PEF Executive Board
By KATE MOSTACCIO
The PEF Executive Board met November 7 and 8 in Latham, voting on annual convention locations, discussing member engagement, acting on budget amendments, proposing policy to guide Division scholarships, and getting reports from PEF’s recent audit and the Secretary-Treasurer, among other business.
The striking cover of the November issue of the PEF Communicator set the stage for discussion at the Eboard meeting — the issue of workplace violence and the need to address it across the board.
In the course of recent weeks, eight PEF members, many of them nurses and parole officers, were assaulted on the job.
“What good is a contract if you go to work and you don’t come home? Or you come home permanently disfigured?” PEF President Wayne Spence said. “This cannot be the norm for our members.”
Eboard member Ralph Mabb, Department of Motor Vehicles, said the issue is widespread. “As a union, we need to start taking a look at this,” he said. “The tenor has changed how the public treats civil servants. This is an epidemic.”
Contract Chair and Region 10 Coordinator Darlene Williams urged members to share the November Communicator article across social media. “Use social media. Share this or this will be a silo within PEF,” she said.
“You go to work every day and sometimes you’re on a battlefield,” Region 11 Coordinator Bernadette O’Connor said.
PEF members who have knowledge of workplace violence incidence should contact Director of Communications Jane Briggs, gro.f1576118520ep@sg1576118520girbj1576118520.
“How do we move the issue?” Spence asked. “Cuts to staff are resulting in unsafe situations. We have to look to legislation.”
Contract update, strategies going forward
A video featuring the convention delegates walking to Empire State Plaza and participating in a “unity photo” on the plaza steps was shown to the executive board members.
“How many of you have shared the video?” asked Williams. “How many of you have the unity photo hanging at your workstation?” Hands went up around the room. “The day you walked, that is the feeling you need to keep having,” Williams said. “We’re in a two-handed fight. After the unity walk on the plaza, the State came back with some counter proposals. We need to keep up the pressure.”
The contract team has developed a strategic plan and asked for the board’s help. “You are our 12th players on the field,” Williams said.
Twitter has become a big part of the team’s strategy. Williams related how she saw a story on Twitter of fire protection specialists responding to catastrophic flooding. “They are PEF members,” she said. “They saved a child from a flooded out house.” But on Twitter, the governor said: “Thank God.”
“I don’t have a problem with thanking God,” Williams said. “But how do you not thank the PEF members doing the actual rescuing?” Williams said as much in a Tweet to the governor’s account. And, it made a difference. “They changed the Tweet to thank the rescuers,” she said.
At an event she attended with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Williams mentioned to him that he wasn’t following PEF. “Now they are,” she said. “Go to the politicians, tell them they need to recognize that we need a fair contract. We deserve a fair contract.”
In addition to Twitter and Facebook, the contract team is also urging PEF members to send letters to local newspapers. “Start to tell the local newspapers what you do,” Williams said. “We need to start bargaining differently.”
A template of a generic letter that members can personalize is available on the PEF website.
The contract team also filmed a video update to share with members the items they are focused on addressing at the bargaining table. “Feed that information to the members and keep the members engaged,” Williams said. “Show them the video on your phone. It will talk about what we’re doing.”
Spence said unions that recently finalized contracts had been in negotiations for two, three, or more years. “All those unions got 2 percent and a 20 percent increase in copays and other givebacks,” he said. PEF has been in negotiations for six months.
PEF upped its game with its Hashtag Fridays campaign, as well, creating new signs that let New Yorkers know all the different work members do. “Every Friday, send in pictures with these new signs,” Williams said. “We want to make sure that the governor sees all that we do. He needs to see that we do this work.”
The PEF DOES IT signs are available for download from the PEF website. Members can also create their own wording on a blank sign. Signs include patient care, protecting workers, advancing scientific breakthroughs, keeping your roads and bridges safe, protecting your water and air supply, keeping your data safe, community based care, and many more.
With an eye toward fiscal responsibility, site logistics, and honoring the whole of New York state, the PEF Executive Board voted to set annual convention locations at its November quarterly meeting.
At its last meeting, the board had selected Saratoga as the 2020 location. PEF Director of Special Events Kim Partridge began preparations for planning and quickly realized there would be major problems with this location in 2020.
“We learned there was major construction with parking,” President Spence told the board. “I convened a meeting last week with the Convention Committee Chair, Vice President Sharon V. DeSilva, and the Convention Committee to discuss our options.”
Spence said it was necessary to make a decision quickly, since contracts and planning need to be set far in advance. “Based on major problems at Saratoga, we would like to recommend moving the 2020 convention to Niagara Falls.”
In an apportionment year, Spence said, expectations are that more delegates will participate and more breakout rooms would be needed for meetings. “If we had waited, Niagara Falls would potentially not have space for us,” Spence said.
“There were pretty serious concerns regarding Saratoga,” said Partridge. “We needed 11 hotels in Saratoga. The most we’ve had before is seven. We were notified a parking garage is being constructed on what is currently the High Rock Ave parking lot. Construction would be starting in October, while we would be there.”
Things continued to sour for the Saratoga option as Partridge delved deeper into planning. “The 2020-21 dates available were over the Columbus Day weekend,” she said, adding the only other option was September 12 to 15, which is very early for convention.
Shuttle buses would be hard-pressed to navigate the city, both due to the construction and to Saratoga’s generally narrow streets.
“It was really not a good idea for an apportionment year,” Partridge said. “I have nothing against Saratoga, it’s a beautiful location. It’s just not appropriate for an apportionment year with the construction and the hotel locations.
“We went with Niagara Falls as the recommendation because we fit there,” Partridge said. “We know we fit. We know there will be higher attendance and significant breakout room needs.”
No contract had been signed for Saratoga, Spence said, and switching locations will not cost PEF any money.
The 2014 PEF Convention was held in Niagara Falls. Partridge said a number of hotels have undergone renovations and upgrades since. “Three of five hotels are new as of 2018,” Partridge said.
Spence said there would be planned free time to give delegates a chance to enjoy what Niagara Falls has to offer. “There is so much to do, I get it,” he said.
Following the discussion, a motion was made to go to Niagara Falls in 2020 and 2021, to Buffalo in 2022, and to Saratoga in 2023, in hopes the construction issues would be off the table in Saratoga by the time the convention rolled around.
Another amendment was made to drop consideration for 2023 and vote only on 2021 and 2022. This carried and the final motion carried as amended, setting the locations to Niagara Falls in 2020 and 2021 and Buffalo in 2022, with 2023 to be determined at a later date.
“Why member engagement and why now?” asked PEF Vice President Randi DiAntonio.“Because we need active and informed members to get a good contract! We’re doing well but we’re still not where we need to be.”
DiAntonio and PEF Associate Director of Field Organizing Dan Carpenter said PEF needs to work on capturing those members that come into the PS&T unit but who have not joined PEF.
DiAntonio said there is no fingerpointing at any division or region. “Membership engagement is a job for all of us,” she said. “We’re honing in on locations we see trends.”
Access reasons may be one wall to new member engagement. “We need a plan moving forward,” DiAntonio said. “It’s not one-size-fits-all. We need you guys to be part of the team. This is our union.”
To get to the members PEF hasn’t engaged, beginning November 1 all regional coordinators are being provided with a list of new members of the unit who haven’t joined PEF. “Our hope is that they will go back over two weeks and try to reach these members,” Carpenter said. “After that, the field reps will check in. We want to take an all-in approach to reach these members.”
DiAntonio stressed the need for solidarity and union presence at all divisions. “We need to build a union culture in every worksite,” she said. “Not only the stewards getting involved. We need to build power from the ground up.”
Following Janus, despite fears PEF would lose the former feepayers, PEF gained members, Secretary-Treasurer Kay Alison Wilkie said. “Many feepayers, when they weighed the benefits, decided to join the union,” she said. “The risk now, as more people come on board, is that we must ensure they become PEF members!”
The situation isn’t currently too dire, Spence said, but it could grow. “We are not bad, but I don’t want to get too comfortable,” he said. “There is room for improvement. We all want the union as a whole to succeed.”
“We are currently doing everything in our power to improve our systems,” Wilkie said. “The Eboard members will be getting the regional coordinators’ information, too. We need consistent data in a consistent format. We’re working overtime to get this done.”
Region 3 Coordinator Colleen Williams said not all union leaders are getting the time they are due and it hinders their ability to conduct union business, like new member engagement.
“People are wearing many hats,” Williams said. “We’re very overburdened. The governor and GOER are not allowing every steward the access time guaranteed under changes to the Taylor Law.”
By law, PEF is guaranteed access to new hires. “We are required by law to get notification within 30 days of a new hire,” Carpenter said. “We are guaranteed access by the Taylor Law. Even if the agency does orientation online, we have access to that member and we will use that access.”
VP DeSilva stressed the importance of building union strength. “Brothers and sisters, the anti-union attackers want to see us fail,” she said. “But we are not going anywhere. It is time to stand together and fight. It is time to put on some comfortable sneakers and sweatpants and stand together strong, because this is not a battle, it is a war, and we will win!
“Don’t just wear your Union Strong buttons or place the magnets on the back of your vehicles,” she said. “This war is not just about PEF, it is a fight to keep the labor movement throughout this country strong. If you’re not getting access to your newly hired members pursuant to the terms of the Alphonso David memo, then please place it as an agenda item on your labor/management agenda. We must memorialize our concerns in writing.”
Region 12 Coordinator Nora Higgins said there are sometimes forces working against the union on a worksite, actively talking down the union or management telling new hires not to join the union.
“Tell us if that’s happening,” Spence said.
“That’s ripe for the L/M table,” DeSilva said. “A supervisor cannot be allowed to take that type of action.”
“We’ll work through any hurdles you’re experiencing,” DiAntonio added.
The downward trend in membership also cropped up during the Secretary-Treasurer’s report. “We have dipped below 52,000 members,” Wilkie said. “I’m not happy with that. We budgeted for 2019-2020 based on 51,828 members. We were at 51,858 as of the end of September.”
She echoed earlier sentiments. “This is a shared responsibility for all of us,” she said. “We are in a new world. We have to engage continuously in enrollment. If the trend continues over time, it will mean constraints to costs.”
Bonadio audits PEF
Thomas Gianatasio, a partner at The Bonadio Group, reported on the group’s audit of PEF’s accounting and finances.
“Your organization did a nice job of preparing all the information on a timely basis,” Gianatasio told the Eboard. “It ran very smoothly. We encountered no significant difficulties and had no disagreements with management. There were no uncorrected misstatements.”
Bonadio does not analyze every transaction of an organization, he said. “We perform risk assessments,” he said. As far as PEF’s financial statements: “We believe these are materially correct,” Gianatasio reported.
Recommendations to button up division purchase card use, internal controls over cash disbursements and cash receipts, and information technology improvements were noted and PEF is working hard on all these areas.
Questions from the floor asked why PEF Retirees and Membership Benefits finances were not included in this audit. The secretary-treasurer explained that they are separate entities and are not consolidated with PEF.
Another Eboard representative asked if the planned IT upgrades at PEF were in-line with the recommendations.
“We paid a lot of attention to the comments from last year,” Wilkie said. “We’ve worked with a consultant to improve our cybersecurity.”
Gianatasio agreed there have been strides made. “The organization has made significant efforts to improve IT security,” he said.
The full audit report can be found in the October Communicator and was also distributed to all Eboard members.
Work has begun at PEF Headquarters in Latham, with roof renovations underway and HVAC systems, new windows, and interior remodels to come, Secretary-Treasurer Wilkie said during her Secretary-Treasurer’s report.
IT infrastructure upgrades are also in progress. “We have new servers and new equipment,” Wilkie said. “A lot has already been installed at Membership Benefits.”
Included in the IT upgrade will be an overhaul of the PEF website. “The website is the thing that touches members most immediately,” Wilkie said.
“Where do we stand?” Wilkie continued. “We have a surplus of over $900,000, but really that number will be lower due to convention bills that remain to be paid. We’re largely on track with expenses.”
As of September 30, total assets were $22,846,355, Wilkie reported. The current report did not reflect the USW staff contract but “we made provisions for the staff contract,” she said.
PEF has $281,308 left out of $547,000 for contingency funded campaigns, Wilkie reported. The funds so far have supported Go Public 2.0, fighting closure of Hutchings Psychiatric Center, and health care professionals campaigns.
Divisions are in good shape, as well. As an example, she broke down the numbers for Divisions 382 to 513. “We have 52 percent in good standing, 13 percent improving, and 35 percent not in good standing as of October 16,” Wilkie said. The slightly higher percentage of NGS reflects some delays in receiving audits due, Wilkie said.
Some divisions are over their max allotments as of September 30, Wilkie reported. “Some divisions haven’t yet spent down sufficiently on activities for their members,” Wilkie said. “We expect they will catch up with expenses for upcoming holiday parties.”
Wilkie also asked the board to approve a budget amendment to the temporary hire line.
The amendment would decrease the employee benefits expense line, which was budgeted amply and expenses have come in far lower than anticipated, and increase the temporary hire line by $115,000, from $17,500 to $150,000, she said.
Shifting the money “won’t be felt,” Wilkie said. The budget amendment is a result of additional hires required by staff turnover, unanticipated illnesses and absences.
Division scholarship policy guidance
Without a doubt, offering students in members’ families a chance at money for schooling is a key part of membership engagement and a tangible example of the value of the union.
But, up until now, divisions have managed the process in a variety of ways, with no policy in place to guide them.
“We have been grappling with confusion in a number of divisions around scholarships,” Wilkie said. “We’ve decided to provide guidance and make sure divisions follow appropriate budgeting.”
The policy presented to the board included language that would require scholarship applications and materials be completed and submitted for review to PEF Divisions Finance along with the divisions’ annual budgets on April 30.
It also stresses clearly announcing scholarship opportunities to all members in the division during the spring and summer, via eblast, bulletin boards and the PEF Communicator; and it states announcement of winners should be made in the fall or winter by both the division and in the Communicator.
Wilkie said there have been applications in the past that did not comply with PEF standards, not conforming to equal opportunity guidelines and sometimes being steered toward certain people and away from others.
“We have had no tools to address this,” Wilkie said
The Eboard approved the policy, with amendments to remove date references.
Chicago office update
President Spence said a meeting took place between PEF and the commissioner of the Department of Taxation and Finance concerning the plans to close the Chicago office, where PEF has a number of members.
“They rejected the plan the Chicago members put together,” Spence said. “Despite the plan showing that they would save money.”
Members in Chicago had proposed “hoteling” at the office. “If you’re an auditor or a field person, you may not be in the office most of the time,” Spence said. “They proposed rotating spaces between people. We showed them the costs of reducing the footprint versus travel.
“They told us, ‘It’s not about the money,” Spence said. “It’s unfortunate.”
PEF fought the closure of SUNY Downstate and the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center, Spence said. “We showed them the tenacity of PEF,” he said. “It’s going to be uncomfortable for them [Tax and Finance]. We sent our information to the comptroller and his staff is looking at it.
“My commitment to our members: if the comptroller says we have a strong position, it will be a fight,” Spence said. He promised to go personally to speak with PEF members in Chicago.
Delegate Elections Committee reports out
Tom Comanzo, chair of the PEF Delegate Election Committee, outlined dates and deadlines for the 2020 convention. Petitions will be available March 18, 2020 and will be due April 8, 2020; ballots will be mailed April 24, 2020 and will be due back May 15, 2020; and the count will be May 20, 2020.
Postcards and emails will go out with information and dates, Comanzo said.
Eboard member Mike Singleton, seat 225, Department of Labor, brought forward a member item after one of his constituents was unable to secure enough votes to attend the 2019 convention despite wanting to attend.
“My member was not allowed to attend the 2019 convention as one of the two delegates because she did not receive enough votes,” Singleton’s item stated. “The reason being, Region 2 is combined with Region 3, which has a much larger constituency, for the purpose of delegate seating.”
He proposed amending the constitutional requirement of regions being combined for delegate seating to “ensure that those who wish to attend should be able to.”
A constitutional amendment would need to be acted upon at the 2020 convention.
“I make this proposal not only to broaden representation for my agency, but also to give more members the experience of convention,” Singleton said.
Region 2 Coordinator Andrew Puleo supported the member item, saying Singleton has been working hard to make his division stronger.
The board voted in favor of the item.
On day two of Eboard, Puleo asked for an update on the status of the grievance tracking system.
“Staff had concerns, so I directed the three field directors to work with legal and contract administration to work out the kinks,” Spence said.
Proposed changes to satisfy the staff concerns could cost an additional $8,000 to $12,000, he reported. “I’m prepared to spend that,” Spence said. “I want another sit-down with everybody to discuss changes one last time.”
January 1, 2020 remains the hard deadline.
Internal auditor position debated
A motion was made to eliminate the currently vacant PEF staff position of internal auditor.
“Traditionally we never had this position,” Eboard member Kevin Jones said. “I think the issues have been addressed and this is duplicative of the accounting department.”
The position was created after an instance of fraudulent spending on the part of a former council leader.
“Sixty thousand dollars in fraudulent spending was framed as an accounting error,” Spence said. “There was no way to review. I believe that you need checks and balances.”
Wilkie said changes had been made to internal procedures since that incident. “I think major improvements were made,” she said. “But it is helpful to have oversight by an internal auditor. It’s helpful to have that quality assurance role.”
Eboard member Joe Donahue opposed removing the position. “The position was created for a reason,” he said. “We need to hold people accountable and be proactive as opposed to reactive.”
The motion to eliminate the position was defeated.
Training for employment discrimination cases
Eboard representative Ade Oluwo said the “biggest threats facing our members are discipline, discrimination, civil service and promotional opportunities, privatization, and title modernization.”
He brought a member item to the floor proposing to hire Eric Josey of Public Service Premier Consulting Inc. to conduct trainings for field representatives on employment discrimination.
“Currently there is no opportunity in PEF to train PEF field representatives on employment discrimination cases and help our members when it comes to protecting our members jobs and discrimination lawsuits (OMIG, Stony Brook University Hospital),” Oluwo’s proposal stated.
President Spence said it would be best to send out a request for proposals for a consultant to train staff. He directed the Affirmative Action Committee to work with the Secretary-Treasurer’s Office on the RFP and that work is underway. In the meantime, Spence agreed to bring in Eric Josey for training at OMIG and some other impacted agencies on how to write human rights complaints for urgent concerns.
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