Telly TownhallFebruary 20, 2024 — As the budget season ramps up, PEF is working hard to make sure that members of the union and state workers are kept high on the list of things for legislators and the governor to focus on. During the second telephone Town Hall of the year on Feb. 15, 2024, PEF President Wayne Spence offered members a chance to know exactly what those priorities are and how they can get involved. 

However, before digging into the details on the budget, President Spence delivered some good news to PEF members: The $400 dental stipend and $600 higher education differentials are on the way. 

For the higher education differential, eligible employees must be on the payroll as of April 1, 2024. Staff must hold an associate’s degree or higher from a college or university or a professional license from the New York State Education Department (SED). Some agencies may use documentation they already have, but many are requiring members to submit their proof. PEF advises that if agencies ask for proof to make sure to provide it before the deadline of March 29. 

 “Proof can be a copy,” said Director of Contract Administration Debra Greenberg. “It does not have to be an original. A copy of your current license, a copy of your degree, a copy of a college transcript showing the degree, or even a photo of it hanging on a wall.”

PEF President Wayne Spence, Vice President Randi DiAntonio, Research Associate Jean-Rene Shekerjian, Vice President Darlene Williams, Political Director Leah Gonzalez, Information Systems Director Joe Cocci, Executive Director Todd Kerner, Legislative Director Patrick Lyons and Contract Administration Direct Debra Greenberg seated around the table deliver critical information to members during Feb. 15 town hall
From the head of the table clockwise: PEF President Wayne Spence, Vice President Randi DiAntonio, Research Associate Jean-Rene Shekerjian, Vice President Darlene Williams, Political Director Leah Gonzalez, Membership Information Systems Director Joe Cocci, Executive Director Todd Kerner, Legislative Director Patrick Lyons and Contract Administration Director Debra Greenberg deliver critical information to members during the Feb. 15 Telephone Town Hall.

Greenberg also said that a copy of degrees may be in agency personnel folders. Both President Spence and Greenberg advised that members check their personnel folders. In the unusual situation where members cannot obtain a copy of their diploma or degree, Greenberg recommends reaching out to Human Resources and to a PEF field representative.

“Contact your HR department to request an alternative method of submission. If there is any trouble with that, contact your field representative,” Greenberg said. “We did make arrangements to deal with unusual situations like that.”

The contract does not define accreditation or exclude foreign degrees. If a member has their proof denied for any of those reasons, Greenberg again recommends contacting a field representative so PEF can work on the issue as soon as possible.

Members can expect these first payments to be made on April 24 for those on the administrative payroll, and May 2 for those on the institutional payroll.

The dental stipend, which is included in the contract while the state works through a request for proposal (RFP) for a new dental provider, should be hitting PEF members’ paychecks by March 13 for those on the administrative payroll, and March 21 for those on the institutional payroll. PEF anticipates an update this spring on the potential for a new dental provider.

“We expect the state to be making an announcement this spring regarding the final results of the RFP,” Greenberg said. “After the announcement is made, there’s usually an implementation period of about six months.”

Members will also receive their contractually negotiated 3% salary increase in April, as well as performance awards and advances for those eligible.

PEF Budget Priorities

President Spence said that while he knows Governor Hochul has a lot of high-profile proposals to deal with the migrant crisis, affordable housing and many other issues in New York, his priority is still to PEF members.

“Governor Hochul stated that she was aware that every New York State worker was underpaid and she was committed to changing that,” President Spence said. “We want to make sure that that does not get lost.” 

As PEF continues to advocate for across-the-board salary upgrades for all titles, President Spence offered the membership a look behind the curtain to help understand how the New York State Department of Civil Service (DCS) approaches the process and why it is taking so long.

Jean-Rene Shekerjian, a research associate in PEF’s Civil Service Enforcement and Research Department, and President Spence both shared that although DCS has been preparing to conduct a pay equity study for some time now, they only just sent out their request for proposals (RFP) this February. And the new study is a follow up to the pay equity study conducted from 2019 to 2022. It will not look at the competitiveness of State salaries. 

Shekerjian added that the first pay equity study included a survey of more than 1,000 State job titles and asked survey respondents hundreds of questions to try to determine whether their job title was paid fairly in comparison to other State job titles.  

“They had about 9,000 respondents, 200 questions,” Shekerjian said. “They had to turn that into numbers, then pump that through their statistical instrument to yield results.” 

While the current RFP only relates to internal studies and information, Shekerjian shared that in the spring, DCS will also send out another RFP to compare how competitive the state is compared to the private sector. 

PEF Vice President Randi DiAntonio also offered a quick update on the union’s efforts to upgrade the salaries of social workers. In September 2023, the Office of Mental Health (OMH) submitted a proposal to DCS to upgrade social workers who work for the agency. 

“This was not an easy lift,” DiAntonio said. “This was months and months of advocacy, arguing, putting pressure on them, writing letters, calling legislators and doing all sorts of things.”

DiAntonio offered that any members of PEF who believe they are underpaid should focus on putting pressure on their employers. Local members can start by advocating at the ground level with PEF’s support.

“Members should not wait for a wage study to start advocating,” DiAntonio said. “We can work with members in individual titles, we can work with their leaders, as well as PEF Field Services and Civil Service staff, to highlight specific titles, to identify pay differences, to have it put on your labor management agenda and to push your employers to prioritize. This is never an easy lift, but we know it’s possible.”

As for the state budget under negotiation, PEF Legislative Director Patrick Lyons laid out the union’s priorities and how members can help advance them. PEF has many priorities and challenges ahead, including putting a stop to the fast-tracking of prison closures on a 90-day expedited timeline, and preventing the State from closing SUNY Downstate hospital.

However, there are several proposals in the governor’s budget that mirror PEF’s Fund Our Future campaign priorities.

“To her credit, she did adopt our proposal to end the lag payroll system for new hires, and end the salary deferral program for new hires,” Lyons said. “Under those programs as they exist now, a member coming into state service wouldn’t receive a check for 14 weeks.”

“Reforming Tiers 5 and 6 of the State pension plan remain the union’s top priority,” Lyons said. “This is about fairness and it is the most cost-effective way to attract and retain the workers New York needs to deliver services.

There are several other issues that members can read about on PEF’s website. Currently, the union is asking all members to send emails about eight PEF budget priorities to their local leaders. (Click here to send yours.)

“You play an important role in this system to try and advocate on behalf of all of our members,” Lyons said. “I know not all of these items effect every single one of our titles and our members at all of our agencies, but at some point, they may.”

“If we don’t act in unison as a union of 50,000 strong, we are losing an opportunity,” he said. “We can’t wait until we’re the last ones waiting for a bad thing to happen to us. We have to work together now.”

Click here or the play button below to listen to the Town Hall. 

Here are some general time codes indicating what was discussed and when:

  • 00:00 – 08:20:  Update about the 2023-2026 negotiated $600 Higher Education Differential
  • 08:20 – 12:35:  Update on the Dental Stipend and other incoming payments via contract negotiations.
  • 12:35 – 22:50:  Update regarding Civil Service Pay Equity Study.
  • 22:50 – 30:25:  Progress on Social Worker salary enhancements and hiring.
  • 30:25 – 42:45:  Budget concerns and priorities.
  • 42:45 – 52:30:  Budget proposals PEF supports.
  • 52:30 – 54:15:  Answers to questions submitted by members.
  • 54:15 – 56:20:  Details about PEF’s letter-writing campaign for budget priorities.
  • 56:20 to end:  Closing remarks from President Spence, final call to action.