Telephone Town Hall


May 12, 2023 — President Wayne Spence hosted a telephone town hall May 4 to update members on legislative victories in this year’s New York state budget, the underhanded tactics of anti-union groups, and the ongoing contract negotiations. 

But first, he shared PEF’s mission statement, something he said should be looked at more frequently. “If we don’t know what our mission and our vision is, then we really don’t know where we are going,” Spence said.  

If you haven’t seen the mission statement, it reads: 

“PEF exists to promote the welfare of its members with respect to all terms and conditions of employment and will achieve this through: 

    • Negotiating a good contract that reflects the higher wages, better working conditions and improved retirement benefits our members deserve. 
    • A campaign to draw attention to the quality services PEF members provide to the citizens of New York State and to counter costly privatization that often results in diminished and inferior services. 
    • A member engagement campaign that will reinvigorate the membership in the face of outside threats like the JANUS decision and will be a call to action to address issues like privatization, civil service abuse, staff shortages, hostile work environments and legislative lobbying. 

Spence said the union has been hard at work making those goals a reality. 

Budget gains 

A good working relationship with Gov. Kathy Hochul and her administration, and good relationships with the NYS Senate and Assembly, coupled with strong legislative advocacy, gave the union an edge in this budget session.  

“Some really good things came out of the budget,” said PEF Legislative Director Pat Lyons.   

In this cycle, the focus was on things like workforce issues, including chronic understaffing and shortages; Civil Service reform, to attract and retain staff; funding for SUNY hospitals and state-operated facilities; Tier 6 pension reform; and criminal justice issues.   

Among the Civil Service reforms is a waiver on exam fees until 2025.  

“Here we are in a staffing shortage, and you have to pay to take an exam to get a job,” Spence said. “I didn’t think they heard us, and I was very happy to see that they actually listened to what we were saying.”  

PEF Political Director Leah Gonzalez said the new commissioner at the Department of Civil Service has been a welcome change.  

“We have been pretty impressed with him,” she said, about Commissioner Timothy Hogues. “He seems to share our concerns about expanding access to Civil Service testing and addressing problems since COVID. He genuinely seems to want to [make states jobs better] improve the entire civil service system.  

“Our relationship with the governor has improved and it has translated into gains for our members,” she said. “One hundred percent: it has translated into results.”  

In addition to the $2.5 million to support the waiver, the reforms include continuous recruitment for open competitive positions; $2.2 million to study the state pay grade system; and funding for 12 regional Civil Service centers.  

“She didn’t include any closures, program cuts, consolidations, or agency reductions,” Lyons said. “We didn’t get all, but we got a lot of our priorities. Her budget proposal was very solid.” 

Contract update 

Six months before the contract expired, the PEF contract team began work. 

“Our priorities include economic issues, like across-the-board wage increases, improvements to the Productivity Enhancement Program (PEP), longevities, and location pay, as well as noneconomic items, like telecommuting and leave benefits,” Spence said. “We are urging the state through proposals to recognize the unique role of PEF’s highly educated professionals.” 

You can read contract news here. The next bargaining sessions are May 16 and 17. 

Attack on unions 

You may have seen a mailing that looks like a rebate check, promising you money back if you drop out of the union. If you check a box and mail it back, you won’t get a check … but you may have just opted out of being a member of PEF without meaning to, losing rights and protections. 

Why would somebody spend thousands for a mailing to your house to get you to drop the union? 

“The Freedom Foundation has committed $20 million to weakening the strength of public-sector unions, especially in New York,” said PEF Director of Organizing Dan Carpenter. “They are doing so now because we are in contract negotiations, and they see this as the perfect time to weaken our leverage at the contract table.  

“They want to limit the size of government, diminish our pension and health care, and strip back some workplace protections and rights that we have fought so hard to gain and enjoy,” he said. “They have a vested interest in having us drop our union.” 

Members have been shocked to learn they inadvertently dropped out of PEF. 

“They were terrified: they did not mean to drop the union,” Carpenter said, about members who have called PEF Organizing to rectify the issue. “We want to make sure the membership knows that they are using deceptive tactics to get you to send these in. Once you drop, you’ve lost rights and protections and the opportunity to vote on contracts – you’ve lost your voice.” 

RELATED: Click here for what you should know about the Freedom Foundation

Any member who feels they may have been duped into dropping out of PEF should contact Jessica Carpenter in PEF Organizing at Jessica.Carpenter@pef.org.