented pandemic, none of us have ever faced this.”

The process improves daily, Fletcher said. “Every day things have gotten better,” he said. “At no time I have been out here have I felt unsafe. They’ve done a good job with what we’ve had.”

Social distancing measures are being implemented at the site to safeguard staff.

“To minimize exposure, the rule is six feet and two minutes interaction,” Fletcher said. “We sit four to a table, as far as we can. Anything they can do to distance us socially, to keep us safe, they are doing.”

Fletcher thanked PEF for sending some gear to the site.

“I want to thank President Spence,” he said. “I sent him an email, can you send us some PEF stuff. Some yellow hats and scarves. Most days here It looks like a contract rally. Most of the staff are wearing PEF scarves and hats.”

Leaders, Eboard reps thank members, staff

Many Executive Board members and PEF leadership expressed gratitude for the work of PEF staff and PEF members during a time of unparalleled crisis.

Secretary-Treasurer Wilkie was thankful to PEF staff for pulling together and continuing to serve PEF members from home.

“A lot of work has been done behind the scenes,” Wilkie said. “Health and Safety, Field Services, Special Events, Legal, MIS. The exceptional work by MIS in helping staff work remotely was made possible by our recent IT infrastructure upgrades.”

The MIS team had all staff up and working remotely in 48 hours.

Vice President DiAntonio thanked her fellow members for sharing their frontline stories.

“Listening to our two members describe their experiences has really left me feeling so proud to be a PEF member and be a PEF leader,” she said. “I know we are all working so hard to protect our members, our families and our communities. I am humbled and proud and think we’re heroes right now.

“We will get through this,” she said. “We will be stronger together.”

PEF Contract Chair Darlene Williams urged continued solidarity and asked members to share their stories of the important work they are doing.

“We have been doing a lot of tagging people’s pictures,” she said. “We are now truly engaged in Twitter. We are really gaining momentum in the social media. The public knows we are protecting the citizens of New York. The politicians are picking everything up and saying good job. People around the world are saying thank you.”

President Spence thanked members for staying the course.

“Thank all of you for the work you are continuing to do during this crisis,” Spence said. “Your leadership and commitment is essential to this union. We are in an unprecedented and extremely challenging moment in our lives. But I know what PEF members are capable of and I know we will come through this together.”

The August Executive Board meeting is planned for August 27-28.