Back in April of this year, AUD staff met with Wayne Spence, a member of the Public Employee Federation (PEF) in New York. Spence was unhappy with his union’s leadership and wanted to see internal changes happen. Spence had already decided to do what AUD often advises and run for office.
On August 3, 2015, the New York State PEF swore in Spence as its new President, along with several new leaders whose campaign called for unity within PEF and solidarity with the greater labor movement. Spence became PEF’s first African American President. Also taking the oath of office were Kevin Hintz, Secretary-Treasurer, Vice Presidents Adreina Adams, Peter Banks, and Nikki Brate, and Trustees Maureen Kellman, Sarah Lauser, and Maddie Shannon-Roberts. Kellman, Lauser, and Shannon-Roberts’ election marks the first time all three trustee positions have been filled by women.
PEF represents over 50,000 mostly white-collar public workers in New York State and has had a sometimes-contentious relationship with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Three years ago, under threat of significant layoffs, PEF reluctantly backed a contract containing a multitude of concessions for its members. With an economy greatly recovered, Spence believes that members should now be rewarded for their sacrifice in accepting that contract. His coalition, CoUP (Coalition of Union Professionals), ran on a platform committed to fighting for “consistent salary compensation and job protection enhancements,” as well as “True Transparency” between members and leadership.
Spence’s idea for a “Mission Vision Statement” for PEF clearly shows PEF members where they are going as a union with all departments working together. Part of his vision is that previously-mentioned contract. Spence supports the Fight for $15 wages for fast food workers. He sees that type of solidarity as beneficial to all workers, including the members he represents, leading to wage and benefit increases to all workers as wages increase to meet true cost of living.
PEF, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and Service Workers Union International (SEIU), was legally certified as the collective bargaining agent for members of the Professional, Scientific, and Technical of New York State in 1979 after a group of union reformers voted to break away from the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) over concerns that CSEA was unable to adequately represent the interests of professional employees as well as those of members in non-professional positions. PEF currently represents over 54,000 state employed scientists, doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, social workers, counselors, and other professionals in New York.
In recent years, PEF leadership has faced accusations of financial misappropriation stemming from accusations that Executive Board member Deborah Lee regularly and extensively used her union-issued debit card for personal expenses. Susan Kent, PEF’s former President, was asked to order an audit but never responded. An Audit Committee was formed after months of delay and confirmed Lee’s misuse of the funds.
Spence’s mission to introduce transparency into the union is in part a response to the Susan Kent-Deborah Lee fiasco, which caused significant concern among both rank-and-file members and division leaders who felt that their concerns were ignored by higher up leadership.
At the 37th Annual PEF Convention, held in Syracuse, NY from October 18-21, Spence fostered a sense of non-partisanship that allowed delegates to speed through voting matters and move on to topical issues, such as Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case currently before the United States Supreme Court that concerns fees paid by non-member employees of union-represented bargaining units in public sector employers. PEF represents approximately 3600 such feepayers. If they were no longer required required to pay anything to the union, Spence and other union leaders warn that the well-funded anti-union forces behind the Friedrichs case would almost certainly try to further undermine the union’s bargaining power by convincing members to leave the union.