State of your union? It’s STRONGER than ever!
BY SHERRY HALBROOK
In his September 16 State of the Union message, PEF President Wayne Spence thanked the nearly 650 delegates for attending the union’s 41st Annual Convention, the first PEF has held in Albany.
Showing up is one of the most important things union members can do and Spence recognized that key virtue.
“PEF is a great union because of the sacrifice and commitment you make every day,” he said. “Together we’ll make policy for the coming year. It’s an awesome responsibility.”
The president urged delegates to read PEF’s Annual Report that provides information from every PEF department on activities and work conducted since the 2018 convention. And he commended PEF staff as among “the most talented people I’ve ever worked with.”
Spence reported that in a special meeting of the PEF Executive Board, held earlier that morning, a contract between PEF and its staff’s union, USW Local 9265, was approved. PEF staff had already ratified it and only the approval of the USW international union remains to be done before the new agreement is signed.
The most important news Spence wanted to share, he said, is the brilliant unity and strength that PEF has gained since the US Supreme Court handed down what was meant to be a death warrant for public-sector unions in its Janus v. AFSCME decision in June 2018.
“We have a choice, and the great majority of our members have chosen to remain with the union,” Spence said. “We prepared for years (for this challenge) and tightened our budget. Now we have a surplus and it gives us power to negotiate a contract.”
And while those contract negotiations are a slow, painful climb, Spence acknowledged, “The governor did move to sign laws to protect unions (when they were threatened by the Janus decision).”
Spence said the key to the renewed strength and power that PEF has been building is the union’s intense focus on “member engagement” that means meeting and speaking directly with members to talk about the union, how it is relevant to the member and how the member is critically important to the union, too.
Spence asked PEF Vice President Randi DiAntonio to report on the member engagement effort, and she, too, thanked the delegates – many of whom are also division officers, Executive Board members and stewards – for the tremendous amounts of time and work they put in to building a union that works for its members and involves them in everything it does.
As a PEF member at the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, DiAntonio had helped to lead PEF’s role in a community effort to get that agency to continue providing the nursing services a client needed at the facility near his family. So far, that pressure has prevented OPWDD from forcing him to transfer to a distant program.
“You signed 1,000 petitions to the OPWDD commissioner,” DiAntonio said.
And when PEF asked its members to march in labor parades throughout the state to show the governor how unified they are behind the union’s contract team, “You showed up in numbers we have not seen in decades!” she said.
“These are the things that make us ‘Union Strong!” DiAntonio said.
In its efforts to reach and engage members, DiAntonio and a team of PEF staff have reached out to individual divisions with vacancies in key offices to help them get better organized and responsive to their members.
“We have 373 new elected division leaders. That is astounding!” DiAntonio reported. “This is what building our strength looks like. This local (division level) organization is the bedrock that this union is built on.
To keep this power building, DiAntonio said, “We need to have a plan at every worksite to meet with new (PS&T) employees to help them understand what it means to have a voice on the job and be union strong.”
PEF Assistant Director of Field Service Organizing Dan Carpenter told the delegates, “150 of the 220 PEF divisions – that’s 67 percent – have 95 percent membership or higher. And 22,039 members have signed the updated membership cards.”
“We must continue to fight and we must hold the governor accountable,” DiAntonio said. “We have to be vigilant and we must stand up and fight for a state where hard work pays off and to keep the union strong. We can do this together.”
“We’re going to need all hands on deck!” Spence said. The governor’s negotiators “don’t believe in a fair contract. What we get is never going to be what we just want. It will be what we fight for.”
Spence asked PEF Contract Team Chair Darlene Williams to update the delegates on negotiations. She said it has been a struggle to get the governor’s negotiators to take PEF seriously and to negotiate in good faith, rather than just present an unacceptable take-it-or-leave-it offer.
“We’re not returning (to the bargaining table) for scraps!” Williams said. “We want substance! I need to know: Will it be scraps or a fight?”
The delegates gave a resounding response that they are ready to fight.
Spence cautioned the delegates that it is likely to be a long and painful battle to achieve contract fairness. He vowed that no matter how long it takes, “I will not sign garbage!”
The president said the union has been working for years to educate state legislators about the needless cost of contracting out state work to private consultants, and as a result the lawmakers passed Cost Benefit Analysis legislation in 2018 and 2019 that would require state agencies to compare the cost of letting state employees do the work before they decide to had it off to contractors. Now, PEF wants the governor to sign the bill into law, rather than veto it as he did last year.
Spence, who is a state parole officer, also reported on the union’s successful effort this spring to derail a state bill called “Less Is More” that would have greatly impaired how parole works and the ability of officers to properly supervise parolees to help them make a successful and safe transition back into their communities. The sponsor of this bill has said he wants to meet with parole officers to hear their concerns about the legislation before he submits legislation in 2020.
“We held meetings with legislators to educate them about what parole officers actually do. In addition to meeting with the bill’s sponsors and with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to discuss what a disaster this legislation would be, I was asked to testify before the Corrections Committee. I want to thank our parole officers and PEF Division 236 leaders Tony Perez and Gina Lopez for their participation in these efforts. It made all the difference in the world for people to get a better understanding of what parole officers do and how this bill would have been disastrous for the state,” Spence said.
The PEF president also reported on the union’s efforts to address civil-service-related issues. Spence cited the example of a career-ladder issue that came up relating to members at the Transportation and the Environmental Conservation departments who were in an engineering geologist title that was discontinued. Thanks to the union’s intervention, those members were advanced to a new title of geologist trainee that is at a higher pay grade.
And, in response to a 2018 Convention Resolution, Spence said the PEF Civil Service Enforcement and Research (CSER) department developed a Civil Service Violation Complaint & Inquiry Intake Form designed to :
• Document possible violations of Civil Service Laws, Rules, and Regulations; and
• Provide CSER with the information necessary to follow up on the submitted inquiry. This form is available via the CSER Member Resources tab on the PEF website.
“In increasing the department’s presence on the PEF website, our overall goal is to engage, educate, and empower members and PEF staff. The department has created a repository of guides on topics Civil Service Enforcement routinely provides guidance on, that can be easily accessed, shared, and downloaded by members, leaders and staff.
“It’s going to help us do a better job,” Spence said.
The union is working to benefit members on many additional fronts, beyond the contract, civil service and legislative issues, and Spence drew the delegates’ attention to new training programs PEF has begun providing to its members that allow them to hear from experts on issues ranging from discrimination and human rights to student debt.
Meanwhile, a serious issue has arisen for a group of PEF members who work in Chicago for the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance to ensure this state collects taxes such as sales tax on transactions with out-of-state companies. PEF is challenging the logic behind the agency’s plan to close the Chicago office and force its employees to work from offices in New York state.
“I visited the office in Chicago and met with our members there who told me they want to keep their jobs in Chicago, and we think there are very compelling reasons to keep that office open. They are generating $129 million in tax revenue. Not to mention the increased costs the state would incur in travel costs by closing the office (such as) airline costs, rental cars, hotel rooms. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Spence paused in his address to present a plaque recognizing delegate Dan Zagorscak who works at the Chicago office and leads the members there.
“At a special labor-management meeting August 20, Dan gave an excellent and comprehensive presentation on the situation,” Spence said. Zagorscak presented such clear and well analyzed data with charts and graphics on why the state should keep the office open, that Spence said state Budget Director Robert Mujica has asked to personally see it.
Global labor issues
The president told the delegates about how his efforts to meet with members throughout the state, is just one part of his duties that keep him constantly moving. PEF has two parent international unions – the American Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union – and Spence also holds offices in both of them.
“We are taking advantage of valuable training and support offered to us by AFT and SEIU on financial accountability, ethics, organizing, communications and leadership; all of which helps us get better outcomes for our members,” Spence reported.
“Our internationals have also put PEF on the world map on the all important issue of fighting privatization. Because of the work we’ve done in New York state, I was asked to speak at the Public Service International (PSI) conference in Washington. After that, AFT and SEIU asked me to represent them as a delegate to the PSI Inter-American Regional Conference. I met with delegations from other countries and we talked there about the crisis that is developing by allowing the privatization of prisons in Latin America.”
Building unity and strength in the family of PEF has been one of the best and most important efforts, Spence said.
Citing the tremendous participation by thousands of members and their families attending the Family Fun Day events offered by the Membership Benefits Program, Spence said. Not only have such events offered members a great time to relax and have fun with their families and fellow members, MBP has made these events a great value.
“Tickets were just $15 for a nearly $80 value,” Spence said.
“Our greatest strength lies in our membership. It’s because of you that we remain strong. We fight together to improve your lives, the lives of our members and the lives of our families,” he said. “The PEF team is here to stand with you, to fight beside you, to provide the support, tools and resources you need. Your efforts today will improve the lives of generations to come.
“You are not alone! Together, we are union strong!”
CLICK HERE to view all stories featured in the Communicator!
Follow and Like Us On:
For best desktop viewing use the latest Google Crome browser