December 15, 2021 — When a PEF member at an Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) facility in South Kortright, N.Y., was injured on the job and transported by ambulance to a local hospital, it was his union steward and council leader who followed him to the hospital and called his emergency contacts.
Daniel L. Manning, a PEF field representative who served as steward in 2018 when the incident took place, was a lifelong friend of the injured member.
“When I got to the hospital, he’s on a back brace with a neck brace in a room by himself,” Manning said. “He couldn’t see what was going on. His phone was in another room. He couldn’t call his parents or his girlfriend.”
Disturbed by the situation, Manning sent an email to management, specifically, Facility Director Bernard S. Smith and Assistant Director Robert Paolerti, in the following days, calling them out for their inadequate response.
“I’m concerned with the lack of notification to any of [member’s] family members,” the email stated. “What I’m overly concerned about is about [member] left the [facility] by way of ambulance to be rushed to [local hospital] with a possible neck and back injuries and the Administrative Team … all of which were noted to be on duty at the time of the incident did not deem this to be an emergency.”
He went on to state: “I’m personally appalled by the lack of professionalism that took place. … [member] was placed in an ambulance and left to fend for himself. … Hopefully this email will inspire you to correct the deficiencies in regard to medical emergencies so no other family has to endure what [member’s] family had to yesterday.”
Instead of taking the communication as it was intended, a union leader speaking out of concern for a member, OCFS issued Manning a counseling memo, which was placed in his personnel file, directing him to refrain from further “derogatory emails and/or engage in other communication with the Administrative Team or employees” at his facility and threatening possible additional administrative action if he failed to comply.
“Every time I do something for the union, I get a memorandum,” Manning said.
PEF went to bat for Manning, taking OCFS to arbitration in front of a Public Employee Relations Board administrative law judge.
“President Wayne Spence supported me the whole time,” Manning said. “Every time I have an issue when it comes to OCFS and union activity, I have been supported.”
In this case, the judge agreed with PEF’s assertion that Manning’s email was appropriate for a union representative protected under the Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act (the Taylor Law), and that OCFS’s “deliberate act to include a threat of reprisal of exercising a protected right constitutes unlawful coercion against Manning…”
The Taylor Law, among other things, defines and prohibits improper practices by public employers and public employee organizations.
As a result of the union win, OCFS was ordered to remove the memo from Manning’s file, stop coercing the union with threats of reprisal for the exercise of rights protected by the act, stop interfering with the union’s rights and notify all members of the bargaining unit at that location of the decision.
“In this case, although many portions of the email may reflect observations and feelings that are personal to him, many other portions of Manning’s email express concern regarding the application of policies and protocols that impact employees’ current and future terms and working conditions,” the decision stated. “Although portions of the email may be imprudent, I find they do not rise to a level sufficient to remove them from the protection of the [Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act].”
Manning said PEF members who believe they are being bullied, intimidated or threatened should immediately contact their local PEF leaders and field representative.
“The more people that stand up, the stronger the union is going to be in every location,” he said. “This behavior needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. If you let management and these state agencies get away with it, they will keep doing it.”