September 15, 2022 — The PEF Executive Board met September 8 and 9 in Albany, observing a moment of silence for those lost on September 11, 2001; deciding on a Convention location for 2023 and 2024; discussing membership, financial and organizing updates; and approving political endorsements for the November general election.
Silence for the fallen
Members of the board observed a moment of silence to remember the thousands of lives lost on September 11, 2001, including PEF members at the state Department of Tax and Finance New York City office who died in the attack.
“PEF lost the most civilian members out of any state union,” PEF President Wayne Spence said. “Some of us know people who passed away on that day. Those people in Tax and Finance, they went to work thinking it was just a regular day – and they didn’t come home. We never know what will happen on a given day.”
Spence recalled how PEF parole members worked in DNA centers to help identify the deceased in the aftermath. PEF Executive Board Sergeant at Arms Darryl Stevenson was at the site as part of rescue teams and said it was the most horrific thing he has ever seen.
“It was devastating,” he said. “I’m lucky I didn’t get sick like a lot of people did.”
Secretary-Treasurer Joe Donahue, who works for Tax and Finance, shared his memories of that day, including the story of a member not usually assigned to that office who was filling in for a coworker and was killed.
“We lost members of our family that day,” he said. “Every year at this time we remember our fallen brothers and sisters.”
The trauma didn’t end when the rubble was cleared away.
“What do you say to the insurance companies? How do families move forward when there is no body?” said Spence. “PEF stepped up for members and their families. We pushed the governor, pushed to make sure families got needed relief. There was no GoFundMe back then, it was all grassroots.”
Membership and organizing update
President Spence said recent reports show CSEA membership on the decline, with many members jumping ship for better paying jobs in the private sector or ones that afford them full-time telecommuting options.
PEF’s membership as of Sept. 7, 2022, stands at 48,472, an increase from a few months earlier. Spence attributed the success to recent organizing actions, such as the Statewide Officers Tour, where PEF signed up new dues-paying members. Interactions with members also led to follow-up action by union staff, including health and safety walkthroughs and in-person orientations.
“The tour feedback was very positive,” reported Organizing Director Dan Carpenter. “Members were saying thank you for our work on COVID and the contract. They were very optimistic and loved hearing from the contract team.”
Carpenter said the PEF booth at the New York State Fair was also a success.
“Region 4 Coordinator Gina Corona, the volunteers and the staff did an amazing job,” he said. “We had just under 5,000 New York state residents sign Fund Our Future petitions.” More than 1,100 PEF members and retirees also visited the booth and signed petitions.
Organizing teamed up with the communications team to create a prize wheel for the table they dubbed the “Wheel of Decline.” When spun, the wheel landed on a pie slice with a question about state services, prompting a conversation about how New York has not done enough to maintain and grow the critical public services provided by PEF members.
“When the wheel landed on a question about how many group homes have been suspended or closed, people were surprised by the answer,” he said. “Their jaws dropped, and many didn’t believe it. It raised the level of awareness.” (New York has suspended or closed 130 group homes serving people with developmental disabilities in the last two years.)
On the organizing agenda in the coming months, department staff plan to ramp up efforts to hold in-person orientations after two years of COVID pushing them online and making access difficult.
“We are identifying agencies and trying to tackle it,” Carpenter said. “We are working to get into the trouble spots.”
PEF successfully negotiated an agreement requiring the state to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the dental benefit contract.
“PEF will be meeting with the state and the Civil Service Department and other unions regarding the RFP later this month,” President Spence said. “The state has not put the dental contract out to bid in more than two decades.
“Emblem provides dental coverage for PEF, NYSCOBA, Council 82, AFSCME, the State Police,” he said. “PEF acquired valuable information from its own RFP, which we put out to explore the feasibility of bringing the dental benefit in-house. We have repeatedly found Emblem has some of the highest administration fees of all dental insurers. We see all these dentists walking away from the Emblem network because they lose money and can’t afford to treat patients.”
PEF has been at the forefront of the push to improve dental benefits and in collaboration with other unions, successfully advocated for the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) to audit the dental contract.
“We have been the lead in bringing together other unions on this issue,” said Contract Team Chair Darlene Williams. “I’m proud to be part of a union that is taking the lead in putting together improvements. Our fight has to be at the bargaining table. That’s where we are going to make the change.
“The PEF Contract Team understands that the dental benefit is a priority and is prepared to address this issue in our upcoming negotiations,” she said. (PEF’s first contract meeting with the state is scheduled for November 2022.)
To submit comments and questions to the contract team, email firstname.lastname@example.org. PEF will also soon distribute a survey to members to gather information on what is most important for the contract.
“We have to move strong and together,” Williams said. “If we say, ‘put on a Fund Our Future shirt,’ put on a shirt so that everybody can see we are a united union. We need to show strength. I don’t want the other side to think they are only negotiating with the team. I want them to realize they are negotiating with 48,000 members.”
PEF Secretary-Treasurer Joe Donahue reported on the unaudited financial statements from April 1, 2022, to June 30, 2022, citing a volatile stock market resulting in a balance reduction of more than $900,000, and some increased expenses.
“While some items are over budget, most even out over the course of the fiscal year,” Donahue said. “No budget amendments are necessary at this time. We are in a good position, and we are strong financially, but with the fluidity of the stock market and ever-changing number of members, we need to continue to monitor investments, cash and expenditures.”
For the quarter, direct services, including health and insurance claims, increased; staff travel increased due to the Statewide Officers Tour; and operating expenses went up due to temporary hires covering staff leaves.
Committees are mostly below budget, Donahue reported.
“Special Elections saw an increase because of the requirement we use Educational Vistas to verify our petitions,” he said, “and are mandated by PEF policy to broadcast opportunities to run even if nobody is going to run for an office. I encourage everyone to reach out to people to get involved.”
After reviewing locations, bids, and the pros and cons of each city’s proposal, the Executive Board voted to hold the 2023 and 2024 PEF Conventions in Syracuse.
Syracuse’s bid came in with a hotel block of 665 rooms, with an average room rate of $148, and $42,590 in incentives.
Bids were also received from Albany, Niagara Falls, and Rochester, Director of Special Events Kim Partridge reported. Buffalo declined to bid due to insufficient hotel space; Saratoga declined stating they had inadequate event space; and Lake Placid was out due to extensive renovations and lack of meeting space and rooms, she reported.
Syracuse hotels and event spaces have undergone transformations since PEF last held a convention in the city.
“I was pleasantly surprised when I went out there,” Partridge said. “The Marriott rehab is gorgeous, with a lot of meeting space.”
An advantage to Syracuse, President Spence said, was the potential for union actions surrounding the proposed acquisition of Crouse Hospital by SUNY Upstate.
“I see an opportunity to go to Syracuse and galvanize with the community and other unions to show our opposition to the Crouse acquisition,” he said. “It could be a huge problem for Syracuse residents and for people in health care in the surrounding area.”
Knowing what constitutes strike action
PEF General Counsel Ed Greene discussed what constitutes an illegal strike under the New York State Taylor Law, which governs public sector unions, with an overview of a New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, case involving the Buffalo Teachers Federation and the New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB).
A PERB administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found that after a threat of violence at a Buffalo school and concerns management wasn’t taking it seriously enough, school staff held a meeting where someone said they would be calling in sick the next day and suggested everyone else should do the same.
The ALJ further found that there were subsequently 16 calls into the substitute service and those staff members did not report to work the next day.
“Once management concluded that a concerted job action had taken place, management was obligated to submit a report,” Greene said. PERB ultimately “determined that certain employees engaged in strike action and the local union didn’t discourage the action.”
Under the Taylor Law, it is important to remember that not only are unions prohibited from engaging in strikes, but they are also required to affirmatively discourage strikes among members.
“The ALJ concluded that the local and a field representative were aware and failed to take sufficient steps to discourage the strike,” he said.
After the judge found that the staff participated in a strike action and the union failed to discourage it, the case was appealed to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, which confirmed PERB’s finding against the staff and the local.
“As union leaders, it is important to understand and remember that the consequences are significant for both the individual and the union,” Greene said. “For each day members are found to have engaged in strike activity, they can be required to forfeit two days of pay. We have represented members who did not know what constitutes a strike. It’s important to communicate to members what does constitute a strike.”
For unions, a decision against them can result in suspension of dues check-off, a significant injury to a union’s ability to collect dues.
Union leaders should remember that a strike is not just refusing to work for one or more days, Greene explained. Any collective action by members to modify the usual procedures of an employer can potentially be considered a strike. A sickout, for example, or everyone arriving five minutes late to work, or “work to rule” (the employees essentially agreeing not to do extra work they might otherwise regularly do), can all be considered strike activity.
Greene and President Spence emphasized how vital it is for any union leader to report possible strike actions to PEF.
Artificial intelligence and the AFL-CIO
The national AFL-CIO provided PEF with a $50,000 grant to study artificial intelligence, specifically, the COMPAS software being used by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) in parole offices across the state.
COMPAS stands for Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions and it is used to predict the likelihood an offender will re-offend.
PEF parole officers report the program actually increases their work and other states have begun doing away with the program due to ineffectiveness.
“When we were approached by the AFL-CIO to do an AI study, we suggested COMPAS,” Spence, a longtime parole officer, said. “It gives us an opportunity to talk about the algorithm and the dire importance of how we supervise, how we keep the community safe, and how it adversely impacts people of color.”
The findings from the study will be submitted to the federal government, Spence said.
Political action and legislative agendas
The Executive Board approved the political endorsement recommendations of the Statewide Political Action Committee (SWPAC). Members can find a list of endorsed candidates by clicking “PEF Political Endorsements – 2022” on this page.
“Endorsements are a critical part of political action for this union,” SWPAC Chair Randi DiAntonio said. “We review candidates’ records to determine who to endorse and we openly support that candidate.”
The General Election date for state and federal candidates is Nov. 8, 2022.