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State indicates concessions, givebacks and no raises if successor contract negotiations resume now

PEF continues to work on issues impacting members

By KATE MOSTACCIO

The PEF Contract Team is prepared to return to the bargaining table on a successor contract, but with the status of New York’s economy amid the ongoing pandemic, state negotiators say if they came to the table now they could not agree to salary increases and would demand health insurance and other concessions.

“This is unacceptable to us,” said Contract Team Chair Darlene Williams at the December Executive Board meeting. “We’ve offered to talk about noneconomic items, but the state indicated they would look for givebacks. In essence, they want to increase management’s ability to have more discretion over our members. While we understand the crisis we are all confronting, this is unacceptable.

“The reality is stark,” she said. “CSEA, UUP and other unions that have current contracts have had their 2020 raises withheld several times, with no end in sight. Those raises that have been withheld were in exchange for health insurance concessions which the state is not giving back to the unions.”

PEF continues to press the state to offer the Productivity Enhancement Program (PEP) and Dependent Care Advantage Account program (DCAA) contributions in 2021.

“We were able to get the state to extend PEP and DCAA contributions for 2020,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, despite the sacrifices and hardships our members are experiencing both at work and at home due to the COVID crisis, the state thus far has been unwilling to extend these benefits for 2021.

“The state fails to appreciate the hardships our members are experiencing,” she said. “PEP and DCAA contributions are needed for many families that lost income. We have members with spouses laid off or family businesses that have failed. Some members have lost loved ones. These families need their benefits more now than ever.”

PEF is standing firm on givebacks.

“The state just last week refused to extend these two items unless PEF would agree to give up certain legal rights and litigation,” Williams said. “This is not acceptable.”

Debra Greenberg, PEF Contract Administration associate counsel, updated the Executive Board on the two recent extensions for flex spending accounts.

Money in 2020 DCAA accounts normally forfeited at the end of the calendar year will be eligible for use on new expenses incurred from January 1, 2021 through March 15, 2021. Similarly, members will be able to roll over $500 of funds remaining in 2020 health care spending accounts for use in 2021. Both options will be available to members even if they do not enroll in DCAA or health care spending accounts for 2021.

Members who may ordinarily use childcare may not be using it during shutdowns or telecommuting. Health expenses may be lower than usual as members may have canceled or been asked to cancel routine medical appointments during the pandemic, Greenberg said.

“At the end of 2020 a lot of people have excess money in these accounts,” she said. “The state agreed to allow members to use some of that leftover money from calendar year 2020 for new expenses.”

PEF also reached an agreement with the state to extend an earlier Memorandum of Understanding allowing members to carry over annual leave accruals that would have been forfeited April 1, 2020. The original March 2020 MOU required this time be used by December 31, 2020. This extension gives members all of 2021 to utilize the credits. In addition, the agreement states time that would normally be forfeited on April 1, 2021 may now be carried over through December 31, 2021.

“People will be able to roll over annual leave accruals that might otherwise be capped and lost due to the COVID response,” Greenberg said.

In both cases, these extensions are available to employees involved in COVID response efforts or those unable to use annual leave credits because of the response effort. PEF’s stance is that members were either involved in or affected by the COVID response effort, and thus should be eligible. However, given the current circumstances, members should document all of their leave requests and denials for any possible challenges in the future. Also, members can confirm with their supervisors in writing that they are eligible for the carry over for 2021.  That way they won’t run the risk of unnecessarily burning accruals by requesting leave that might not expire until December 31.

In an effort to improve dental benefits, PEF put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) to seven national dental insurance carriers, six of which responded.

“We reviewed the responses with our consultant and had a lot of back-and-forth follow-up conversations,” Greenberg said. “We’re inviting finalists back for one-on-one virtual meetings to engage in more in-depth discussions.”

PEF has and will continue to negotiate and advocate for our members on a daily basis on important issues like health and safety, telecommuting, carry over of accruals, and pursuing improvements to dental insurance. PEF supplied PPE to members and provided temporary housing to health care workers during the spring surge. PEF has also filed lawsuits and grievances on overtime, leave and other issues during the COVID pandemic to protect members and the integrity of the PEF contract.