Friday, November 4, 2011

Now Let's Stand Up and Fight

The vote to ratify the giveback contract showed that PEF members were readily willing to pay an enormous ransom in order rescue 3,496 sisters and brothers from layoffs.

The ransom price, to be paid over four years, has a cost not only in lost wages and reduced benefits but represents a real sacrifice of our union pride and heritage. A majority chose this sacrifice so that PEF would "live to fight another day."

That day is today! We still face hard times, more layoff threats, immediate privatization schemes and continued demonization by the mainstream media.

The Governor yesterday ordered state Agencies to reduce their budgets next fiscal year by an additional 2.5 percent! This comes on top of the 10 percent across-the-board cuts of 2011 and on top of the impending SAGE Commission recommendations for consolidations that will be sent to the Legislature to approve or reject as a complete package.

Over the last 3 weeks the Brynien administration mounted an effort to reach out to every member. Good! But now is not the time to celebrate or pull back.

NOW is the time to intensify the outreach, to continue to provide every PEF member with the tools to fight every coming layoff, to recruit every PEF member to resist every effort to privatize public programs, to empower every PEF member to stand up in order to answer every attack, every smear against public service.

We live in a moment of growing resistance throughout the world to tyrants, bullies and corporate interests that exploit working people. Andrew Cuomo, committed to defending the interests of wealthiest 1 percent at the cost of the poorest 99 percent, has embarked on a campaign of cutbacks that will ruin New York.

The major issues that the Governor failed to address include the high cost of health care, contracting out and cutting public services and forfeiting public revenue through the continuation of the millionaire’s tax.

PEF members provided many ways to reduce costs and raise revenues while improving public health, education, public safety and our environment. The Governor ignored or rejected them all. We need to use our union power to force him to deal with these common-sense proposals, NOW. Our union power means all of the PEF members.

For the sake of all public employees and all unions in New York, PEF members must let the world know that we will not let Cuomo get away with the further ruin of our state.

Of course we here at PROUD remain disappointed that the PEF administration accepted the Governor's false choice of givebacks vs. layoffs. We wish our union would never have had to endure a campaign to scare up YES votes for concessions, givebacks that will set us back years in terms of fair wages and benefits for our professional, scientific and technical bargaining unit.

Yet we hope and pray that an active and informed membership will prove the saving grace. A divisive and demoralizing struggle was inflicted on the PEF membership by the Governor and his paid outside contract negotiators. On a positive note, we are encouraged that PEF members get engaged, thought the issues through and joined in the debate.

Any objective person can see that those who voted to ratify the contract basically held their noses when they marked their ballot. The only people rejoicing over this vote are the Governor, his hired guns and political lackeys desperately betting on personal reward when Cuomo runs for higher office.

Back in the real world, where public employees serve the public with honesty and integrity, we will continue to count on PEF members to exercise their rights as union members. We believe the enormous turnout in the election is a sign of the health and vigor of PEF as a democratic union – of, by and for PEF members.


Please contact us!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

For a Campaign to Push Back "Governor 1 Percent"

The following op-ed appeared November 1, 2011 in The Chief-Leader, a New York City-based weekly civil service newspaper since 1897 that focuses on municipal government and its labor unions while also covering issues affecting New York State and Federal employees.

Our Version of Wisconsin
State Contract Terms Part of Anti-Worker Offensive


A bid to kettle New York’s public-employee unions crowns Andrew Cuomo’s larger program of austerity.

A state-by-state anti-public-employee-union offensive this year has been topped infamously by union-busting legislation in Wisconsin and Ohio. Here in New York the same task requires some sophistication.

Governor Cuomo thinks he has the juice. In strong-arm negotiations he landed PEF just where he wanted: damned if we do and damned if we don’t. His layoff threats forced PEF into classic concession bargaining, negotiating against our own interests.

The Governor launched his term with a promise to downsize the state’s agencies by 20 percent. In addition, he issued a demand for $450 million in total annual givebacks from public-employee-union members. He threatened to lay off up to 9,800 state workers if unions failed to ratify concession contracts. And the Legislature followed suit by including the union givebacks in the state budget assumptions.

Even while PEF members vote on a new tentative agreement, Cuomo continues to assert that it will not prohibit layoffs connected with his aim to downsize the workforce, only those he threatened as part of his negotiations. SAGE Commission “determinations,” his vehicle to agency downsizing, consolidations and privatization, are excluded.

Third Time No Charm

Meanwhile PEF members have suffered three rounds of layoff threats. In the summer nearly 1,000 PEF layoffs were threatened just after CSEA reached a tentative agreement. These were rescinded when PEF accepted a tentative agreement substantially similar to the CSEA deal. The second came immediately after PEF members rejected that contract and 3,496 PEF members were “targeted.” The third round have been put on hold until Nov. 4, the day after the ballot on a revised tentative agreement will be counted.

“When the membership rejected the leadership’s offer,” Cuomo said at a press conference, “I think they caught everyone by surprise.” (Everyone except the 19,629 who voted “no”?)

Like a spoiled child losing at checkers, he demanded that the union give him a do-over. He also patronized the PEF leadership, seeming to say that they owed him a “re-vote” because they had failed to do their job — delivering up the members’ ratification of concessions. PEF members, proud of their union’s democratic traditions, including many who voted for the contract, were infuriated.

But with 3,496 members held hostage, PEF’s leaders scrambled back to the table. A second tentative agreement, hastily reached in mid- October, again averted layoffs by days.

The tentative agreement remains a significant giveback contract — Cuomo dictated “revenue-neutral” renegotiating terms: the bottom line would be givebacks of an amount equivalent to those made by CSEA. Both Cuomo and CSEA have said the new agreement meets these criteria.

Adding Insult to Injury

Yet if the revised PEF contract is ratified, it seems difficult to imagine many PEF members savoring the moment when they paid the ransom to rescue the hostages.

The state workforce has been downsized steadily for two decades, while wages and benefits have remained flat. A recent large wave of retirements from state service, employees who have often not been replaced, has resulted in a further hardship for the remaining workers.

Not only have New York’s professional, technical and scientific public employees done “more with less” for a long time, public-sector wages and benefits, when matched for age, gender and education, remain significantly less than private-sector wages and benefits. (PEF members tend to be highly educated and/or with significant longevity, and many of the union’s best activists are women.)

Canards about “greedy state workers” and “too generous” benefits have particularly anguished public employees whose work experience has been a tale of year-in and year-out self-sacrifice on so many levels, including routine disrespect from incompetent agency leaders whose job credentials often boil down to political cronyism. Perhaps PEF members hoped that Andrew Cuomo might have some idea of these facts when the union endorsed his campaign for Governor.

On top of all this, the threatened layoffs have nothing to do with redundant services. Neither will they save the state money, for the privatization of essential services as a result of layoffs would end up costing the taxpayers much more.

Not only essential services but PEF leaders and activists were “targeted.” Union-minded public servants, whether inclined to ratify or defeat the contract, took profound offense.

Governor 1 Percent

Cuomo appears to want the leadership of PEF and other public-sector unions to help manage his austerity program. His formulation that “the membership rejected the leadership’s offer” was telling. He hopes to make the union leaders into deputy bullies who will bring their members to heel.

Cuomo aims not so much to break the unions but to house-break them. It’s the old company-union idea. If, for example, the SAGE Commission recommends mass layoffs due to agency consolidations, downsizing, speed-ups or privatization, the unions should be there to help the people lose their jobs smoothly, without strife or rebellion.

To resist being cast in this role, PEF and other unions will need to make a fundamental shift in strategy and tactics. “I’ve seen many instances where the unions refused to go along with anything they didn’t like,” PEF President Ken Brynien explained in a recent interview, “and the companies went out of business.”

By comparison, the rallying cry “We Are the 99 Percent!” pierces through. Here in Albany, protesters have renamed Cuomo “Governor 1 Percent.”

This is exactly how we should explain that Cuomo’s assertion that public employees “owed” New York givebacks equal to $450 million annually has been ridiculous all along. In the coming fiscal year, keeping the surcharge on New York millionaires’ incomes will increase state revenue by $5 billion—over 10 times the amount the Governor claimed public employees “owe” the state.

Mobilizing member-by-member throughout the whole union movement to win the fight to keep the Millionaires Tax could help change the whole game. As a counter-offensive it would provide a means to challenge the Governor’s entire program of austerity—and also to mobilize an increasingly restive rank and file.

Dr. Coates is a Steward and Council Leader of Division 231 of the Public Employees Federation in Albany.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Targeted for layoff and voting NO

PEF Proud has received an astonishing amount of mail.

The people we hear from are generally sympathetic to our stance and often provide good suggestions and also inform us of the initiative they have taken in their facilities and agencies, including downloading and distributing flyers.

We have also received some strongly worked emails critical of our positions and flyers but only one of them was signed.

Here is a story very much worth sharing. It is from a woman who asked that we post her story at the blog.

She gave us her name and her permission to publish her name. However, since she has already been "targeted" by the state we decided to withhold her name.

If you would like to reach out in solidarity to this PEF sister we will forward your email (even if anonymous).

I'm a PEF member.

I was called by PEF on the phone twice in the last 

Both times I was encouraged to vote YES to ratify the contract.

 Both times I explained that I am a single mother and I only make 40 thousand 
a year.

I cannot afford to cover my kids under the health insurance increase 
in the contract.
I told them am voting NO.

One of the two callers advocating that I vote "Yes" described the contract. She told me about the three years of zero pay increase with two percent 
in the fourth year.

She told me about the reduction in pay to cover the furloughs. She volunteered that the loss of four percent of my pay in the next ten weeks 
might be offset by my husband’s income.

I was like, Huh? But I just told her I was a single mother?!

So I told her again.

I am a single mother.

I am voting NO.

She said she didn't understand that when it was such a good 
agreement. I should read the information on the PEF website, she told me.

I told her that I know all about the agreement.

For example the layoff 
language is the same as the agreement that got voted down.

But my issue is the increase in family health insurance, which I simply cannot afford. That is why I 
will vote NO again.

I also told her that I received a layoff notice and that I believe I 
will be better off on unemployment than working under this agreement.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Flyers to print and share

Thank you to everyone who requested printable versions!

(Click on the titles below for a link to pdf's.)

The Best Way to Save Jobs is To Vote NO

What's the Millionaire's Tax Got to Do With It?

PROUD Congratulates Our Fellow Members
Who Voted to Reject the Contract for the First Time in PEF's History

The Best Way to Save Jobs is to Vote NO

The best way to reject layoffs is to vote against the tentative agreement.

Governor Cuomo has threatened to lay off 3,496 PEF members. He has shown that he has no respect for us as public employees and no regard for the plight of our families.

The threatened layoffs are as disgusting and outrageous as they are unnecessary. The threatened layoffs carry a personally vicious intent. And each one belongs exclusively to Gov. Cuomo.

Only Cuomo has the power to order these layoffs. PEF does not hire for the state and PEF does not fire for the state.

Remember the old hockey chant? If you don't, it goes like this: "IT'S ALL HIS FAULT! ALL CUOMO'S FAULT!" (We need to explain this to everyone!)

Cuomo ordered the layoffs for reasons that have NOTHING to do with fiscal necessity. Cuomo ordered layoffs of people who provide essential services, not because their functions were redundant. Cuomo ordered the layoffs entirely and totally for a wooden-headed political ploy.

Stupid as the day is long, Cuomo's layoffs came down like a corporate campaign in which the ends justified the means. The means lacked any semblance of responsible governance. The ends were to terrorize PEF members into giving up huge contract concessions.

For an added measure of spite against us, the Governor insisted upon contract protection for himself to order more layoffs!

The Governor ordered layoffs of "targeted titles" (ah, that apt hunting metaphor) that were exclusively PEF members. The 3,496 individuals were chosen hastily, over a few hours. The number of people "targeted" was derived from a political calculation about the names and numbers needed to swing the vote that defeated the first tentative agreement.

Taking up the cause of official bullying, some agencies deliberately targeted PEF activists and prominent PEF leaders. Some agencies used the layoffs to hurry along privatization schemes already in the works. Some agencies simply picked titles, willy-nilly, where the least senior person could not "bump" (displace) a worker who belonged to another union. No effort was made to preserve essential public services. The point of the layoffs was to terrorize PEF.

The best way to stand up against the Governor's bullying is to vote NO again. If we vote NO again, despite his latest threats, Cuomo will have to continue to negotiate. And we will continue working under our present contract thanks to the Triborough Amendment. (If we vote YES he will have no reason to negotiate with us for four years.)

We must fight the Governor's plans to privatize and downsize essential public services. Concessions won't save jobs. Voting NO again will make us even stronger in this fight. In addition we must work to put our entire bargaining unit in the strongest possible position for all future negotiations.

Negotiations with Cuomo remain underway right now. Just turn on the TV and watch him tell us what our union must do -- TV is where he negotiates with us. If we ratify this contract we will concede that we can be terrorized, bamboozled and set up to be broken.

The whole world is watching, particularly our sisters and brothers in New York's unions. Let's stand up for ourselves and give them a reason to join us against the outrageous, unnecessary actions of the Governor.

Vote NO to reject the Governor's abuse and to show our union strength. WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED!!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What's the Millionaire's Tax Got to Do With It?

What's the Millionaire's Tax Got to Do With It?

Governor Andrew Cuomo once again this week took pains to promise to protect New York's billionaires and millionaires from a small surcharge on the income tax they pay. It would be OK with the Gov. if Obama pushes for a millionaire's tax, but Cuomo said he will watch the back of his wealthy friends here in New York.

The top state tax bracket in New York pays 6.85 percent of income. To enter this bracket and pay the same rate as the millionaires and billionaires a single New Yorker needs to make only $20,001 and a married couple only $40,001 in a year. This means that you and I are in the same income tax bracket as David Koch, Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg and Sandra Lee.

As a response to the recession of 2008 a temporary surcharge was added in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Two new top tax brackets were created. One was a 7.85% income tax for single people making over $200,000 and married taxpayers making $300,000. The top bracket of 8.97% was added for those with over $500,000 in annual income.

This temporary surcharge will expire at the end of 2011, three quarters of the way through fiscal year 2011-2012. To allow it to expire will mean that New York will have nearly a flat tax on income, far from a fair tax structure.

Even with the income tax surcharge, New York's wealthiest 1 percent pay the smallest taxes as a percentage of total income. The top 1 percent pays 8.4 percent of household income in New York, while the most heavily taxed in our state pay 11.6 percent of income in taxes! The most heavily taxed are those of us in the middle, with household incomes between $33,000 and $56,000 a year.

The Governor's decision to embrace an unjust, upside-down tax policy is vapid enough. What's truly sick is that by defending his millionaires and billionaires from a continuance of this tax in 2012, the Governor will deprive the state of $1 billion in fiscal year 2011-2012 and $5 billion in fiscal year 2012-2013.

$1 billion is more than twice as much money as Cuomo demanded from the public employee unions in contract givebacks!

$5 billion is more than ten times as much money as Cuomo demanded from public employees!

There is absolutely NO fiscal excuse for Cuomo's demand for concessions and NO responsible excuse for his layoffs of New York's public employees. We are middle class public servants who have been unjustly demonized. Now we've been abused by the Governor.

Will protecting a tiny splinter of the wealth of New York's billionaires and millionaires really help launch Cuomo into the White House? Or might sound fiscal policy perhaps do it better? The Governor has made his choice and he has chosen the millionaires.

A NO vote on our contract means that we reject the Governor's lifeless embrace of the old Reagan-Bush-Pataki agenda of tax breaks for the wealthiest.

A NO vote means we are prepared to continue to stand up, to fight for fairness, for ourselves and for all New Yorkers.

Tax the rich. Make them pay their share. NO to givebacks and NO to layoffs!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

PROUD Congratulates The PEF Members Who Voted to Reject the First Tentative Agreement (TA) in PEF’s History

You thought for yourselves, stood up to a bully who wants to weaken NYS labor and gave strong encouragement to other NYS bargaining units and the labor movement.

We Voted “No” on the New TA And Urge You To Do The Same.

This TA includes no stronger layoff protection, the same health care increases, the same forced salary reductions this year and next and now eliminates all tuition voucher/reimbursement under Article 15.3 for all four years of the TA. When you evaluate this contract proposal and learn all the facts, we believe you will join us in casting you ballot based on the merits of this TA, not based on the bullying tactics of the Governor who is holding 3,496 PEF members hostage.

All PEF members must unite against the Governor’s bullying. His bullying tactic is layoffs. He is using 3,496 of our PEF brothers and sisters, including PEF leaders, as a bargaining chip to bully over 50,000 PEF members into ratifying a total concessionary TA. His actions include targeting our professional jobs that are supported by federal funds which will not result in a savings to the State. In fact, his actions may violate agreements with the federal government with regard to providing specific services to the citizens of New York and may also put agencies in a position to have to return federally allocated funds. In a 132.5 billion dollar budget, the Governor is willing to destroy the lives of 3,496 PEF members, their families and communities to realize 75 million in savings.

While some of our members and leaders believe that we have to give him anything he wants, we agree with members and leaders who say we must not allow him to terrorize our Union. Budget solutions are many and none of them involve layoffs. Two major solutions the Governor can implement immediately are to eliminate wasteful State contracts and to reverse course on his decision to reduce State tax revenue by lowering the tax rate on the wealthiest New Yorkers.

Instead of acting on these common sense solutions, the Governor has ordered the layoff of 3,496 professional, scientific and technical public employees at a time when he should be ensuring job retention and economic growth in our State. The number one issue facing our Country is JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!

Ratifying this new TA is not in the interest of the public and private sector unions of New York and elsewhere. It’s not in the interest of a viable middle class and it’s definitely not in the interest of the 99 percent of New Yorkers who work for a living. How we fare as a union in the future may depend on the decision we collectively make on this TA.

We urge you to separate the two issues- a fair contract and unnecessary layoffs. The PEF administration has been urged by many members to pursue legal action to stop the layoffs. PEF has not even tried to do so, nor have they implemented any other strategy to fight for our jobs.

We believe that when you read and consider this contract proposal carefully, and prepare to vote on the merits of the contract, you will conclude that this tentative agreement is, once again, not in the best interests of our union’s members or PEF’s future.