Some inspiring stories have been appearing in the Communicator for the last few months. Here’s another in the series titled “The Value of the Union”

It’s all about saving jobs, benefits, protection

PEF represents 51,000 members who work in all facets of state government. When you talk to a current member or someone who has recently retired, almost inevitably they will tell you a story or two about how union intervention saved jobs.

“In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the state Department of Transportation focused on laying off its employees and started hiring outside contractors and consultants to do the same work,” said Louis Ferrone Jr., a retired civil engineer 1.

“The union went to battle and used various avenues. It did research that showed the cost-effectiveness in having identical work done by state employees. PEF accomplished this by testifying at state transportation committee hearings and explaining this issue to elected officials. The union’s professional approach and diligence was helpful in deterring more layoffs,” Ferrone said.

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John Steele, a former social worker assistant 3 who worked at the Taconic Developmental Disabilities Services Office for 27 years, also credits PEF for saving jobs.

“For a while, my title was Medicaid Service Coordinator. The state decided to abolish that title, but because of direct union intervention, we were able to keep our jobs. We got into new roles. Management has a lot of leeway and

prerogative. Without union support, I can’t imagine what the results would have been. Being in a union is the only way to fight these kinds of situations.”

On a smaller scale but equally significant, Steele spoke about a co-worker who felt she was a target for harassment and bullying.

“The union grieved the issue, she won and was treated with more respect after that,” Steele said.

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Ferrone said union membership offers benefits such as health insurance, sick leave, raises, assistance with child and elderly care issues, navigating the discipline process, and providing fair representation.

“I could go on and on. Everything we have in the workplace is a result of the contract won by union leaders and activists. Unions brought us the 8-hour workday, weekends and stopped child labor. If it were up to employers, we would not have benefits or opportunities.”

Ferrone said fee payers have the advantage of all the benefits garnered from contract negotiations plus union representation, even though their contribution to the union is minimal.

“The fee payer setup is part of a union busting system created by management. In the long run, there could be the demise of the union and that would eliminate contract negotiations, salary increases and benefits. We all want our children to have a better life than we have, so we all need to support our union,” Ferrone said.

Steele agreed, “People should not take the union for granted. They need to get involved and know what is going on. I started to do that when I was new at my job. I was under attack by a team leader and turned to the union. Then I started going to conventions. Folks should know how their union works and understand democracy is a complicated process. In the end, it works out for employees.”

Story By DEBORAH A. MILES — Preview of The Communicator March 2016 edition

communicator url linkSee previous THE VALUE OF THE UNION stories:
Activists push for unionism, protection at private college
Having a union made all the difference

 

UPDATE: Member Engagement/Internal Organizing Training Scheduled this past weekend 2/6/16 was “Excellent” according to many attendees

Many member activists attended this past weekends training. Members were trained in the skills of reaching out to and engaging with other members. We are only as strong as our ties to one another and this training was all about how to strengthen and build upon that principal. I am happy that so many folks came out to participate and I hope to offer more training in the future.

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Sorry for the short notice folks. There is still space available. Please Join us for dynamic and important training!

I am writing to let you know about a training opportunity available to all members interested in helping to save our UNION! I have setup a training session on Internal Organizing/Member Engagement.  The training will be Saturday February 6th,  2016 at PEF headquarters  from 9:30 AM til 3:30 PM.  PEF staff will provide a program designed to inform you about our organizing efforts as preparation for the Friedrichs case in the United State Supreme Court involving public unions.  Lunch will be provided. Please RSVP to me  or Tara Bentley at tbentley@pef.org or 785-1900 ext 215 Enclosed is a brief synopsis of the program:

Member Engagement: The Power of an Easy Ask

As you may know the Supreme Court will rule on the case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association by this June, and we are predicting a disastrous result for unions: the Court is expected to rule that we may no longer charge non-members a “Fair Share Fee” for the union’s duty to negotiate contracts  and provide representation on their behalf. This will mean not only lost revenue from current fee-payers, but possibly catastrophic losses if members begin to flee or new workers cannot be signed.

The solution is active member engagement. When such threats have faced unions in the past, it has been the least engaged members who cut and run. But when unions make ongoing member engagement their core priority, we remain strong and united.

In this training we will develop the core skills needed to make member engagement effective. These include:

1) The Structured Conversation

2) Targeting an “Ask”

3) Assessing a Conversation and

4) Charting and Mapping the Workplace

The training will be led by Elric Kline, one of PEF’s professional Organizers. Elric has been with PEF for more than two years, working to develop tools and strategies particular to our members’ needs. Before that, he was the Capital District Organizer for the Working Families Party, where he earned a reputation for top-notch conversation training and leadership development as the Field Director for Cecilia Tkaczyk’s successful underdog 2012 state  senate campaign. His training draws on a broad knowledge of political psychology and organizational modeling, thanks to more than 13 years of academic training up to a Ph.D. in Political Science.

Please help me to help all of us! Join the fight to save our union!

In Solidarity,

Michael Blue

Region 8 Coordinator

 

Region 8’s Political Action Legislative Breakfast was a great success!

With over 40 Members in attendance and 4 local legislators there to meet with us to discuss PEF’s Priorities our Legislative Breakfast was a great success. Thank You to all of the members who attended and helped to show our legislators that PEF’s members stand up for our rights. We asked them to help us with many items of concern in the governor’s budget, such as:

A Proposal to Implement differential health care premium contributions for certain new retirees based on years of service.

According to budget documents this proposal would provide “more equitable funding” for retiree health insurance coverage for certain new civilian State retirees with less than 30 years of service.  Currently, an employee retiring with 10 years of service pays the same amount as an employee with 30 years of service.  Under this proposal, similar to the calculation for pension benefits, new civilian retirees would pay differential healthcare premiums based on years of service (see table below).  Those retiring with less than 30 years of service would have to contribute a greater share of their health insurance costs. Costs would be proportionately greater for an individual with 10 years of service, and gradually decrease until they are no different than current levels once an individual reaches 30 years of service.  This change would take effect with new retirees as of October 1, 2016.  This proposal is viewed as a negative retirement incentive.

A Proposal to Increase spending on the Office of Information Technology Services (OITS) consultant FTE contract employees by approximately 40 percent in SFY 2016-17. OITS employed an estimated 541 consultant FTE contract employees in SFY 2015-16 at a cost of $91.6 million.  It is estimated that in SFY 2016-17, the OITS will increase the number of consultant employees by 308 (56.9%) and the disbursed funds by $36.9 million, for a total disbursement of $128.6 million. The purpose and size of this increase in consultants should be pursued with management. (PEF opposes any increase to spending for contracting out our jobs.)

A Proposal to Reduce the additional state support for SUNY’s three teaching hospitals by $18.6 million. The state subsidy for the three SUNY teaching hospitals at Brooklyn, Stony Brook, and Syracuse would be reduced to $69 million. (PEF opposes any reduction in funding to the state SUNY Hospitals.

A Proposal to Enact Workers’ Compensation Reform: This bill amends various provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Law (WCL), the Public Authorities Law (PAL) and the Insurance Law to change the method of calculating an injured worker’s average weekly wage.  It would also eliminate, among other things, future deposits to the Aggregate Trust Fund (ATF) for partial permanent disability and total permanent disability cases.  It also removes the requirement that cases remain with the same Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) once opened. The bill also reduces the number of Board Members from 13 to 7 and requires that three of the seven be attorneys.  It also increases the time injured. (PEF opposes any changes to the Workers Compensation Law that would materially alter or diminish benefits to our members.)

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Thanks again Everyone! 

 

 

 

 

 

Some inspiring stories have been appearing in the Communicator for the last few months. Here’s one in the series titled “The Value of the Union”

“Be glad you are in a union and stay involved,” is the message Lisa Kannenberg is sending to all PEF members.

Kannenberg is a history professor at the College of St. Rose in Albany. Her experiences have emphasized how being a union member makes a big difference in all walks of work life.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Kannenberg easily recognized the benefits of organized labor. She was a factory worker in the electrical industry, and an active member of the United Electrical Workers.

“Most of the time, I worked in a very large shop in Pittsburgh that employed about 3,000 people. I was very active there as a shop steward and head of several union committees such as publicity and education. Sometimes, I would get a call from an unorganized shop, and would go there and recruit people for an organizing committee. It was really good. I had worked in non-union shops before, and especially in factories, there is no recourse. There is nothing. You have no way of protecting yourself from any kind of managerial decision. The union gives you a lot of protection.

“It is just infinitely better to work union than non-union,” Kannenberg said.

Changes throughout time

The electrical industry got wiped out, along with other industries, so Kannenberg returned to school, changed careers and became a professor of history. For nearly 20 years at the College of St. Rose, Kannenberg described the working atmosphere as respectful, professional and a collaborative effort among the faculty and administration.

“We were able to practice shared governance. That’s a philosophy where the administration oversees the financial aspects and student recruitment, while the faculty is in charge of the curriculum and programs. The professors have had the main say about program development or elimination,” she said.

Not any more

A new administration took over the helm at St. Rose, and there has been a lot of managerial turnover. The result has been crushing for some of the staff.

“Job security is pretty much out the window,” Kannenberg said. “The administration decided without any input who is going to be laid off. Last spring, we lost 23 staff people. And in December, another 23 faculty were fired, including tenured professors. That is a violation of governance procedures in our faculty manual.

“The administration also is re-founding the college by changing its orientation from a liberal arts college to a pre-professional school with an emphasis on hot topic careers. It has become more like job training than providing a liberal arts education. We have had nothing to say about it. In doing this, the administration has eviscerated the shared governance tradition of the college.”

The administrators also have severed communication among the faculty by dismantling a listserv email system. Kannenberg said the email system had provided for lively discussions among faculty and was part of the college culture. Without it, professors cannot quickly respond or even acknowledge messages from other faculty members.

Time to go union

The faculty at St. Rose is not taking these changes lightly. Those fired have filed complaints with the internal faculty review committee to establish they have followed procedure.

“Basically we have lost control of our work and our jobs. A union is the way to ensure we have some protection. In higher education, public institutions can unionize but private schools cannot. That’s largely due to the Yeshiva College decision from the 1980s when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled with management, saying the faculty had control over its work and participated in hiring decisions, so were not considered employees and were ineligible to form a union,” Kannenberg said.

However, there have been recent NLRB rulings that have been chipping away at the Yeshiva decision. That, and the spirit of activism, determination and quest for fairness, has fueled the St. Rose faculty.

They are trying to organize with the Service Employees International Union, and have organized a chapter in the American Association of University Professors.

“We are collecting cards now and planning to present them to the administration. We have a majority at this point, but want a significant majority. The administration can voluntarily recognize us as a union and allow us to organize. If they refuse, we would have to go the NLRB route. What we are trying to do is not impossible, but it is not a given under the labor law,” Kannenberg said.

“There is no alternative than to try to regain some kind of voice on the job.”

— Story By DEBORAH A. MILES in the upcoming February 2016 edition of The Communicator

Hundreds of Union Members gather at the supreme court to show our opposition to the Friedrichs vs CTA Case

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“IF the questions that came up during oral argument in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association on Monday are any guide, the ruling bloc of conservative justices appears ready to render a decision later this year that would significantly weaken public sector labor unions.
 
By stripping these unions of key financial resources — their fair share of fees provided by nonmembers — the court would upend a longstanding precedent. A decision in favor of the plaintiff would effectively slam the door on an era in which some conservatives joined liberals in recognizing that vibrant unions help make our democracy work. This is radicalism, not conservatism.
 
Public sector unions — representing teachers, firefighters and the like — are the remaining bright spot in America’s once-thriving trade union movement. In the case before the Supreme Court, Rebecca Friedrichs, a dissident teacher in Southern California, argues that she should be able to accept the higher wages and benefits the union negotiates, but not help pay for the costs.
 
Relying on the First Amendment, Ms. Friedrichs says that she shouldn’t be forced by the government to support political causes with which she disagrees. But almost four decades ago, the Supreme Court came to a sensible compromise on this issue, written by an Eisenhower appointee, Justice Potter Stewart: No public sector worker can be compelled to join a union or to pay for its political efforts. However, the state may require that every worker pay fair share fees to support the costs of collective bargaining over bread-and-butter issues like wages, benefits and working conditions.
 
That 1977 ruling appears in real danger of being overturned. Doing so, David C. Frederick, a lawyer representing the union, told the court, “would substantially disrupt established First Amendment doctrine and labor management systems in nearly half the country.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. suggested that losing fair share fees would not pose much of a problem; if workers really support collective bargaining, the so-called free rider problem someone like Ms. Friedrichs represents would be “really insignificant.” But humans enjoy getting benefits for nothing. In states that recognize a duty to bargain but prohibit fair share fees, 34 percent of teachers are free riders.
 
Because today’s conservatives are typically hostile to unions, it’s easy to forget that they were not always opposed to unionism or fair share fees. If conservatism is supposed to stand for anything, it’s the idea that there is no such thing as a free lunch. In a 1991 case, Justice Antonin Scalia backed fair share fees, citing the legal duty unions have to represent the interests of nonmembers as well as members. Unless dissidents like Ms. Friedrichs want to return the raises, health care and retirement benefits that unions negotiate, conservative values suggest that they should contribute like everyone else.
 
During the Cold War, Republicans as well as Democrats fought for union endorsements and recognized that unions were critical civic organizations because they serve as a check on arbitrary government power; help sustain a middle-class society necessary for a stable democracy; serve to acculturate workers to democratic norms; and, in the case of teachers unions, support a public school system that helps children become thoughtful and reflective citizens.
 
Conservatives are fond of citing Alexis de Tocqueville, who was famously struck by the thriving civic associations that keep American democracy vitalized; for the past century, unions have been a critical part of that framework. In 1980, Ronald Reagan, then the Republican Party’s presidential candidate, championed the role of Polish unions in challenging dictatorial rule by the Communist Party. In a Labor Day speech that year, Reagan declared, “where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.”
 
Democracies are also more likely to thrive when a vibrant middle class can support them, an insight that goes all the way back to Aristotle. Large inequalities of wealth can create political inequality, and vice versa. Theodore Roosevelt warned of the dangers of having “a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power.” Strong unions ameliorate extreme inequalities.
 
Unions serve as what Robert Putnam, a political scientist at Harvard, calls “schools for democracy.” Being involved in workplace decisions and the give and take of collective bargaining, voting on union contracts and voting for union leadership are all important drivers of “democratic acculturation.” Union members also staff phone banks and canvass voters door to door, which actually increases civic participation among union members and nonmembers alike.
 
Teachers unions are strong champions of American public schooling, which undergirds our democracy. The 19th-century educator Horace Mann, who advocated fiercely for the common school system that became America’s experiment with public education, made this point metaphorically: “A republican form of government, without intelligence in the people, must be, on a vast scale, what a mad-house, without superintendent or keepers, would be on a small one.” While some critics claim teachers unions have a detrimental effect on academic achievement, careful studies actually find higher achievement in states with strong teachers unions.
 
With the Supreme Court split, unions cling to a thin hope that one of the conservative justices will resist partisan pressure to tilt the political playing field against Democrats. I hope they’re right. Unions aren’t faultless, but they are a crucial source of stability and strength for our democracy.”