August 6, 2016
By Silver Krieger
Nominated by Wayne Spence, PEF President
New York, NY – Usher Pillar, Division Leader/Steward of the Public Employees Federation (PEF) is nominated by Wayne Spence, President of PEF, for his outstanding work on behalf of the PEF membership, who says, I'm proud to nominate Usher Pillar for the Heroes of Labor award.
Usher Pillar speaks truth to power. It does not matter if it is management or the union. He will advocate for his members at the risk of his own career. I have emulated him and have always looked up to him. I still seek his counsel from time to time, even as President of 53,000 members of PEF. I have long admired Ushers leadership and unfaltering commitment to the PEF membership. His dedication deserves this recognition.
Mr. Pillar began working with PEF in the late 1970’s, for the New York State Department of Social Services, as a Management Specialist, auditing social programs such as Medicaid, Food Stamps (now SNAP), and Public Assistance. He says that in 1987, due to an injustice involving one of the union’s members, he was motivated to run for Steward. He was elected, and two years later, became Division Leader of Division 191. As the Chief Administrative Officer of the Division, there are ten Stewards under him, and “We cover the downtown New York State area, as well as Long Island, Manhattan and Queens, and three agencies: the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), and the Office of Medicaid Inspector General.”
He utilizes a wide range of tactics to help members, which vary depending on the situation. “If a member is being disciplined or interrogated, I’ll go and try to resolve it. I’ll make sure grievances are filed, and often we do an Improper Practice Charge at the Public Employment Relations Board. When management restricts union activity or retaliates for union activity, then we file those charges.” In the case of probationary employees, he says, “we fight for them too, as they are often terminated for illegal reasons like discrimination.”
“Besides grievances,” Mr. Pillar says, “we also have demonstrations. For example, there was an employee who was terminated. We did a demo, and distributed pictures of the manager who terminated him. That upset management, which is what we wanted. It serves as a deterrent; management knows they will hear from us. There will be publicity – often our stories are covered in the Albany Times Union and the Chief.”
Another way he fights back for members is by reaching out for political help to people in the legislature. “They’ve helped us many times,” he says. “We’ll find out who the member’s state senator or assembly member is and ask them to reach out on the Commissioner’s level.” Mr. Pillar fulfills his duties with a high level of compassion. “When people call me with problems, I always respond. I never belittle it. And I try to get back to members as soon as possible. We want to help them right away.”
As for being nominated for the Heroes of Labor Award, Mr. Pillar says, “I’m very honored, and I hope to be worthy of the title. A hero I’m not. I’m doing what I was elected to do. But I do try. Wayne Spence and his administration give us a tremendous amount of support. A lot of what we are doing, we couldn’t do without it. He has our back.”