June 14, 2023 — It was a busy three-day Executive Board meeting June 7, 8, and 9, in Albany, with votes to send the PS&T and Canal Corporation contracts to memberships for ratification, both Gov. Kathy Hochul and Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado addressing members, and updates on other business of the union.
Hochul addresses board
Following on the heels of the board’s June 8 vote to send the PS&T contract to members for a ratification vote (click here to read more), President Wayne Spence welcomed Gov. Hochul to the dais.
PEF lobbied hard for staffing, hazard pay, Civil Service reform, and other initiatives contained in the union’s Fund Our Future campaign, Spence said, and seeing the governor’s budget came as a welcome surprise.
“I was just blown away that we saw about seven or eight things out of 15 that we said we were going to campaign on for Fund Our Future, and it was right there in her budget,” Spence said. “We aren’t always going to agree on everything, but if there are 10 things on the table and we can agree on eight, that’s progress. Thank you for recognizing our work as part of the state workforce and thank you for getting us to the finish line.”
Hochul acknowledged the strength of PEF’s bargaining at the table.
“Your members need to know how hard you fought to the bitter end to make sure that they had every dime that they deserved,” she said to President Spence. “It’s not just about the dollars and cents, it’s about the message we’re sending to the people we’re negotiating with. Their value to us. Their value to the state of New York.”
The governor said it was time to honor the work of PEF members, despite budget challenges.
“We found out in March that we lost $6 billion in tax receipts – that’s a big hit,” she said. “So going into the budget, we think, ‘Hey we’re doing pretty good, post-COVID, everything’s rocking’ and then we realized because of the stock market, because of high net-worth people that are going down to Florida, for a lot of reasons, we don’t have what I had hoped we would have.
“That does have an effect on what we’re able to do, as much as we want to do even more,” she said. “But I also knew that for a decade having 1%, maybe 2% increases for the hardest working men and women we have in the state of New York was a slap in the face. You deserve more.”
She ended with appreciation.
“I want you to know how much I value you,” she said. “As your governor, I could not be prouder to have the most dedicated public service workforce. Thank you for all that you do.”
Delgado highlights importance of unions
In an appearance before the PEF Executive Board, Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado said collective bargaining is essential and how power in government is organized and distributed rests upon the labor movement.
“Without labor in the workforce, future generations of kids like myself don’t have the same opportunities, the same pathways,” Delgado said. “We are living in a time right now with so much inequality. The power of labor, the power of collective bargaining, is all the more essential.”
Delgado said the current administration understands there is chronic understaffing in New York State and a lot of people are being stretched thin under a strained economy.
“I do think there is an awareness of chronic understaffing and the need for meaningful support,” he said, pointing to the Executive Budget’s funding for Civil Service reform, a public outreach campaign, and other recruitment and retention initiatives. “At the end of the day, I want you to know that the state doesn’t run without you. All of you provide essential services across New York.”
Providing those services is the “framework of our democracy,” he said.
“Protecting the right to collectively bargain, protecting our labor force, protecting unions is essential to any well-functioning government,” Delgado said. “It’s a big source of pride for me that New York is the most unionized state in America.”
Organizing continues to bolster the ranks
Despite ongoing efforts by large anti-union groups, PEF’s Organizing Department continues to sign up new PEF members and bring back those who dropped the union after misunderstanding deceptive marketing from anti-union groups.
Many of those who opted out by mail thought they were requesting a copy of their membership card – not dropping their union. Follow-up calls from PEF Organizing straightened out the confusion and is saving about 92% of the optouts, Director of Organizing Dan Carpenter reported to the board.
The union is gaining, not losing, membership.
“We brought on three organizers fulltime almost a year ago,” Carpenter said. “This time last year we had signed up 1,714 new members. This year, as of June 6, we have signed up 2,574. That’s an increase of 860 members. If you take the average PS&T employee salary of $70,000, we brought in $602,000 more this year. We’re doing an amazing job.”
If the tentative PS&T contract is ratified, language would require the state provide PEF with notice of onboarding sessions involving at least three new PS&T employees and PEF would have a minimum of 30 minutes to present, affording the union a better opportunity to bring on new members.
Some members may be entitled to COVID OT earnings adjustment
Approximately 2,000 current and former members have begun receiving letters advising them about their potential entitlement to adjusted overtime earnings for specific types of COVID overtime work they performed during the pandemic.
Projects include, but are not limited to, assisting the Department of Labor with claims for unemployment insurance and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, as well as assisting the Department of Health with the COVID hotline.
It is important that impacted members respond immediately.
“Those members are being asked to submit their paperwork if their calculations differ from the data presented,” said PEF General Counsel Edward Greene. “We are asking them to do that before the end of the month.”
Greene said the adjustments are the result of litigation by PEF and recouped wages are expected to exceed $2 million for PEF members and more than $3 million when factoring in other eligible unions and M/C employees.
“It’s a real team effort over almost three years,” Greene said.
Board discusses lowering election signature requirements
Three Executive Board members brought member items before the body requesting a Constitutional Amendment to reduce the percentage of constituent signatures required to petition for an elected position.
One prevailed and will now be sent to the PEF Convention in October in Syracuse for consideration by that body. The Constitutional amendment would reduce the number of signatures required from 10% of a constituency to 5%.
Proponents of the amendment cited changing dynamics in the workplace, such as telecommuting and the need to draw in younger and more diverse leaders, as indicators that an adjustment is needed. Those opposed said lowering the requirement reduced the need for potential leaders to get out and meet their members face-to-face.
If the amendment is approved by Convention delegates, it will be implemented 60 days later.
The Executive Board meets next on Sept. 21 and 22 in Albany.