October 25, 2023 — The 45th Annual PEF Convention kicked off October 15 with more than 500 delegates gathering in Syracuse to conduct the business of the union, including review of the Secretary-Treasurer’s and Trustees’ reports; setting the state and federal legislative agendas; debating an amendment to the PEF Constitution; and considering a variety of resolutions impacting PEF policies.
Delegates approved a Constitutional Amendment that lowers the signature requirement for election petitions to “5% for the membership of the appropriate constituency,” a reduction from the previous 10%.
Those in favor of the amendment cited telecommuting as an impediment to petitioning, with some candidates having to travel large distances and to many small offices to fulfill petitioning requirements. Some said it was difficult to gain access to secure facilities and staff in the field.
“We need this for the survival of the union,” one said. “We need to improve participation. Modernize or die.”
Those in opposition said union leaders should be putting in more effort, going from one end of their constituency to another, and the body shouldn’t be decreasing requirements for elected office.
The amendment is effective on Dec. 15, 2023, 60 days after Convention delegates approved it.
Labor leaders in the house
Four of the top labor leaders in the world addressed the delegates on October 16, a clear recognition of the strength of PEF as a leading public-sector union.
SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, AFT President Randi Weingarten, National AFL-CIO President Liz Schuler, and NYS AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento applauded PEF members and urged them to continue to advocate for themselves.
“How incredible is it that we had at our Convention three of the most powerful leaders in organized labor in this country, and the fourth highest in New York state, representing 17 million union members,” said Vice President Randi DiAntonio. “Our power, our visibility, our credibility and what we can accomplish is due to the relationships President Spence has built.”
State of the Union
President Wayne Spence took the podium to deliver his State of the Union address October 16, highlighting PEF’s successes since last Convention, including membership increases, community activism and engagement, an overwhelmingly ratified contract without givebacks, and more.
“PEF is more than 50,000 strong and we are still growing,” he said. “In fact, if we keep adding new members, there may come a time in the not-too-distant future when we call ourselves New York’s largest public-sector union.”
PEF’s financial position
Secretary-Treasurer Joe Donahue reported on the state of the union’s finances, addressing delegates’ concerns about increased program expenditures and investments.
“It’s been a very eventful year,” he said. “I can report to you that PEF is in very good financial shape, and I intend to keep it there. My office continues to create, as well as update, policies and procedures as our needs and circumstances require. I meet quarterly with the Budget Advisory and Financial Compliance Committee, and as needed with our PEF Trustees, to find common ground and present any changes to the Executive Board for discussion and, if necessary, action.”
Donahue said the union’s net assets decreased by approximately $364,000 in fiscal year 2023, citing increased spending as PEF returns to pre-COVID practices and expenses, such as in-person meetings and the staffing expenses associated with that.
Dues income increased significantly, due in part to the positive trend of increasing membership as PEF Organizing steps up efforts to sign up new members across the state.
“The union’s cash and investment positions will be able to support the union in overcoming any outside threats in the years to come,” he said. “Membership continues to increase as the union continues to climb back to pre-pandemic levels.”
VP DiAntonio, the chair of the Statewide Political Action Committee, shared legislative wins since the last Convention and presented the proposed 2024 federal and state legislative agendas.
“I am beyond thrilled to report that our collective efforts to fund our future in 2023 resulted in many legislative and budgetary wins,” DiAntonio said. “Our public service campaign struck a chord with New Yorkers, it struck a chord with the governor, and it resonated with the state legislature.”
PEF bills signed into law in 2023 included a bill adding teeth to the nurse mandatory overtime law by requiring penalties for employers who violate it; a bill eliminating “captive audience” meetings when management tries to address topics that may make some employees uncomfortable; and a bill expanding notice for civil service exams. Legislation requiring public inspectors at taxpayer-funded capital project sites awaits signing by the governor.
“Our advocacy in the political arena helps us ensure that vital essential services get the funding needed to serve the people of New York,” DiAntonio said. “Through our political action, we fight back against bad budgets and bad policy.”
Deciding on resolutions
Delegates took up nine of the 27 resolutions on the agenda, adopting seven of them and voting down one.
Under Civil Service Issues, delegates adopted resolutions pertaining to the following:
- PEF will work with other organizations to raise awareness of the importance of wage restructuring for public employees and will use its political and legislative influence to advocate for expedited hiring at the Department of Civil Service.
- PEF will address the concerns of workers who serve in 24/7 agencies and often do not have the same rights to use personal time, Employee Organizational Leave time, breaks, weekends off, and accrued time off. This work will be accomplished by, but not limited to, contract bargaining and political action.
- PEF will work to develop legislation to provide appropriate compensation for any employee impacted by the adoption of any future Executive Order or other action that requires them to render services during a public health or other emergency with a direct threat to their health and safety.
Concerning Workplace Issues, the delegates adopted the following:
- PEF will promote work with appropriate departments and state and legislative agendas to protect members and ensure that their rights are protected as artificial intelligence impacts jobs, services, and products across many industries.
- PEF will discuss with the state Department of Labor how to notify PEF members of any process for reconsidering previous unemployment insurance benefit denials and for filing late claims to members who lost their jobs, even temporarily, due to the state not accommodating inability to take the COVID vaccine because of medical concerns or religious beliefs.
- PEF will support and advocate for the recognition of mental health as legimate and serious work-related injuries and illnesses; include mental health services under Worker’s Compensation law; promote education and awareness about mental health; and remove barriers to accessing services.
Regarding Organizing and Divisions, the following resolutions were considered:
- ADOPTED: PEF commits to proactively create flyers with QR codes for Divisions where members are directed to fill out online forms or surveys; register for an event; participate in campaigns, etc.
- ADOPTED: PEF acknowledges the benefit of PEF Retiree time, effort, and experience to the active organization and members and will encourage and welcome their continued participation.
- FAILED: PEF should provide in-person Council Leader training quarterly and provide general information to all Council Leaders. Staff indicated the inefficiency of the proposed schedule, the training already available and being done, and significant costs associaed with additional training.
Other Convention events
In addition to the main plenary sessions at Convention, there were also a number of special events delegates could attend. Click the links below to read stories about each event.