Executive Board: Show up for Labor Day parades to get good contract
August 15, 2019
Executive Board: Show up for Labor Day parades to get good contract
BY SHERRY HALBROOK
What do PEF, Passion and Parades have in common? Winning a new PS&T contract.
PEF Contract Team Chair Darlene Williams brought the union’s Executive Board members to their feet in August in standing ovations when she expressed her passionate determination to stay at the bargaining table until a fair agreement can be reached, and when she told them the most important thing PEF members can do now to help get that agreement is to show up in big numbers to march in September labor parades.
Williams said she believes the governor and his bargaining team still don’t appreciate how unified and fired up PEF members really are in their determination to win a strong new contract.
“I really think the state negotiators are still not taking us seriously. They think we will fold. But President (Wayne) Spence has chosen a contract chair who is not willing to fold. I hear PEF members in every region telling me what they need and they say: ‘Do not leave the table!’
“I am not going to fold and neither are the members of this contract team. These team members are excellent! We are going to continue to step forward. But the way we need to (show the governor we mean business) is at the labor parades.
“I do not want to be at that parade with only 50 people behind me,” Williams said. “Bring your friends! Bring your kids! Bring your family! Bring your dog! We need everybody. We need you at the parades to tell the governor we are unified. We need lots of our people to be at every one of these parades!”
PEF wants you to notify it to say you will march in the New York City or other labor parade. That’s so PEF can make sure it has enough T-shirts and other materials for you when you arrive at the parade staging area.
“If you want a better contract, show up at these parades!” said Dan Carpenter, PEF assistant director of field service organizing.
The contract team is also asking that each member learn more about the bargaining issue of paid family leave and let it know where you stand on the issue. It would provide a benefit, but every PS&T member would have to contribute from every paycheck to help pay for it.
Paid family leave would likely provide PS&T employees in 2019 with up to 10 weeks off at 55 percent of their regular pay (capped based on the state average weekly wage) to care for family members following a birth, an adoption or a family member’s serious illness or injury. By 2021, the cap on family leave would increase to 67 percent of the state average weekly pay. The cost of the program would have no guaranteed cap.
So far, the team has received mixed messages on this issue from the membership. Some members want it and others don’t. No clear majority position has been identified.
Among PEF’s top issues that are clear is the need to put teeth into the deadlines for state hearings and the resolution of charges and penalties when employees are issued notices of discipline and the state suspends them without pay. Those employees should not be left in payless status for months and even years while the union advocates for them and the employer delays resolution. The situation makes pursuit of the employee’s due process rights a punishment in itself.
The union also sees an obvious need to standardize policies and implementation of telecommuting opportunities throughout state service. And it is clear that many members find current dental and vision benefits disappointing. Along with compensation and health benefits, these are among the top issues PEF is raising for negotiation.
Williams reported that many negotiating sessions between the full teams from PEF and the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations, and between smaller segments from both teams have been held through June and July.
Among the contract articles that were discussed at those meetings are:
- Article 4 – Employee Organization Rights;
- Article 8 – Travel;
- Article 9 – Health Insurance;
- Article 10 – Work-Life Services Programs;
- Article 12 – Attendance and Leave;
- Article 13 – Workers Compensation Benefit;
- Article 13 – Workers Compensation Benefit;
- Article 14 – Professional Development and Quality of Working Life Coordinating Committee;
- Article 15 – Professional Development Committee;
- Article 24 – Labor-Management Committee Process; and
- Article 25 – Seniority.
In addition, Williams said the committees spent an entire day discussing Article 33 – Discipline. Negotiating sessions also were held regarding issues relating to hourly employees, telecommuting and matters specific to the state School for the Deaf and the state School for the Blind.
Negotiation of Article 7 – Compensation began some months earlier and continues as does negotiation of some other articles not specifically addressed in the June and July meetings.
PEF and staff union reach tentative agreement
The board went into an executive session to discuss a tentative agreement PEF had reached with its staff union, USW 9265, on a six-year contract that would run from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2022.
The new tentative agreement would succeed the previous one-year contract for 2015-16 that was reached in 2016 that provided a one-year 2 percent raise and left all other aspects the same.
The PEF Executive Board at this meeting decided to advance the question of its approval for the tentative agreement with USW to a special Executive Board meeting it will hold on the morning of the first full day of the PEF convention, September 16. The question of any related adjustments to the terms and conditions of employment for PEF’s management and confidential staff (referred to as the M/C Synopsis) will also be decided at that special board meeting in September.
The tentative agreement with USW must be approved by the PEF Executive Board and ratified by the USW membership before it can become a new contract.
“It was not easy to reach this agreement,” Spence said. “I want to thank (USW 9265 President) Geraldine (Stella) for pushing me to have faith that we could do this last Friday. She told me she had faith in the good people on both sides of the table.”
Lockport members move to 1199
Spence reported that PEF’s only remaining private-sector bargaining unit had voted to leave PEF and join its sister union, SEIU 1199, which is a very large health-care union representing more than 450,000 members nationwide. SEIU already represented the workforce at Eastern Niagara Hospital in Lockport.
The US labor law and regulations for unions representing private-sector employees are significantly different than the state rules for representing public employees and it actually cost PEF more to comply with the federal rules to represent the private-sector members than the union collected in dues from them. The bargaining unit has approximately 100 employees.
Board approves retirees’ dues change
The PEF Executive Board debated and voted to approve a change in membership dues for PEF Retirees. The retirees group is related but separate from PEF and its own executive board proposed and approved the dues change. The PEF Executive Board could only approve or disapprove that change, not amend it.
The change increases PEF Retirees dues from $1.50/month to $3/month if the dues are automatically deducted from the member’s pension check. That raises the annual dues from $18 to $36. For those who pay their dues annually by check, rather than by automatic pension deductions, the cost will increase to $41.
Robert Harms, who represents PEF Retirees on the PEF Executive Board, said the organization, which has approximately 19,000 members, has been struggling to keep up with rising costs and had previously moved from holding an annual conference to a biannual one to save money. Harms said dues increase might cause some people to reconsider their membership, but that membership has been steadily rising over the years. PEF pays the first year of PEF Retirees membership for PEF members when they retire.
Global privatization issue
Spence said the privatization of state services and jobs was an issue he and PEF Secretary-Treasurer Kay Alison Wilkie discussed recently with state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
PEF suggested the comptroller might want to take a close look at some health-insurance related contracts the state regularly renews without soliciting competitive bids. He told the comptroller about one example of a large state no-bid contract that includes “rebates” to the state.
PEF also requested the comptroller’s support for the cost-benefit analysis legislation and similar initiatives to reverse erosion of public employment and services.
Wilkie said OSC staff discussed state budget language that precludes OSC audits of Maximus, a private contractor hired without being subject to typical procurement law oversight.
In addition, PEF brought three shadow agencies at SUNY Stony Brook Medical Center to the comptroller’s attention.
DiNapoli told the PEF leaders he found it troubling that a recent audit of the state Labor Department showed understaffing at DOL is undercutting its ability to enforce state labor laws.
Privatization also was an important issue at another meeting Spence attended.
Spence reported on a trip he made to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in late June to attend a meeting of PSI (Public Service International). The PEF president said he attended the event as a representative of PEF’s two international affiliates, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which paid his travel expenses.
“Water is now a commodity” in Brazil and other South American countries, Spence said, and it is becoming a significant expense for millions of people who must buy it.
A surge in privatization of public services is another big issue, especially in Brazil, Spence said. And after he met with members of a public-employee union representing corrections employees in Brazil, he said, they asked him to come back with others from PEF to talk to them about how PEF is fighting the privatization of its members’ jobs and their public services.
AFT and SEIU have agreed to pay for sending a PEF delegation to Brazil to meet with that union and its members, Spence said.
It looks likely that “Brazil is ‘ground zero’ for privatization” issues in Latin America, Spence said.
When PEF Region 2 Coordinator Andrew Puleo mentioned that he’s heard a very wealthy and prominent US family bought an enormous watershed area in South America, Spence responded. “You’re going to go with us.”
Spence said he also will turn to author Donald Cohen, who spoke at the 2018 PEF convention about privatization, to help PEF frame the information it takes to Brazil.
Protecting members at Tax & Finance
Spence said he recently attended a meeting in Chicago, where PEF has dozens of members who work for the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance. The members are based in Chicago but many of them are regularly sent all over the country to audit businesses’ records of sales subject to New York state taxes.
The Department of Taxation and Finance is trying to shut down its Chicago office and transfer those employees to various offices in New York state, but PEF this change threatens the $150 million in tax revenues these members bring into New York’s coffers annually.
PEF is also concerned about the massive disruption to the lives of its members and their families.
Spence said the union expects to raise its concerns at the appropriate labor-management committee.
Spence said, “This won’t be an easy fight. It will come down to financial issues.”
Spence said PEF will work over the next 18 months to identify “best practices” for recruiting new members and helping all members to be informed, active and involved in PEF.
Too often, “the worst enemies of unions are us,” Spence said. And it is important to expand PEF’s skills at every level for resolving conflicts and differences. He said he hopes to bring more guests and experts to address the board at future meetings.
At this meeting, the board heard from AFT Political Deputy Director Brandon Boswell, who reported on how AFT is looking at national political issues and candidates for the 2020 general election that will include races for president and vice president, some members of the US Senate, all members of the US House of Representatives, and – here in NY state – all members of the state Legislature.
Spence said the Family Fun Days being offered again this summer by the Membership Benefits Program have been very popular with PEF members and retirees. The recent event held in New Jersey drew approximately 2,000 people.
Discounts provided by MBP gave participants a more than $60 savings per ticket.
(Note: The Family Fun Day held later, August 10, at the Great Escape near Glens Falls drew nearly 2,300 members and their guests.)
A brief report on how members are faring, who work at the two state correctional facilities the state is closing, was presented at Spence’s request by board member Steve Drake, who is PEF’s labor-management chair for corrections at the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
Drake said that transfers to other state jobs have been arranged for all but two of the PEF members affected by the facility closings. He said promotions may be required to keep the two remaining members – a vocational supervisor and a nurse administrator – on the state payroll and those opportunities are pending.
Overtime and understaffing
The board engaged in a spirited discussion of understaffing, the persistence of mandatory overtime for prison nurses and the need to ensure local labor-management agreements are reviewed by the PEF Contract Administration and Office of General Counsel before the proposed agreements are finalized.
PEF Region 12 Coordinator Nora Higgins and board member Carolyn Cole, who co-chair the PEF Nurses Committee, reported that PEF divisions at some state correctional facilities entered into local agreements with management to allow mandatory overtime for nurses, and these agreements often were reached with a few months after PEF finally got a state law enacted in 201l that prohibits state agencies from mandating nurses to work overtime except in emergencies.
“Facilities are posting schedules that include mandated overtime a month in advance.” Cole said.
“This completely gets around the law, and people are also being mandated to come back into work on their day off,” Higgins said.
If the employer can see a month ahead that it will not have enough nurses to cover all of the shifts, that is not an emergency, Higgins said. It is understaffing that the state needs to address.
It was noted that nurses at some state facilities are resigned to being mandated to work overtime and would rather know in advance when they will be assigned to do it.
Higgins responded that if a nurse agrees to work OT, it is voluntary and not “mandated.”
Spence said he believes that issue relates to a policy that a PEF member “signed off on in 2011, which is part of a larger MOU (memorandum of understanding) on vacation leave. In fact, many agencies have these MOUs that affect more than just nurses. And DOCCS refuses to change it.”
Spence did not identify the person who signed the MOU at DOCCS, but he said the agreement was not submitted to PEF’s statewide organization and staff for review and approval before it was signed.
“We believe the law is the law,” and a MOU cannot supercede the law, Spence said. PEF will look at violations of the law and decide on a case-by-case basis whether to pursue legal action, he said.
Spence said he wants PEF to be a “bottom up” organization, rather than “top down. I want this to be a union that gives people choices. But no one should enter into a formal agreement on PEF’s behalf without having it vetted by PEF’s legal staff.”
Two board members expressed concern about retaliation if the union makes waves over mandatory OT. An agency might close units or entire facilities in retaliation, they said. They also said most agencies and facilities try to hire more nurses to reduce the need for overtime.
“It stinks if we can’t fight because of fear of retaliation. It’s either one way or the other,” said Region 6 Coordinator Jeanette St. Mary.
The problem is not isolated to DOCCS, board members said.
“Our nurses have been mandated (to work overtime) all summer long,” said board member Mary Haltermann who represents members working at Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany.
Haltermann cautioned that PEF should be very careful about how it presents this issue to its nurses.
“We should be careful not to lead nurses into refusing to work (mandatory) overtime,” Haltermann said.
PEF advises its members to follow management directives, even if the member believes the directives may violate the law or the PEF contract, and then file a protest-of-assignment form, appropriate grievance or other complaint afterward.
Board member Jose Medina from the state DOL said the law includes no penalties for violators and if a hospital or other employer admits guilt, they will be off the hook. If the employer claims they did not violate the law, then the employer must provide evidence and documentation to support their claim.
PEF Legislative Director Greg Amorosi said the union has been working closely with state legislators to amend the law banning mandatory OT for state nurses to include serious penalties for violators.
Amorosi said he is confident state Sen. Robert Jackson and Assembly Member Aileen Gunther will introduce such a bill that includes fines and penalties in the 2020 legislative session. Jackson is a both a former PEF member and a former PEF staffer. Gunther is a former nurse.
Spence said members may decide not to file complaints about mandatory OT because of the lack of penalties for the offending employers. However, PEF needs to collect as many complaints as possible to show legislators and the governor that this continues to be a significant and unfair labor practice.
“We all need to come together on this. Complaints will help get the bill (that adds penalties) passed,” he said.
In her secretary-treasurer’s report to the board, Wilkie said she has been working with many PEF staff members and committees to improve services and get more up-to-the-minute and useful information out to members and leaders about how the union is functioning financially. These efforts include preparing for PEF’s member outreach at the NYS Fair in late August and early September, meeting with PEF’s internal auditor and external auditors, quarterly meetings — well in advance of Executive Board meetings — with PEF’s Budget Advisory and Financial Compliance Committee, financial consultations with officers of the Black Caucus of PEF, and discussions with the Divisions Committee.
Wilkie said she continues to lead efforts to review PEF policies to identify obsolete and out-of-date policies and archive them. She invited comments from board members about the policies.
In addition, Wilkie is working closely with key PEF staff to oversee comprehensive plans for capital improvements at the union’s headquarters in Latham. Currently, the plans underway include:
- Information technology updates;
- Improved building security through installation of a new card-swipe entry system;
- New roof;
- New heating, ventilating and air conditioning system;
- New windows;
- New flooring and paint;
- ADA-compliant facilities and bathrooms;
- New staff eat-in kitchen area; and
- Reorganizing space in the building to expand first-floor meeting space enough to accommodate meetings of the Executive Board.
These improvements will ramp up in late September, following the PEF convention. PEF expects the work to continue into 2020.
Wilkie’s unaudited financial report shows PEF ending the first quarter of its financial year June 30, with net income of $697,709.
Wilkie said she actively supports the combined efforts of PEF’s Divisions and Field Service Organizing departments to improve membership engagement, orientations and outreach to new state PS&T employees, as “It is vital that we enroll such new dues-paying PEF members to maintain and grow our membership numbers over time.”
Continuing efforts to better support PEF divisions is paying off, Wilkie said. She reported that division elections have filled 32 vacant offices. And 68 percent of divisions are now in “good standing” because of improved compliance with policies and timely submission of required audits and financial reports.
Ethics appeals, hearings
The board voted not to hear appeals to two decisions by PEF hearing panels related to alleged Ethics Code violations in the matters of Spence v. Banks and McCann v. Radder.
Two new hearing panels were appointed at the meeting to hear appeals to Ethics Committee decisions in Moonan v. Howansky and Paribello v. Albert.
Board members were given, for their continuing review, a working draft of possible future revisions to the PEF Code of Ethics.
New board policy
Board members voted to limit to five minutes the time a member of the board may use to present issues (called “member items”) they want to bring to the board’s attention and possibly make a motion for action on it.
The board approved a new policy on the submission of member items. The new policy had been suggested by board member Al Yasus and endorsed by the Budget Advisory and Financial Compliance Committee.
Titled “Member Items for Consideration by the PEF Executive Board: Format, Content and Presentation,” the policy is intended to improve the consistency of information included with member items (such as brief background and fiscal impact when applicable), so that Executive Board deliberations will be better informed.
“We will create a digital fillable-pdf form reflecting the approved policy’s guidelines,” Wilkie said. “These efforts will make it easier for board members to submit member items, and create an ability to track the topics and results of PEF’s member items over time.”
PEF’s legislative agendas
The board reviewed and debated updates to PEF’s state and federal legislative agendas for 2020. After making several amendments to these documents, the board approved sending them to the PEF convention delegates for action.
The board was informed that PEF will now rely more completely on AFT and SEIU to lobby for issues raised as priorities in PEF’s federal legislative agenda. PEF’s legislative staff has always worked closely on federal issues with these international affiliates of PEF that are based in Washington.
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