Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sometimes, It Takes an Interpretation (FMLA)

Sec. Hilda Solis

A colleague of mine in the Obama administration sparked a political controversy about 15 years ago when she wrote about the impact a village can have in raising a child. While I'm sure many are disappointed that the politics guiding that debate remain much the same, there is little doubt that caring for a child involves the village now more than ever.
In today's America, families look different than they did in the past. Modern families have changed complexion, changed composition, and changed expectations. Yet regardless of the changes within a family, its function in our society remains the same -- to provide for and nurture the development of future generations.
When the Family and Medical Leave Act was first passed in 1993, it was a huge step forward in establishing the flexibility and security that the American workforce needed to care for our future generations. It allowed employees to take unpaid leave to care for their kids without the fear of losing their jobs.
But while many are quick to point out that the workplace, workers, and indeed the concept of families have changed, the flexibility to apply FMLA to shifting conditions did not.
Well, the Administration took a major step in recognizing the need for such flexibility on Tuesday when the U.S. Department of Labor issued Administrator's Interpretation No. 1010-3, which clarifies the definition of "son and daughter" under the FMLA. In doing, so we have expanded FMLA protections to cover loving caregivers that have traditionally been left out.
It's called in loco parentis, a Latin phrase and legal doctrine that may require interpretation for those of us who are not lawyers: It means "in the place of a parent." And when applied to the new realities of work and family, it means all employees who have assumed the responsibility for parenting a child, whether they have a biological or legal relationship with the child or not, may be entitled to FMLA leave.
What does that mean in the real world? It means that children can get the support and care they need from the people who love them and are responsible for them.
It means that we're recognizing the importance of a partner who shares in the parenting of a child in a same sex relationship, and his or her right to FMLA leave. It means that we are recognizing the importance of "Tia" (Spanish for aunt) who steps in to care for her young nephew when his mother has been called to active military duty. And it means that a grandmother who takes responsibility for her grandchild can -- when needed -- take unpaid time off of work to do it.
It's an important interpretation and it is a long time coming.
Follow Sec. Hilda Solis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@HildaSolisDOL

For more information on the FMLA (Click Here)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Negotiation News: CSEA – We work for YOU!

Your CSEA Monroe County Negotiation Team is continuing to tenaciously fight for a fair contract for all Monroe County Employees. The CSEA Negotiation Team met with the County on June 2, 2010 and will return to the bargaining table on July 27, 2010, in yet another attempt to reach a settlement in these negotiations. The Union has zealously guarded employees’ benefits including Health Insurance.

The negotiations which started in 2008 have been difficult to say the least; the County’s position has been to shift a significant portion of the cost of Health Insurance to the employee. With the state of the economy and the situation with health care in this nation, the union has approached the negotiations realistically. With that being said, the Union’s mission is to get a fair pay increase as well as protect quality benefits. With those goals in mind, the union has consistently pushed proposals that would assist the county with the ever increasing cost of Health Insurance while protecting quality benefits for our members.

CSEA knows that the County feels it is acting in the taxpayers’ best interest. The Union would like the County to always remember that County Employees are taxpayers as well as public employees. We are taxpayers with a long history of providing quality service to our neighbors in Monroe County in a cost effective manner. It is time for the County to acknowledge that the Union has been a reasonable partner throughout the negotiation process and that everyone needs to compromise if we are to reach an agreement. The County can’t come into the negotiations with an “our way or the highway” attitude and realistically believe an agreement can be reached.`         

Since the last negotiation date with the county, your negotiation team has done its due-diligence on the open issues. Specifically, we have met with Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield Representatives as well as with the Health Care consulting firm Brown and Brown. Your CSEA Negotiating Team will continue an approach toward the County that is FIRM but FAIR as we proceed with these negotiations.

We will continue to post updates on negotiations on this blog as we proceed. Please see the past post (QA on Negotiations) for more information.  You are welcome, and encouraged, to submit your questions and comments to the union at unit7400@rochester.rr.com . Please check out the unit calendar (frequently updated) to see what is going on with your union (click here).   Keep the faith, keep supporting your CSEA Negotiation Team and we will reach a fair agreement with the County of Monroe.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

CSEA to take probation case to arbitration

ROCHESTER – Public safety is threatened and crime is likely to increase if Monroe County officials do not fully staff and appropriately distribute cases in the Probation Department; that’s the argument CSEA hopes to prove in arbitration June 23.

CSEA, the union representing Monroe County probation officers, has filed a grievance against the county stating that the department is understaffed and that cases are not distributed in an equitable manner. The potential result is that probationers will not be adequately supervised, placing the public at increased risk. June 23rd will be the second day of hearings on the issue.

“We are calling on Monroe County to fully staff the probation department so that each probation case can receive the time and attention necessary to keep the public safe,” said CSEA Western Region President Flo Tripi. “Crime cannot be controlled without a properly staffed department.”

While staffing has dwindled, Officers have seen their workloads rise to impossible levels. Caseloads include violent offenders, gang members, high risk sex offenders, DWI repeat offenders, and persons with significant mental health and substance abuse problems.

“Without a full staff of probation officers, we fear that a serious offender may slip through the cracks and that public safety could be in jeopardy as a result,” said CSEA Monroe County Local President Bess Watts.

Probationers have been linked to other crimes during their probation period. In the three years from 2006-2009, Monroe County had 153 homicide cases. Of these cases, 128 involved individuals with a probation history. Nineteen people were named as suspects in homicides while on probation. Fourteen people were victims of homicide while on probation.

“These stats on their own are very alarming,” said CSEA Monroe County Unit President Cris Zaffuto. “More importantly, they illustrate that more probation officers need to be hired in the county to appropriately conduct probationer supervision and keep the public safe.”

The county has for years attempted to keep costs in the department artificially low through the hiring of probation officer trainees instead of full probation officers. The problem is the trainees are required to have reduced caseloads. The end result is a short-staffed department and, ultimately, an increased danger for the public.

“Monroe County probation officers are calling on public officials to correct these staffing inadequacies so we can fully serve the public and provide the highest possible level of safety”, said CSEA Probation Section President Todd Wersinger.

CSEA is New York State’s leading union, representing employees of New York State and its counties, towns, villages, school districts, library systems, authorities and public corporations. Together with a growing population of private sector members and retirees, CSEA forms a union 290,000 strong. It is also the largest affiliate (and Local 1000) of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) which, in turn, is one of the largest affiliates of the AFL-CIO.


Give government work its due

Monroe County Workers seek a fair contract! - Picture by Bess Watts

By REX SMITH EDITOR - Albany Times Union

First published: Sunday, June 20, 2010

It's not stylish to say anything good about government these days, but you have to feel a little sympathy for public sector workers, who keep getting whipsawed by what they're hearing from us. They're our employees, you know, but as bosses go, we're so inconsistent that somebody should call in HR.

Fix the potholes, but don't tax me at the pump to pay for the patching. Slash health care spending, but don't touch mom's Medicare. Cut property taxes, but don't take away my kid's school programs.

And here's the best recent double-talk: Big government is bad, but government's response when oil spewed into the Gulf was too small. Wait! That doesn't mean we want laws to cut our reliance on oil, because that's big government meddling in the free market.

Nobody should be surprised by this, I suppose. Arguments about government's proper role consumed our Founding Fathers, gave southern states justification to secede before the Civil War, undergirded segregationists in the 1960s and provided a rallying cry for Ronald Reagan's political juggernaut (as well as his enduring legacy).

Nowadays it's even easier to attack the public sector as evil without worrying that anybody will object. Polls show that trust in government to do the right thing is at the lowest point in modern times. The numbers have mostly fallen since Lyndon Johnson was president, with some upward movement in the Reagan and Clinton administrations, followed by plummeting numbers during the last Bush presidency.

Here in New York's Capital Region, we have a good excuse for being of two minds about the proper role of government. We're as ticked off as the next guy about paying the highest state and local taxes in the nation. But you can't reduce the tax burden without cutting state spending, and that would make the loss of state jobs all but inevitable. We have about 110,000 state workers in this community, not including university system employees, and a state budget that slices very many of those jobs will hurt our local economy.

There's scant comfort to public employee unions in knowing that Gov. David Paterson signed an agreement not to lay off any workers until next year. Paterson is well-known for what may politely be called "changing his mind" about prior commitments, so layoffs may come sooner than he promised, and it's inevitable that job cuts will come at some point. Mainly, the delay gives union bosses a chance to preen in front of their members.

But the unions have a point in arguing that state government has gotten slippery about hiring "consultants" in place of state workers. The Public Employees Federation, one of the two main state work force unions, says spending on outside workers has grown by 30 percent over the last seven years, to almost $3 billion. The unions say the state generally pays outside contractors more than state workers earn.

Those contractors, remember, work for private sector companies that need to show a profit margin. Profit is good, but it's not one of the objectives of government. Here's a truth that's unpopular to hear in the era of easy anti-government rant: Rank-and-file government workers usually can do their work cheaper than for-profit contractors.

Let's be honest about what's usually going on when government turns over its work to the private sector: It is subsidizing private businesses. That's a valid policy choice, but we shouldn't pretend the so-called "free market" doesn't benefit from our tax dollars at work.

Some public benefit jobs, certainly, need to be done by private sector companies. Last week the Albany County Legislature voted to send repair business for the county's vehicle fleet to 14 private garages, at a cost of about $500,000 a year. Legislators concluded that the county shouldn't be in the business of equipping garages and hiring mechanics.

But there are pitfalls. As a young reporter, I covered a local government that suddenly moved all its auto repair business to a single, out-of-the-way garage. Digging into documents, I found that the garage was co-owned by the campaign treasurer for the public official in charge of the vehicle fleet. Each time a car was sent to the garage, taxpayers were billed for a lube job. The official eventually stood trial for bribery. A grateful editor may view this sort of corruption, which provides the raw material for our journalism, as the public sector's subsidy for newspapers.

There's chance for mischief wherever tax dollars are spent. But the reason we have government is to do jobs for us, and we do public workers and ourselves no good by blithely attacking government as evil. It isn't.