President Wayne Spence, joined by fellow union leaders and staff, updated members on the status of negotiations for a successor agreement to the PS&T 2019-2023 contract, recent legislative wins, upcoming legislative and advocacy initiatives, and an opt-out campaign targeting PEF members.
Just over 8,000 members tuned in for the Telephone Town Hall on January 12. If you missed it, you can hear an audio recording of the hour-long conversation, here.
“This week we presented changes that we want to some of the contract articles as well as some new articles we’d like to see in our next contract,” Spence said. “This was our first meeting where we were negotiating in earnest.” The Contract Team has set additional bargaining dates through May 2023.
RELATED: Meet your PS&T Contract Team
Debra Greenberg, the director of contract administration for PEF, said the team is focused on the priorities that members identified in the contract survey last fall. Main economic items include across-the-board pay increases, health and dental insurance, longevity and location pay. Non-economic contract items are in the mix as well, such as work-life balance, alternative and flexible schedules, telecommuting and the ability to use vacation accruals.
Members on the call also heard from chief negotiator Mark Richard, who is helping the union negotiate its contract for the fourth time. He praised leadership for jumping into negotiations with smart strategies, membership input, and political awareness.
“Ultimately, this is member driven,” he said. “Your voices are at the table. Your incredibly talented and hardworking bargaining team takes what you say, and they go page by page through the contract and work hard to see what we can change and what we can get.
“They are working offensively and defensively,” he said. “You need member voices, unity, a strategic plan, and great leadership to get a contract worthy of your support.”
Because negotiations are a delicate balance, getting into too much detail on a call that could be shared with non-union members is risky, Spence said. But he did pledge to get members the recognition they deserve.
“We cannot go into the next round of negotiations and not get something that is unique to PEF members who are professional, scientific, and technical workers,” he said. “Our members came up with the first COVID testing. It was PEF members who overnight transformed open fields and parking lots into testing sites and then vaccination sites. That couldn’t have been done without our education.
“We need to be compensated for that,” he said. “I’m not walking away from that contract table until they start recognizing what we do.”
Wins outside of negotiations
Greenberg outlined some of the wins PEF achieved for members outside of contract negotiations in the last year, including geographic pay differentials (GEOs), 2.5x overtime agreements, increases in employer contributions to Dependent Care Advantage Accounts (DCAA), and increases in the license renewal reimbursement program.
For positions the state has difficulty recruiting for, GEOs can attract applicants. PEF advocated with Civil Service and secured GEOs for some nurses, clinical physicians, licensed psychologists, and psychiatric examiners, as well as some equipment operator instructors and maintenance supervisors, among others. Emergency medical technicians at SUNY Stonybrook also saw GEO pay.
PEF led the way and negotiated and secured 2.5x overtime agreements with seven agencies for certain titles. Unfortunately, the state did not agree to PEF’s request to extend the rates into 2023 and they expired on Dec. 31, 2022.
Employer contributions to DCAA increased by $200 and the license renewal reimbursement rose to $200.
PEF has taken recruitment and retention to the floor of the legislature, proposing improvements and winning changes to Tiers 5 and 6 of the pension plan, advocating for increased Civil Service exams and testing sites, fighting for hazard pay, and taking aim at resolving toxic workplaces.
“Right now, the state is not a competitive employer,” said PEF Legislative Director Pat Lyons. “It doesn’t pay market rates and the Tier 6 pension plan benefits are too low to attract and retain staff.”
In her State of the State address, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she intends to set up regional Civil Service testing centers and recognized the huge staffing shortage facing the state.
The union helped achieve a reduction in vesting from 10 years to 5 years and to remove all the overtime earned during the pandemic from calculating the employee contribution to Tier 6. This year, PEF wants the State to standardize a 3 percent contribution for all members of the pension plan, and down the road will push for an enhanced pension calculation and reducing the retirement age to equate to Tier 4.
“We are trying to build a career ladder in the pension plan to attract and retain staff,” Lyons said. “We know this is a huge issue for our members and it’s a top priority for the union.”
The governor’s Healthcare Workforce Bonus only applied to PEF titles who directly face patients, but the union continues to fight to expand hazard pay to all members deemed essential workers during the pandemic.
“PEF led on this,” President Spence said. “We didn’t get everybody. PEF submitted more than 300 titles that we believe should have received it. We’re not going to give up. It’s not forgotten by me what we lived through during COVID and what we did.”
The union has crafted legislation to define bullying, cyberbullying, and abusive conduct, mirroring what has been done in schools across the state, in an effort to eliminate toxic workplaces. It would require every state employee to undergo training, provide a process to identify workplace issues and make a claim, and the potential for disciplinary action.
Other budget wins secured in 2022 include:
- Creation of a nurse loan forgiveness program
- Getting 200 inpatient psychiatric beds back online
- Securing funding for SUNY hospitals
- Additional mandated overtime protections for nurses, including greater employer reporting and oversight and the potential for employer penalties
- A three-quarter disability benefit for fire protection specialists
- Military service credit for LGBTQ members
- Extension of the COVID vaccine time-off benefit
- Permanent Extension of Injunctive Relief
- Excused leave for blood donation of up to four hours annually
Vice President Randi DiAntonio, who chairs the Statewide Political Action Committee, urged members to make their voices heard and help the union move its agenda forward.
“We need to raise our visibility with the communities we live and work in, to tell them who we are and what we do,” she said.
The Fund Our Future campaign partners with community groups, political allies, neighbors and friends to do just that. Members have recorded more than 150 videos of who they are and what they do. PEF plans to post one every Friday in 2023 on Facebook and the Fund Our Future web page. If you want to participate, contact your local leaders.
Another way to get involved: attend regional Political Action Committee meetings. Any member is welcome.
“Political action is important in every single thing we do,” DiAntonio said. “The only way to be successful is to be part of the process.”
PEF Organizing Director Dan Carpenter updated members on the opt out campaign conducted by an anti-union group funded by the Freedom Foundation. The group has repeatedly emailed and mailed PEF members trying to convince them to drop out of the union and save their dues.
“They want to weaken strong unions like PEF by lying to you about the value of union membership,” he said. “They’re boasting that ‘thousands’ of you have left the union as a result of their efforts. We’ve had 20 people drop out. That’s it. And we‘ve signed up more than 4,400 new members since January 2022.”
PEF produced a document exposing the group and outlining the tangible benefits of union membership. Carpenter encouraged members to click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of each unwanted email they receive.
President Spence ended the call thanking PEF members for their tireless efforts to deliver services to New Yorkers and said he plans to hold Telephone Town Halls every quarter in 2023. At the next Town Hall in the Spring, the union will answer questions submitted in advance by members.