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Letters to the Editor

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Restrain irresponsible discipline

To the Editor:

While readers were likely surprised at the inhumane practices of the state Office of Employee Relations at the State Education Department (SED) that apparently contributed to the death of a longtime employee, such practices are not isolated to SED:  Hundreds of state employees are subjected to the disciplinary whims of their employer, the state of New York every year and many of them face the same treatment that was accorded Charles McCarthy.

While unionized employees, such as those represented by PEF and CSEA, have some protection in the form of bargaining agreements that govern how the disciplinary process unfolds, they have little control over how, when and why their managers may seek to deploy the humiliating tactics that had such tragic results in the case of Mr. McCarthy.

Therein lies the problem:  While some employees are, indeed, bad apples, and worthy of investigation that may lead to discipline including termination, others may be victims of agency “payback” for other reasons – their outspokenness, a principled willingness to take on management where they see wrongdoing. Such outspokenness may be unwelcome, perhaps, but useful and constructive in the long run, when “Yes, sir” is the presiding mantra for those who hope to get promoted.

Where the disciplinary process is used in illegitimate ways to silence or otherwise neutralize employees who have committed no real wrongdoing, those who have the authority to unleash that process on any particular employee ought to be held accountable and,  if necessary, removed.  State employees deserve better.


Brain cancer cases too high at DEC Buffalo

To the Editor:

In March 2019, an employee of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation working at 270 Michigan Avenue in Buffalo learned he had brain cancer.   He was the sixth DEC employee working at this location to be diagnosed with this disease.

In 2013, after the fifth employee to be diagnosed with brain cancer passed away, the NYS Department of Health performed an investigation and Cancer Incidence Study at the DEC office.  When the Health Department reported the results of the study, it told employees that the number of brain cancers in the office was a statistical abnormality.

In response to the sixth brain cancer diagnosis this past year, DEC management requested that the Health Department perform a second Indoor Air Quality Investigation.  This study was more rigorous than the study done in 2013 and used testing/sampling methods that DEC/PEF engineers and technicians had originally recommended for the 2013 study.  DEC/PEF engineers and technicians found that the 2019 study results detected four chemical contaminants in the air that exceeded Health Department matrices (values); indicating that the source of these contaminants should be identified and cleaned up.

At this time the fate of the office is in flux.  The office lease has expired; however, the current plan is to remain in the building and consolidate all employees onto the first floor.  This proposal would create office space in former commercial spaces, which PEF members feel may be the source of the cancer-causing contaminate.  Thus, many PEF members feel that it is unsafe to remain in the building.

In addition to the concerns about the known contaminants, the building has a poor air-handling system that has, at times, allowed odors such as gasoline and perchlorethylene to spread through the DEC workspace.  Similarly, the sanitary/storm sewer is outdated which in heavy rainstorms can result in storm water and sewer water flooding the first floor.

DEC PEF members appreciate management’s efforts to protect workers’ health, and now urge DEC and the state Office of General Services to work together to relocate workers to a more suitable and safe location as quickly as possible.


(PEF chair of the Joint Health and Safety Committee at DEC)

Please stop long hours at DMV

To the Editor:

I am a grade 17, Tier 1 member with 51 years of service and spent most of that time at the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

I have never worked so long at my job (as I have) since the Green Light program (which allows undocumented immigrants to apply for and receive their driver’s license) began December 16, 2019.

While I can retire tomorrow and take my pension and run, most of my (fellow) employees cannot. They are single parents or have elderly parents and need to work. They have no time to shop, take or pickup their children from school or daycare.

In my opinion, no one seems to care, especially this union. I was on a phone call with union officials and DMV employees and all I got out of the conversation was, “I am writing this down, I am writing this down.”

This doesn’t help any of us in the higher grades. We don’t mind working all the time, but, starting at 6:45 am in the morning and ending the day at 6:15, 6:30 and on Thursday stay till 7 p.m.! We are bound by our contract not to strike, we come to work, with no mass call ins. At least CSEA has meeting and is coming up with a solution. What has PEF done? We want to know.

Clifton Park

Editor’s note:
PEF is working hard to relieve this very difficult situation for its members. The union has met with senior management at the DMV to discuss what can be done to spread the overtime burden more fairly and will soon hold tele-town hall meetings with PEF members at DMV to update them. Meanwhile, the DMV has hired hundreds of additional frontline staff including some PEF members and has opened satellite offices to reduce the strain. PEF field staff will be checking in with members at each DMV worksite in the New York City area to see if the situation is improving there.

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