|By Wayne Spence|
PEF seeking fair treatment of members
At PEF’s urging, New York did many things well at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Important decisions were made that resulted in the state flattening the curve. New York is now in a better place than many other states where coronavirus cases continue to spike at alarming rates.
I think it’s important that you know about the work that was done behind the scenes:
• We were able to negotiate and extend a telecommuting agreement;
• Created a dedicated Q&A document that is updated daily with information for our membership;
Why do I bring this to your attention? Because when we work hard to ensure protections for our members, we should not then have to go to extremes to enforce the same agreements. We should not have agencies taking advantage of a dedicated state workforce because of their years and years of inadequate staffing and poor planning. With years of NYS budget and staffing cuts, our members have been doing the work of two to three people during that same period and that practice must be stopped. I will not stand idly by as PEF members are returned back to work with confusing directions from individual agencies, forced to work below-rate overtime and games are played with members accruals and time-off requests. This pattern, simply put, is not okay.
While Gov. Cuomo and his staff have lauded public employees for their sacrifices and jobs well done during the pandemic, there is clear evidence we, as public employees, are living under an unacceptable double standard and we are taking actions to make sure this is corrected and stopped as our members’ health and safety, as well as their livelihoods, are being impacted.
• The NYS Department of Labor, whose mission is to protect workers, has been underpaying PEF members for both voluntary and mandated overtime during the COVID-19 crisis. How ironic, that the very department, which enforces fairness upon other New York employers, treated its own workforce unfairly. After numerous attempts to correct this inequity via phone conversations and a cease-and-desist letter, PEF filed a lawsuit against the NYS Department of Labor over this mistreatment, and we have also been working with Sen. Bob Jackson on legislation to amend the civil service law, in relation to ensuring the payment of overtime due and owing for services rendered to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. (PEF files Class Action Grievances, lawsuit over unfair COVID-19 overtime practices)
• When Gov. Cuomo recently said that before large malls can re-open, they must install air filtration systems that can trap COVID-19 particles, we wondered if state office buildings are equipped with such systems to protect state workers returning to their offices. A call to the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER) did not result in an immediate response. We believe this double standard is unacceptable and that New York state should follow its own recommendations and ensure adequate air filtration for its own workers. Because we raised this issue, GOER is now working to ensure all buildings, whether operated by the state or leased, are equipped to provide workers with a safe environment. (PEF calls on governor to improve air filtration in state buildings)
• Nobody will ever forget the horror in New York City and Long Island when hospitals there were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. PEF health care professionals on the frontlines worked around the clock putting themselves and their families in harm’s way fighting to stop the spread of the deadly virus. Gov. Cuomo put out an SOS to nurses nationwide to come to New York City and many did working side by side with our PEF nurses. But, they were being paid double, if not more in some cases, and were provided with hotel rooms at no charge. The state would not provide free rooms for our frontline workers, so PEF began its own initiative providing dozens of hotel rooms for our frontline workers at the height of the pandemic. We heard the governor saying over and over again that there was an adequate supply of masks and gowns, yet our members were using the same personal protective equipment (PPE) day after day. So, PEF and our parent union, AFT (American Federation of Teachers), purchased thousands of masks for our members. And, we are fighting to get our frontline workers the hazard pay they deserve! (Looking out for members in western NY / Union secures hotel block for Stony Brook and SUNY Downstate members during COVID-19 pandemic)
• As the state copes with the current fiscal crisis related to the pandemic, PEF is having legislation introduced to head off a possible double standard of cuts to the budget, but no cuts in payments to outside vendors. This legislation will ensure that in the event of a mid-year cut to the adopted state budget, a corresponding reduction is made in the payments to vendors that render outside services to the state, which is only fair and appropriate. Additionally, this legislation will preclude all state agencies from entering into new outside service contract agreements for the duration of the fiscal year in the event of mid-year budget cuts to the state operations budget.
Please let us know if you are experiencing or noticing such trends as you return to work. We will continue to point out and fight to correct these double standards and inequities. What impacts one PEF member, impacts us all.
Thank you for all you do!
Membership cards are ALWAYS available online at http://www.pef.org/join-pef, or you can request one through your steward, council leader or regional coordinator.
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