For 35 years I have worked for New York State and belonged to a union, the Public Employees Federation (PEF). I was a shop steward and a delegate to the PEF convention for the past 12 years.
During my time “on the inside” I learned much about how PEF spends our dues. I found that most of our dues is spent in ways that would never be approved by members.
Like most unions, PEF has two important functions: It negotiates the contract and handles grievances. When members are asked why they belong to a union, most will mention the contract and grievances. However, I found that only 15% of dues revenue is spent on these items, while 85% is wasted on items that would cause many members to cringe if they only knew.
PEF has been collecting about $35 million per year in dues and fees from 53,000 members. How much of this $35 million is spent to negotiate the contract and handle grievances? Read on…
According to PEF leadership it costs about $1 million to negotiate each contract. Since a new contract is negotiated only once every four years, an average of $250,000 per year is spent on the contract. Add a generous $1 million per year to handle grievances, and a very generous $4 million per year to cover administration and overhead. This adds up to $5.25 million per year, or 15% of the annual revenue to negotiate the contract and handle grievances. This leaves about $30 million (85%) each year that is spent on items other than the contract and grievances.
So how is the other 85% of the dues revenue spent? Here is one way:
Each year PEF pays about $9.5 million in what I call “tribute” to two large unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). These two “parent unions” demand an annual tribute of millions of dollars because of an agreement made over 40 years ago when they helped to form PEF. According to the agreement, payments of tribute to AFT & SEIU are to continue forever. A lot more money is wasted on this pyramid scheme than what is spent to negotiate the contract and handle grievances.
For 35 years I was forced to pay dues to PEF, most of which was wasted. But thanks to a decision last year by the U.S. Supreme Court I was finally given a choice.
If dues are ever lowered to what they should be (15% of what they are now), and only used to negotiate contracts and handle grievances, then I will gladly rejoin the union.
Finally, there is a misconception among some employees that if they resign from PEF they will no longer qualify for Vision Care, Dental Care, Longevity Pay, etc. Such is not the case. Just like salaries and other contract items, these items are paid by New York State, and are the same for us whether we belong to PEF or not.
Chris Miller is a regional minerals manager for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation