Dozens of volunteers from PEF and local American Federation of Teachers (AFT) unions throughout the country converged on Albany at the end of April to take part in a week-long membership blitz to build PEF membership and unity.
It was an impressive effort that reached nearly 1,200 members at 39 worksite meetings and led the blitzers to knock on 840 doors of members and potential members in New York’s Capital District over the course of four evenings.
Worksite meetings throughout the week took place at the following state agencies: Education, Addiction, Gaming, Law, Mental Health, Comptroller, Insurance Fund, Developmental Disabilities, Children and Families, Temporary and Disability Assistance, Public Service, Information Technology, Transportation, Environmental Conservation, Parks, Workers Compensation, Labor, Motor Vehicles, Health, and Taxation.
“It’s important to reach out to the people we represent, to provide updates about important issues such as the state budget and contract and hear from them about their ideas and concerns,” said PEF President Wayne Spence. “We want to make sure they understand how the union represents them and the many opportunities and benefits that it provides. The more involved and actively participating they are in PEF, the more effective we can be on their behalf.”
The out-of-state volunteer organizers came from Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland and Montana to join PEF leaders in visiting the worksites and knocking on doors, with the goal that some of them who are already active in PEF will choose to become leaders in the union, while others who may not be aware of the benefits of membership will sign up.
The weeklong effort signed up 95 new members with PEF and garnered 733 signatures on petitions supporting the union’s Fund Our Future campaign. In addition, 41 members authorized new bi-weekly contributions to the COPE fund that supports political action on the national level.
A steady flow of PEF members stopped by the membership meeting at the OMH Central Office on Holland Avenue April 28, enjoying lunch and learning about benefits and the workings of the union.
Some shared what they felt was the most valuable part of union membership.
Tina Kilter-Hotaling said PEF’s lobbying took the message of what’s important to members to the Legislature, something the average person couldn’t easily do.
“They can talk to the people we can’t talk to,” she said, adding that many people don’t know which representatives to talk to, let alone have access to those politicians.
She also commended PEF’s efforts on telecommuting during the height of the pandemic and highlighted the power of collective bargaining and having someone in your corner during disciplinary proceedings or workplace issues. Other members shared her appreciation of PEF’s telecommuting negotiations.
One member at OMH said the membership benefits drew her to the union. Her husband used the tuition reimbursement benefits, and the family takes advantage of Family Days and discounted movie tickets.
Member Michelle Probst was grateful the union kept its membership updated on pertinent information, including the progress of contract negotiations. PEF also routinely posts information about Public Service Workshop Program trainings, temporary negotiations extending overtime rates or accrual use-by dates, and lobbying efforts.
Division 194 members at the State Education Department in Albany were the first group treated to lunch and a worksite visit by the blitzers. Members received up-to-the-minute information about the state budget and other legislative priorities, and also heard about the PEF Contract Team’s preparations for negotiations on a successor contract. (The current Collective Bargaining Agreement with the state expires April 1, 2023.) Union leaders and the contract team will be traveling around the state to hear directly from members about their issues and priorities, and they are also looking for contract suggestions and comments from members emailed to them at Contract2022suggestions@pef.org
Dan Carpenter, who heads PEF’s organizing efforts, told members that PEF was able to block a plan to transfer the duties of some SED members to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.
Division 194 Council Leader Ved Shravah said the most important thing they can do to make PEF a strong and effective advocate is to “be united and be there” when the union calls for their support.
Two days later, a team met with members of Division 177 at the state Transportation Department (DOT) in Albany for another lunchtime worksite event and were able to answer a broad range of their questions.
Stephanie McLean-Beathley, the Membership Benefits Program administrator, answered questions about benefits and how to order tickets online that are then mailed to you.
Division 177 Assistant Council Leader Ed Lucas spoke at length with a member worried that PEF stewards are not able to be in touch with all of the newest employees at DOT.
Another member wanted to know how recently the ventilation system in their building had been cleaned. Lucas said that PEF has asked management that question, but has not received a clear and definitive answer. PEF health and safety specialist Veronica Foley also spoke about using carbon dioxide monitors to check the indoor air quality if they are concerned about it.
In response to a question about COPE (Committee on Political Education), the team explained that it is a way for members to contribute voluntary donations that can be used to support federal political candidates and issues. McLean-Beathley said that she had personally seen the importance of political action when she was a PEF member leading a long, but ultimately successful, campaign to save Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center from being closed.