PEF committed to keeping members informed during COVID
By KATE MOSTACCIO
With communication made difficult by social distancing and telecommuting, and after several PEF Executive Board members urged the union to share department reports with the full membership, PEF held a telephone town hall the evening of December 17.
President Wayne Spence said the town hall was another way to share the business of the union and get vital information to members. Field Service/Organizing, Health and Safety, Legal and Contract Administration staff reported on work underway and fielded questions submitted in advance from members.
“We got a lot of questions ahead of time,” said Geraldine Stella, director of the PEF Health and Safety Department. “A lot were questions about what is happening with COVID around the state. There is a lot of anxiety. PEF staff and leaders are actively fighting daily to increase COVID controls and reduce density in the workplace.”
The union will continue to push for health and safety measures as the spike in cases continues. But, they can’t fight for change if they don’t know an issue exists in a workplace.
“We want to hear from you and we want evidence of what we’re hearing,” President Spence urged. “We’ve gotten emails about overcrowding or that an office has been brought back at 100 percent. We need pictures of that, if you can and are allowed.”
Spence said the evidence helps PEF make its case for telecommuting and sheds light on inept management. He said, in the new year, PEF will launch a full-scale campaign to call out state leadership for forcing employees back to the workplace when there is a robust plan for telecommuting available to them.
“They are making dangerous decisions while COVID is on the rise,” he said. “The governor says one thing in his daily briefings and his managers and commissioners are doing something else. We’re going to give the state the opportunity to fix things, but we are not going to wait. Waiting could cost lives and the health and safety of both yourself and your family.
“We will do whatever we need to and use whatever remedies are available to us to hold managers and the state accountable,” President Spence said.
Stella also talked about COVID vaccines, urging members to seek out information from the FDA website; discussed micro-cluster zones and PEF’s work to get agencies to adhere to similar restrictions in workplaces; and reminded members who believe they have a work-related COVID exposure to report to the union and file a Worker’s Compensation claim.
Debra Greenberg, counsel in the Contract Administration Department, and Darlene Williams, PEF Contract Team chair, updated members about changes impacting flex spending accounts, such as Dependent Care Advantage Accounts and Health Savings Accounts; vacation accrual agreements; health insurance and dental plans; and the status of contract negotiations for a successor agreement.
PEF is ready to return to the bargaining table, Williams said, but the state has indicated there would be no money on the table.
“We have reached out multiple times to resume negotiations on a full successor contract,” she said. “The state is not prepared to talk about money issues given the economy and the pandemic.” Williams directed members with questions to reach out to PEF or the Contract Team for truthful and accurate information.
Spence said the dental plan is in dire need of replacement.
“We are not satisfied with that,” he said. “Everybody agrees it is not really a plan, it’s more like a coupon. When you ask them how they arrive by their numbers, how they reimburse providers, they say they can’t give you information. It’s literally like pulling teeth.”
PEF staff sent out a Request for Proposals to nationwide dental carriers and received six responses.
“We’re not just going to talk about it, we’re going to do something about it,” Spence said.
He urged members with a lot of vacation time to put in requests to use it now.
“If they turn you down, document it,” Spence said. “Your time is money. Two weeks of unused vacation is two weeks pay.” He said if the state does not extend the vacation accrual agreement, documenting denials can improve the odds of financial compensation later.
The president also commented on news of a stimulus package that would not include aid to states and municipalities – something New York desperately needs.
“That is worrisome for New York State given our financial situation,” Spence said. “We have committed to work with the governor as best we can, while not giving up health and safety issues, to ensure we stave off furloughs and layoffs.
“Unions are all watching this and in conversations on how we can help to best move New York State along,” he said. “Not only are we PEF Strong, but we are New York Strong.”