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PEF needs members’ voices to save state jobs, services

By SHERRY HALBROOK

The state’s hiring freeze took a toll on its workforce in 2020 and the governor’s 2021-22 Executive Budget projects the loss of another 800 employees through continued attrition.

According to data from the state Department of Civil Service, the state has lost more than 4,000 employees since September 2019.

PEF has identified seven top Budget Priorities and is calling on all members to add their voices and their first-hand grasp of the issues in persuading state legislators to preserve services and maintain staffing.

The union’s statewide Political Action Committee (PAC) is directing this effort and has worked with PEF legislative staff to provide information that has been sent to each of the regional PACs and all members. PEF also provided them with training via Zoom on how to set up virtual meetings with their state lawmakers to discuss these foundational priorities.

“Please use our list of priority budget issues and check out the suggested letters to lawmakers and then write to your Assembly member and Senator to express your concerns,” PEF President Wayne Spence told members.  “You have insights into how these proposals will affect the services you provide, and your legislators need to hear it from you.”

“With the state facing a $15 billion fiscal shortfall, 2021 calls for strong and swift measures to fund and maintain the quality public services that our members provide,” PEF Vice President Randi DiAntonio said.  “PEF is supporting several possible legislative measures that could help boost state revenues to offset the deficit.”

DiAntonio and other PEF leaders are testifying at state legislative hearings on the budget to voice the union’s positions.

The governor said his proposals are based on the assumption the state might only receive $6 billion in federal aid to help close its budget gap, but he is calling on Congress to raise that amount to $15 billion, which he says is only fair since New Yorkers pay far more in federal taxes than is returned to the state in federal aid.

The Biden administration is trying to get Congress to quickly pass an emergency pandemic aid bill that includes increased aid for state and local governments, as well as payments to people and small businesses devastated by shutdowns and restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Not only is PEF strongly opposed to further loss of state employees, it is fighting proposals to increase the state’s reliance on private contractors that include extending the “design-build” concept at the state Office of Information Technology.

After spending more than $1 billion in the current budget year on private service contractors and after years of an artificial 2 percent state budget cap, chronic underfunding and the ongoing attrition of state agency staff, the governor turned to state workers and directed them to put themselves at risk to fill the sudden breaches in service caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Now, only months after describing PEF members and other state employees as heroes, the governor says the budget gap is forcing him to reduce, close, merge and consolidate the state services they provide,” Spence said.  “We are determined that this state, which has been relying on our members to get New Yorkers through this crisis, is not going to get away with throwing them under the bus to make up for fiscal shortfalls and then hand their work off to private contractors.”

PEF has been sounding the alarm for years on the dangerous lack of nurses at many state health care facilities and the pandemic has brought that shortage into painfully sharp focus.

“We support a Nurse Employment, Enhancement and Dignity (NEED) Act that would provide hazardous duty pay and a $500 annual tax credit for professional or practical nurses, nurse practitioners, or clinical nurse specialists,” DiAntonio said., “It also would establish an education-related $1,000 annual loan-forgiveness program for them, and preferential acceptance into educational programs required for licensure.”

The budget also calls for closing state prisons and juvenile detention facilities and would put mental health facilities at risk of closing.  PEF is working to educate lawmakers on how these changes run counter to public demands for better criminal justice and mental health services.  Putting the state’s resources into the staffing and programs that support these goals is the way to achieve them, not closing or handing them off to the private sector.

“This is a tough year and we need every PEF member informed and involved to make an effective case on these issues,” Spence said.  “Lawmakers recognize that our members are on the frontlines and have first-hand knowledge and experience to know what works and what doesn’t.  We all need to keep sharing our information with them.”