PEF contract chair tells board: ‘I will not beg!’ Gets standing ovation
Photos and story by SHERRY HALBROOK
Members of the PEF Executive Board received many reports at their May 23-24 meeting in Albany, including an update on the status of negotiations with the state on a new contract for the Professional, Scientific and Technical employees bargaining unit that PEF represents.
PEF Region 10 Coordinator Darlene Williams, who chairs the contract team, said they have passed proposals and discussed many contract articles.
“We prioritized every contract article that people told us on the survey was important to them, and we’ve also opened bargaining on bullying at the request of Mike Blue (who is Region 8 coordinator and PEF co-chair of the Joint Committee on Health and Safety),” Williams said.
While it has been slow going at meetings between the full PEF bargaining team and the full team from the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations, Williams reported more progress has been made when several members from both teams break out into “small table” negotiation over specific non-economic issues.
Williams said PEF’s team members come very well prepared to discuss the issues, but the state’s chief negotiator makes little or no response to PEF’s proposals.
“At the main table, we’re not getting meaningful dialogue, and that’s a problem,” Williams said. “If GOER refuses one of our proposals, we hope it will say why so we can move the discussion forward.”
PEF’s Members in Black (MIB) campaign garnered lots of very visible member support for the PEF team, Williams said. “MIB really worked. It symbolizes that the state is in the black. We wear our black ‘We Are Union Strong’ T-shirts to the bargaining sessions and it really bothers them.”
She said the team is proud of the solidarity demonstrated by the high membership levels PEF has maintained since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2018 that bargaining-unit public employees do not have to maintain union membership.
“We always pin up the membership numbers behind us at the bargaining table to remind the state we are 54,000 strong, and they don’t like that either,” Williams added.
The state team wants PEF to just accept a one-size-fits-all pattern contract that would be essentially the same for every state bargaining unit, but the PEF team is refusing.
“The state’s chief negotiator says, ‘You’re going to do it, because the other unions do it. It’s a pattern and you are going to take it,” Williams said.
“I told him, I will not sit and have our team disrespected. We are our own union, with our own members and our own needs,” Williams said. “We will not just take whatever you give us. We will not be treated as if we are begging. Our members get up every day and go to work and do their jobs. We earn our contract. I’ve worked for 38 ½ years. I will not beg!”
Williams’ impassioned comments drew strong applause from the board, and she told them, “We are at a (point of) struggle now. We wouldn’t be able to do this if we didn’t have the support of you guys.”
Williams said she and certain members of the PEF team will meet with key PEF staff June 6 to review their current strategy and decide what to do next.
“We’re not there to negotiate for other unions. We’re there to negotiate for PEF,” said PEF President Wayne Spence, “I’ve told (PEF’s chief negotiator) Mark Richard if certain things aren’t addressed (at the bargaining table) by the end of June, I’ll go to the governor.” And if that doesn’t produce results, he said, PEF’s approach to these negotiations could change significantly.
“It might be up to us (to stand up and fight), if they are going to try to marginalize us,” Spence said. “There have to be consequences for actions.
“I believe in mutual respect,” Spence said. “I don’t believe we have to beg for anything. We’ve earned it. If we want a contract that’s worth something, it’s going to take a fight.”
Board members spoke up to add their support.
“Respect is more important than money,” said Ved Shravah, who represents members at the state Education Department. “We are real professionals. We deserve real respect and we want to have a real voice.”
Board member Harold Brewster, representing members at the state Office of Mental Health, asked, “Is it possible that the tentative agreement (that PEF will eventually reach with the state) might not have (a new article providing) paid family leave?”
“The state wants it and wants us to pay for it,” Williams said. “We put our own proposed contract language on the table and we want them to pay for it.”
Spence said United University Professions, which represents SUNY faculty, “is the only union that took it, and I’m told they’re not very happy with it.”
Another board member raised timekeeping as a big problem for members she represents. And several other board members talked about ways management tries to circumvent existing contract language on that subject. Contract Article 12.7 says, “No employee in this unit shall be required to punch a time clock or record attendance with a timekeeper.”
One board member said management at his worksite takes pictures of employees as they come and go from their workplace, and another said her employer uses the parking garage tickets for employees to track their arrival and departure.
Spence said, “We need to learn more about these situations so we can show GOER these things are happening now.”
PEF has a new way to show support for a good contract and the union’s negotiating team. It’s called HashtagFridays and asks members to get their families and friends together for photos holding signs with the # symbol and messages. (For more information, check here.)
While PEF members like telecommuting and see many common sense advantages to them, the state and the environment in this digital age, two board members from different state agencies said their members who telecommute report they must allow work-related calls to be forwarded from their office to their personal cell phones.
With the Memorial Day weekend following on the heels of the board meeting, Williams urged all of the board members to take their # photos and send them in.
“I want to see pictures of you and your kids, your cat, your dog, your neighbors!” she told them.
PEF’s constant efforts to reach out to its members, inform them, listen to them and involve them in the union is working well, according to several reports provided to members of the PEF Executive Board at its quarterly meeting in Albany held May 23 and 24.
A nationally coordinated and funded effort to destroy public employee unions has been trying to get members to leave and PEF expects another wave of attacks to hit soon.
Jane Briggs, PEF’s director of communications, showed the board a new 30-second digital ad PEF and other unions created to counter those attacks. The ad is designed to appear on YouTube, Facebook and other social media. …READ MORE