Sunday, September 4, 2011

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS based upon the contract forums around the state

Please consider these before you vote!
Link to leaflet version of this document here.

Q: Many seem resigned to the idea that this is “the best we can do.” They cite the poor economy, that the Democrats have joined the Republicans to embrace austerity measures across the nation, or they say “the Governor is such a bully. But sometimes you just have to run away and hope to fight another day.” What do you say?

A: Consider the recent fight back campaign by the Communication Workers of America (CWA) against Verizon. Their members were vocal and stood strong and united and have succeeded in getting Verizon back to the bargaining table. We can have that same opportunity by voting no to go back to negotiate with the State. We will never be treated with respect if we don’t speak up for ourselves.

Q: But how bad has the bullying really been? Didn’t PEF endorse Cuomo for Governor and doesn’t that count for something?

A: True, the Governor negotiated in bad faith. He extended one hand to demand $450 million in recurring annual givebacks by public employees while he put up his other hand to protect New York’s millionaires from paying their share of taxes. But it was worse than that. At a contract forum meeting in Albany led by the Contract Team Chair, a PEF Vice President, it was revealed that two PEF officers and a PEF staff member were threatened with targeted layoffs. (PEF’s Secretary Treasurer confirmed this report.) The implications are alarming – for everyone involved.

Q: If PEF members don’t approve the contract, some say we will be blamed for any future layoffs. If we approve the contract then, at least, the coming layoffs will sit in the Governor’s lap. If you look at it this way, why vote “No”?

A: A layoff is a layoff is a layoff. It doesn’t matter if you’re a “round 1 targeted layoff,” or a “programmatic layoff,” or a SAGE Commission layoff, or just the innocent victim of a bully. Every layoff is the Governor’s. Our Union must fight to protect every member at all times from layoffs. Our position is NO LAYOFFS! PEF members are not responsible for the decisions that management makes with respect to the deployment of the workforce. A “No” vote is a vote to return to the bargaining table, nothing more.

In addition, the austerity measures lack justification. Layoffs spell a reverse economic stimulus, worsening unemployment. Public sector layoffs cause private sector layoffs. Also, public service has been downsized for decades while privatization of public services, at a much greater cost to taxpayers, has expanded. Plus, the wealthy and the corporations have enjoyed 30 years of successive tax breaks, shifting taxes to the middle class and the poor.

Q: Why are the PEF contract team meetings so demoralizing? What can we really do?

A: PEF members should vote on the merit of the proposals contained in the contract. It is not surprising that the contract team members can’t point out reasons to vote for an agreement based on threats and intimidation. The contract is full of givebacks and concessions and inserts language that sanctions layoffs for any reason other than the $450 million gap identified by the Governor when the budget was passed in April 2011. And even though we can see that the contract team is doing the best that it can, they were forced to negotiate against their own interests. They evidently saw no alternatives. Asserting this is “the best we can do” can not change the fact that this contract, if passed, will set dangerous precedents in givebacks, retirement benefits and layoffs. Vote on the merits of the contract! Act not from weakness and demoralization, but from strength and courage: we can only win respect if we stand up together and make each of our voices heard.

Q: Are furloughs now a reality in the lives of union public employees across the country? Have we opened ourselves up to additional furlough days (even in between contracts) now that furloughs have been introduced as an article in our contract?

A: “Furloughs” are a simply a clever pay cut. The work still has to get done. For the employer, at best, “furloughs” amount to a work speed-up. But at worst, the money the State spends to allow “furloughs” will end up costing the State even more. In the facilities that run 24-7, for example, covering furlough days will require paying overtime. But there is more. “Furloughs” are a dangerous precedent. Similar to what happened in prior contracts, when PEF agreed to move steps to reach top of grade from 3 to 5 to 7, the State will most likely seek increases in the number of furlough days in future contracts. Also, Article 21 (Deficit Reduction Leave/Workforce Reduction Limitation) is a new Article in the contract which now makes the discussion of furlough days a mandatory subject of bargaining in the next contract if this proposal is approved. We have no evidence to support the need for furloughs. Negotiations should include a good faith effort from the State to explore the cost cutting measures PEF provided in PEF’s Fact Sheets on the PEF website at It is time for public employees to say NO FURLOUGHS!

Q: Will PEF members lose any benefits if the contract is defeated?

A: If PEF members reject the contract, we will maintain our current contract and the benefits in the 2007-2011 contract. This should protect us from the substantial losses we will suffer if the proposed contract ratifies.

Q: Doesn’t the state budget require givebacks and a 5-year contract?

A: New York State faced a $10 billion deficit at the start of 2011. The Governor used this to demand, through budget assumptions, that public employee union members owe givebacks totaling $450 million, recurring annually, so-called “workforce savings.” Now the state budget deficit is about $2 billion. Yet the Governor has not reduced his demand for “workforce savings.” If the Governor really thought the union members’ “share” of the deficit were less than 1/20th of the total, he would be now seeking under $100 million in givebacks.

PEF members have shared many ways in which the State can save money without reverting to layoffs. For example, this past year, the Tax department collected $600 million more than was budgeted. That amount alone can cover the Governor’s invention of “expected workforce savings.” And there is no reason for us to agree to 5 years, particularly an agreement that ignores cost of living increases. If the falling buying power of the dollar is considered, a “zero increase” is really a pay cut.

Q: Shouldn’t PEF members accept the contract since CSEA members have already agreed to essentially the same proposal?

A: The negative fiscal impact of this contract proposal is greater for PEF members than CSEA members. Two-thirds of CSEA members are below a grade 10 and thus are less impacted by the health care proposals. And yes, it is further distressing to think that the actions of CSEA seemed designed to leave PEF out in the cold. But to those who complain about how lonely we will feel if only PEF stands up to the Governor, we reply: no one will stand up with you if you won’t stand up for yourself!

Link to leaflet version of this document here.

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