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Once a ‘union man,’ always a union man

By SHERRY HALBROOK

Ken Cousin was a union man before PEF existed, and he still is.

Now in his 80s and living in Seattle, Cousin is still a labor organizer at heart, and PEF is his union — so much so, that he wouldn’t give up wearing his old PEF Region 9 convention delegate jacket until his son and daughter got him a new PEF jacket for his recent 87th birthday to wear.

He still won’t let them toss out his old jacket because it is a fond connection to his great and happy memories of old friends and countless union battles they won or lost together.

Formerly an officer in a Civil Service Employees Association local, Cousin was an organizer who helped get PEF off the ground and elected as the bargaining agent for the state’s Professional, Scientific and Technical employees bargaining unit in 1978.  And he continued to help organize the union as its members wrote and adopted a constitution, elected officers, hired staff and began to form the PEF divisions.

“I remember being on the picket lines with him before I even started school,” said his daughter, Merril Cousin.  “I was too young to understand what it was about, but I remember his activism and his belief that it is important to stand up for what you believe is right.”

Cousin said he was supporting postal workers and garment workers as well as many others as their unions fought to protect them and their jobs.

Most important in his memory, Cousin said, is the work he put into getting the state’s Taylor Law enacted in 1967. It is Article 14 of the NYS Civil Service Law and creates the state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to resolve contract disputes. It provides for mediation and arbitration, and it also provides for fines and jail time as punishment for strikes by public employees.

In his professional career, Cousin was a statistician working for a state commission against discrimination and later became a senior labor analyst focused on on-the-job training programs offered by smaller employers. That work involved a complicated 92-step process, he recalled. Cousin retired from state service in 1989 and remains a member of PEF Retirees.

Why is PEF still so relevant to him?  “My state pension and the annual COLA (cost-of-living adjustment for inflation) pays for the largest part of my rent here,” Cousin said. “And my Medicare is important too.”

While the union cannot bargain outright on behalf of its retired members, it gives them a voice in Albany and Washington when policy and funding decisions are being made, and Cousin is keenly aware of that.

Now residing in an assisted living facility in Seattle, Cousin said his organizing spirit is still strong and he supports the facility’s wait staff and other employees in their efforts to unionize and demand fair pay and working conditions.

“I follow the news and continue to speak out,” Cousin said, “for the same reasons now as ever.”


Many of you loved our story about Ken Cousins and asked if you could personally thank him for his decades of union activism. We reached out to his daughter, who suggested anyone who wishes can send her an email at moc.l1603610833iamto1603610833h@2jl1603610833irrem1603610833 and she’ll pass the well-wishes on to her father.