August 28, 2019
PEF wins IP charge over SIF’s vehicle policy change
BY SHERRY HALBROOK
It’s often been said, “the wheels of justice turn slowly,” and that rang true recently when PEF finally made some headway on an issue that had been pending for six years.
This favorable decision by an administrative law judge at the NYS Public Employment Relations Board hinges on the state Taylor Law, which says the state, as the employer, must negotiate changes it wants to make to its workers’ terms and conditions of employment with the union that represents those employees.
That’s the law, and that’s why PEF cried, “Foul!” when the NYS Insurance Fund’s Department of Confidential Investigations changed one of the terms and conditions of employment for approximately 35 insurance field investigators without negotiating that change with PEF.
In this case, the change was ceasing SIF’s practice, of at least 20 years, of assigning a specific SIF-owned vehicle to each investigator for both their work and personal use.
The investigators often conduct undercover surveillance that may require them to travel significant distances, and to work at night or even on weekends. For example, one of these investigators covers an area of 12,000 square miles.
Each investigator was required to keep a log of their use of their assigned vehicle and they had to report and pay income taxes on the value of their personal use.
In July 2013 SIF notified the investigators that in future the SIF vehicles would be considered “fleet” or “pool” cars and they would no longer be assigned to individual investigators, nor would they be available for personal use. SIF refused to negotiate this change with PEF, and SIF implemented the change in September 2013.
That’s when the affected PEF members turned to their union for help.
In October 2013, PEF filed an improper practice (IP) charge against SIF, and after evidence and arguments in that case were made and then reviewed years later, a decision was rendered July 12, 2019, by Administrative Law Judge Ellen M. Mitchell. She ruled that SIF violated the Taylor Law and ordered it to:
- Restore the practice of providing DCI insurance field investigators with take-home vehicles;
- Make whole any DCI insurance field investigators for the loss of wages and benefits, if any, sustained as a result of the SIF’s September 16, 2013, directive removing access to take-home vehicles, with interest at the maximum legal rate (currently 9 percent); and
- Sign and post the attached notice at all physical and electronic locations customarily used to post notices to unit employees.
In making her decision, Mitchell said the availability of an assigned vehicle for personal use may have been a significant inducement for some of the investigators to take their jobs. She also ruled out the state’s assertion that the vehicles are “job equipment” and, therefore, not mandatory subjects of bargaining, and she said SIF failed to prove the assignment of vehicles was conditioned on anything other than the mission of SIF, which had not changed.
“Congratulations to Division 240 Council Leader Kathy Czachorowski, the SIF crew, including PEF’s former labor-management chair Teddy Vazquez (now a PEF field representative) and PEF field representative Bradley Kolb for seeing this charge through to victory,” said Mike Farrell, director of PEF Field Service Organizing. “The good work by all is applauded.”
The state has until September 26 to appeal this decision to the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). So far, the state has requested and received two extensions of that deadline.
CLICK HERE to view all stories featured in the September 2019 Communicator!
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