December 19, 2014
By Marc Bussanich
Brooklyn, NY—That’s what the president of the state’s second largest union said in an exclusive video interview as the state recently notified members with the Public Employees Federation that it wants to reclassify their positions as “non-union.”
Susan Kent represents approximately 54,000 workers throughout the state, but that number may dwindle down to 51,500 as a result of the reclassification. According to a story published on the www.timesunion website, the state has filed with the Public Employment Relations Board to reclassify the jobs, titles such as attorneys, auditors, parole hearing officers and tax law judges, as managerial.
Ms. Kent said that she and the union’s members are outraged.
“It’s very concerning to my members, especially finding out right before holidays. It seems to be a pattern, unfortunately, with this administration of stressing out the workers and causing undue upset,” said Kent.
The Times Union story headline noted 1,000 members would be reclassified, but Ms. Kent said the number is actually 2,500.
“After further analysis, it’s closer to 2,500 members, mostly attorneys, referees, budget specialists and auditors.”
The state is claiming that after reviewing the titles in question, it has determined that the positions meet the criteria for designation as management confidential.
While the state can make changes to titles as contracts near expiration, Kent said the state hasn’t provided any rationale.
“Larry Schwartz, who is Governor Cuomo’s secretary and will be leaving soon, and we’re not sorry to see him go because he’s no friend to [PEF] workers, just said that these titles belong in management confidential,” Kent said.
But the state just can’t pull the 2,500 members out of PEF; it first has to go through the Public Employment Relations Board.
Kent is confident that PERB will rule that there isn’t enough justification to pull the 2,500 members out the union, but the union is taking the threat very seriously.
“You have to take everything this Governor does very, very seriously in terms of the threat he makes to working people and the services they provide, especially public sector unions, especially a union that endorsed Zephyr Teachout in the primary and a union that is coming up for contract negotiations,” said Kent.
Kent also warned that PEF would not accept another contract with zero wage increases as the previous PEF leadership agreed to.
“We’ve made it very clear this will not be the negotiations from the previous administration at PEF; we won’t be taking any zeros and we won’t have our people threatened or bullied.”
The union’s endorsement of Ms. Teachout in the Democratic primary is one reason some are speculating that the Governor wants to reclassify PEF positions. Another reason, some suspect, is that an Albany County State Supreme Court recently ruled that 250 managerial jobs should fall under union jurisdiction.
“We did just win 250 members through a very long, arduous process that were [management confidential]. We won them during the last contract negotiations…..[but] the governor’s people wanted PERB to change their decision even though they had agreed to it…..So who knows, it could be a direct result of that loss for the Governor and his administration. But we know that those people belong in the PEF unit and we know that people already in PEF need to remain there. We don’t need to have a governor trying to do union busting,” said Kent.
With the State AFL-CIO and the New York City Central Labor Council committing resources to help save the horse carriage industry in the city, we asked Ms. Kent whether they may also need to commit resources to this political battle.
“I know this, I know that we have labor friends, I know that we have union friends. We’re there for them, and when we need them, they’ll be there for us,” Kent said.