Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: A year in review

New York State-- The year 2014 was a very busy time advocating on behalf of working people. Images by Lynn Miller, Bess Watts and Ove Overmyer, CSEA Monroe County, NY Local 828. Sterling Comfort Productions, ©2014.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

CSEA Well Represented at RLC Awards Dinner

Rochester, NY-- On December 18, Rochester Labor Council held it’s Annual Delegates Awards Dinner at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. CSEA was well represented at the year-end gala. The evening was highlighted by honoring several members of the CSEA family. 

Monroe County Local 828 President Bess Watts won a perfect attendance award for RLC delegate meetings. Watts serves on the executive board for the Rochester Labor Council, AFL-CIO as a delegate for CSEA and is also an at-large member for the Rochester chapter constituency group of Pride At Work, AFL-CIO.

Along with honoring Watts, CSEA Region 6 won best float for the 2014 Rochester Labor Day Parade. Region 6 President Flo Tripi accepted the award to a packed house of over 300 people. Former CSEA member and staffer Debbie Lee won the RLC Lifetime Achievement Award and Ove Overmyer, Local CSEA 828 VP and President of the City of Rochester Library Workers won a special recognition award for "Capturing the Labor Movement." 

The keynote speaker for the event was Rep. Louise Slaughter. 

CSEA's Flo Tripi and Ove Overmyer accept awards at RLC Awards Dinner at RRCC on December 18, 2014. Photo by Bess Watts.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Whatever happened to "We the People?"

By Ove Overmyer

You would have to be living under a rock not to know we are living in very troubled times. Our local communities are under siege. Race relations in America might be at an all-time worst, public safety for all is in question, the War on Terror is out of control, ISIS is knocking on your door, extreme weather and climate change is keeping cartographers busy, demonizing poor people is becoming a sport for some GOP legislators, cyber security attacks on Hollywood and our big banks—the list goes on and on.

If anything, these difficult times require thoughtful analysis, and not knee-jerk reflexive, feel-good social media diatribes that add nothing to our public conversations. Contrary to popular belief, name calling, taking sides and creating petitions to ask elected officials to resign is unproductive and not really educating anyone with respect to changing hearts and minds. It may feel cathartic for the moment, but these expressions of hate and division are exactly what keep us from progressing as one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. It does, however, highlight the deep divisions that still exist in our communities-- especially when it involves notions of race, nation of origin, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity and equality.

Since the midterm elections last month, the melodramatic lunacy in Washington has reduced both conservatives and liberals to a puddle of tears. Locally, our communities are being torn apart by political operatives who would rather focus on what makes us different rather than what makes us human. And for the record, after what just happened in Congress last night with respect to the offensive mark-ups of a bill that provided a big bank bailout and relaxed campaign finance provisions, which by the way will make it harder for the average citizen’s voice to be heard, can only be described as reckless and gut wrenching for the majority of American people who care about democracy.

The fact is, not everyone in your community wants you to have the same opportunities they have had— and they are the same folks that refuse to pay their fair share of taxes to keep our systems of government operating at substandard levels. And please, if you are reading this and absolutely hate government and think it cannot improve the quality of our lives, point your boney finger at corporate lobbyists, elected officials and the bureaucracies that have produced these results—not the hard working rank-and-file working families that deliver these services on a daily basis. Many of them do not even make a living wage and will live out their golden years in destitution.

And certainly, I don’t have to intellectually dig down very deep to tell you how I feel about what our biggest challenges are either— or how we can go about raising the standard of living for everyone who lives in our beloved communities. Our world’s biggest social ill today is income inequality and lack of meaningful gainful employment. This happenstance is the root cause of our inability as a nation and a world citizen to get a handle on global health disparities, world banks, educating our children, poverty, homelessness, lack of living wage jobs, and the list goes on.

photo: Ove Overmyer
In order for us to build strong communities, we need to advocate for a progressive tax structure that is in proportion to the means and ability to pay for the vital services we demand and cannot do by ourselves as individuals. Unfortunately, since the Great Recession of 2008 we have seen systemic defunding of public services and at the same time, our tax dollars and priorities have favored multi-national corporations and banks (in the form of tax breaks) -- the same minority of wealthy people who are basically insulated from any financial harm whatsoever.

We need to invest in public infrastructure and the public systems that support private sector growth. We need to right-size government services to create strong communities. We need to invest in public education—I do not want to raise my children in an uneducated community that does not put a premium value on creating successful outcomes for future generations. I also don’t want them around stupid people.

Calling yourself a taxpayer does not give you victim rights

For generations, conservatives and many Republicans have casted American people as tax victims. They moan that we are just “taxpayers” bearing up under the obligation to pay into federal and state coffers. Some are stoic in the face of the inevitability of the old saying “death and taxes,” while others burn with resentment like the libertarian Tea Party stalwarts who think not everyone deserves the same breaks as they do.

All of these stories reflect a complete miscalculation to the reality of our local communities. Yes, it true—Rochester, NY and Monroe County for the most part are extremely generous and giving communities based largely on the benevolence of nonprofit, religious and charitable organizations. But when it comes to supporting public systems that assist poor and working families, all you need to do is see a County government slashing child care subsidies and witness the vile rhetoric coming from Spencerport residents who object to “city kids” (code for non-white) attending public school in their suburban community.

What is missing from this picture is any sense of a larger meaning of what it means to be socially responsible in the first place. Where do we draw the line? Most other things that require effort and sacrifice-- family, service, charity, and volunteerism-- have virtuous, or at least redeeming, meaning associated with them. That meaning helps us face life’s challenges with a sense of a larger purpose that makes these acts worth the investment. That is the definition of community.

The political right’s NIMBY (not in my back yard) attitudes and the stories they tell about paying taxes that support public systems of good reflect a chronic disconnection from our role as responsible citizens; they are devoid of any civic meaning. The real meaning of taxes and being socially responsible supports services that underpin our public life and connect us to one another through our communities, our states, our country and our collective future.

When we lose sight of this, taxes are seen as merely depriving us of our individual property. If, on the other hand, we see ourselves as stewards of common good, as citizen managers of public systems and structures that secure the city, state and country we live in, then taxes and our volunteerism are our contributions to something much more important than our individual being. We all need to be telling a new and meaningful story about our civic responsibilities that celebrates the concrete opportunity it offers “we the people.” 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Returning to Work: Challenges and Opportunities

By Ove Overmyer

When employees experience a break in service due to an extended illness, pregnancy or injury, it is often accompanied by undue stress, uncertainty and anxiety. Returning to work, whether it is with some restrictions or with no limitations whatsoever can be an incredibly daunting hurdle for even the most seasoned professional.

Most studies show that having a well-functioning union and good stewardship is one of the best ways to fight stress in the workplace. A union gives workers a vehicle to deal with most of the issues that workers refer to as the leading causes of their stress.

If you are lucky enough to have effective union stewardship in your workplace, chances are the employee returning to work has a very good chance to make a complete and smooth transition back to the working world. In this article, we will introduce some helpful guidelines to assist you in your effort to help fellow union members successfully return to work.

First of all, union stewards must maintain credibility by being honest with your fellow members, co-workers and management. A steward who misleads or skirts the truth won’t remain credible for very long. An accurate assessment of the workers mental and physical well-being is in everyone’s best interest, even if the documentation says otherwise.

Be as knowledgeable as you possibly can about the collective bargaining agreement and terms and conditions of employment, work rules and policies, supervisor and manager responsibilities, and the issues impacting all the workers you represent.

Be a reliable source of information. If you are asked a question and you don’t know the answer, say “I don’t know” – then get the information and get back to the member as soon as possible. And when you say you are going to do something, always follow through.

An effective union steward should always be accessible to fellow members and management. Many times that means talking with members after regular working hours and being there for them when they are in crisis. Being a good listener always helps too.

Be supportive and thoughtful of workers returning to work. When you are approached with complaints about a fellow employee who is having difficulty returning to work, offer them understanding, resources, encouragement and guidance in addressing their situation.

When you build relationships of trust and solidarity over time, you will probably be more successful when asking union members and management to support a co-worker returning to work. You can motivate others leading by example. Take the initiative to talk to members one-on-one. It is a more personal and effective way to share important information about the worksite, especially when a co-worker is re-entering the workforce.

Ask your employer to consider return-to-work strategies

Many return-to-work (RTW) programs suggested by the United States Department of Labor were originally designed to reduce workers' compensation costs for employers. However, they can do much more-- they can improve productivity and worker morale across the workplace; they can save employees time and money and they can protect employees and employers from loss of talent. If you do not have these programs in place at your worksite, you should recommend making it an agenda item at your next labor-management meeting.

Examples of effective RTW strategies include offering the opportunity to work part time from home, telecommuting, modifying work duties, modifying schedules, and implementing reasonable accommodations to provide employees with the tools and resources they need to carry out their specific job responsibilities.

In many workplaces, in both the public and private sector, flexible work arrangements, accessible technology and office automation have increased the capabilities of employees and made it easier for them to do their jobs in alternative ways.

This allows the employee to protect their earning power while at the same time boost employer productivity. Furthermore, in many instances, the ability to return to work after injury or illness plays an important role in the employee's actual recovery and healing process.

Another recommendation to help ease the transition for a co-worker returning to the job site is starting an Employee Resource Group (ERG). These groups can help encourage employees to work together to address health-related problems and issues that impact each other and their workplace.

And finally, communication, flexibility, understanding and a good support network are often the most important aspects to consider when managing a fellow union member’s return to work-- and helping them find the right combination to the work-life balance equation.  

Overmyer is the president and chief steward for the Civil Service Employees Associations’ City of Rochester, NY Library Workers Local 828 Unit 7420.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Town of Brighton CSEA workers will convene at town hall meeting on December 10

Brighton, NY -- On Wednesday, December 10, CSEA represented workers for the Town of Brighton will be attending their town board meeting to educate the community on some recent developments concerning public services and questionable representation by town officials. At 7:00 pm, we invite the community to attend the town hall meeting at Brighton Town Hall, 2300 Elmwood Avenue to hear the personal testimonies of workers from the Department of Public Works. 

Despite the fact the Town of Brighton is holding some of its workers to a different standard, employees continue to come to work each day to provide high quality, professional and essential services to the residents of the Town of Brighton.

We understand the town is going through a tough financial period. However, we find no justification of how the town lawyers are negotiating a new contract with CSEA represented employees. The collective bargaining agreement for the CSEA represented employees for the Town of Brighton expired December 31, 2013. 

The negotiations are in a stand still—both parties are waiting for the results of a fact-finding procedure. In the meantime, workers feel it necessary to let the public know how uncivil and unwilling the town lawyers are to a remedy of the new contract language.

The main sticking point of negotiating a new contract is the healthcare benefit. When the Town of Brighton opted out of the MVP health care consortium, health care cost for town employees rose significantly and the lawyer who is negotiating the deal is unwilling to compromise on the issue. The workers who are represented by CSEA have been very fair and reasonable throughout negotiations. The workers have made several cost saving proposals that haven’t even been considered by the town or its lawyers.

CSEA is looking for a fair contract that recognizes the value and importance of the work we do for Brighton residents, while keeping in mind the needs of the town. We hope the town will be receptive to our proposals and work out an agreement that is fair to both parties in the coming days.

For media inquiries, please contact Lynn Miller at 716-691-6555 ex.5212

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Elections Have Consequences

Elections Have Consequences
By Ove Overmyer
Rochester, NY-- Sources say the first order of business for Congress tomorrow is $450 billion corporate tax break for the world's largest corporations. The deal also kills several “good” tax breaks that help working people and the middle class-- like the expanded child tax credit for the working poor and expanded earned-income credit.
These "tax extender" handouts go to giant corporations and campaign donors-- and Republicans want to make them permanent. The Washington Post calls this process “a periodic bonanza for lobbyists.”
So I have to ask this question to my working class conservative friends: Was it worth supporting Republican and Conservative candidates? Didn't you know they were coming after you? They plan to make your financial well-being a political football for the next two years. When 82 families own half of the world's wealth, you know there will be needless suffering in this world-- and our local communities will pay the price. So their message to you is give up what you already have-- well, because they want more and think you deserve a crappier quality of life.
And to my independent minded, Democratic and liberal leaning friends, is it comforting to know by you NOT voting, you made all this possible? I thought we could get no worse with the 112th and 113th sessions. I thought we hit rock bottom. I was dead wrong. And because no one voted this past midterm election, the next two years in Congress will probably be the ugliest and most unproductive on record. Please don't turn a blind eye to this-- act up and fight back for working families all across the nation. Most of all, you better vote in 2016.
So, work harder everyone. Our corporate masters want more of your money. And please get out your veto pen Mr. President-- I hope you have a lot of ink to spare in the next two years.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hey Congress! Pass A Bill! Stop Separating Our Families!

(Select 1080p HD) -- Our do-nothing Congress just got a wake-up call from Barack Obama. You don't like the President's executive action, then pass a damn bill. In the meantime, stop playing politics, stop separating our families and come to an agreement on a comprehensive, fair immigration policy for the United States of America. Hey GOP-- the ball is in your court. Instead of attacking the President, why don't you do something for the American people for crying out loud. Video production by Sterling Comfort Productions, © 2014.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

#SNOWVEMBER UPDATE: CSEA Monroe County Local 828 paying it forward for our families in Hamburg, NY

CSEA Town of Webster Highway Department workers (Monroe County Local 828) removing snow in the Buffalo suburb of Hamburg, NY. photo by Joe Herbst
By Ove Overmyer

November 22, 2014-- CSEA public employees from the towns of Webster, Penfield and Perinton have been working nonstop for the past 48 hours to assist Buffalo area residents with snow removal and emergency care. We talked with Joe Herbst, Superintendent of Highways for the Town of Webster, and he says they have been getting "a hero’s welcome" in every neighborhood they visit. Go here to see photos taken today (Nov 22) by Joe Herbst.

"Residents of Hamburg were bringing us out hot food, dinners and coffee-- they were so appreciative of us being there," said Herbst. And to complicate today’s recovery efforts, the day was marked by an aggressive rainstorm that proved very difficult for the workers. State and local officials are warning residents about area flooding, possible structure collapses and over exerting themselves when shoveling the heavy, wet snow.

Town of Webster Highway Department employees Jeff Marapese and Jeff Kujawa have not slept or have seen their families for days, but were still escorting emergency personnel to area homes and hospitals late this afternoon plus working very hard on the snow removal process as well.  

Herbst says the plowing and removal is tough going, and most of the areas main roads only have one lane plus the middle “suicide” lane which is a major safety concern. He added, “There is so much snow—and there is no where to put it. The driving is still treacherous because the sight lines are non-existent because the banks of snow along the road are close to twelve feet high in some locations.”

Herbst also reports that some 25 percent of the neighborhoods in South Buffalo have not seen a plow since Wednesday. They hope to make at least one pass in every neighborhood tomorrow (Sunday Nov. 23).

The entire area is under a flood warning, which means flooding is imminent or has been reported. The National Weather Service says flood-prone areas will be inundated, but warns there will be general flooding, too.

"(We) expect 5 to 6 feet of water in some areas in a short period of time," Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said. The risk of flooding extends into next Tuesday. According to the National Weather Service, temperatures will remain above freezing through Monday, rising steadily into the 50s on Sunday. Heavy snow threatens to collapse more roofs before it melts.

Erie County officials aren't taking any chances. They've mobilized heavy pumps and diesel pumps to suck up water and deposit it elsewhere. Swift-water rescue teams are in place, along with helicopters, should anyone get caught in the deluge of runoff waters. There is no doubt CSEA workers from all over New York State will be heeding the call for help as the drama of #snowvember continues.

Some major roads opened on Friday, like the New York State Thruway, and some local driving bans were lifted. That allowed trucks to move so food could be delivered to stores and crews could remove abandoned vehicles. Snow and vehicle removals still are major tasks ahead. Erie County crews have had to deal with clearing 1,800 lane-miles of county roads before getting to residential streets, Poloncarz said Friday.

And while NYS Governor Cuomo is thanking every elected official under the sun, plus the New York City Fire Department again, it is not an accident that he continually overlooks to recognize the hard work and dedication of the state and local government rank and file municipal workers—the very folks who are actually doing the heavy lifting. Stay tuned to the Voice Reporter for more news and information in the coming days.

Friday, November 14, 2014

America's Postal Workers Host National Day of Action

Rochester, NY area postal workers and their allies attend a press conference on a National Day of Action, Nov. 14, 2014. Photo by Ove Overmyer, © 2014
By Ove Overmyer

November 14, 2014-- Postal workers in Rochester and across the country came together today for a “National Day of Action” to tell Post Master General (PMG) Patrick R. Donahoe and the USPS Board of Governors: Stop Delaying America's Mail! However, in a stunning development, news broke late today the Post Master General is stepping down from the $276,840 a year post on February 1, 2015. Donahoe has served the postal service for 39 years, and began his stint as PMG in October of 2010.

This news is little consolation and comfort to area postal workers, who this summer at a national convention voted “no confidence” in Donahoe. At the Rochester, NY press conference today on 30 N. Union Street, local leaders called on the USPS Board of Governors to immediately freeze Donohue’s policies so they could do no more harm to the American people. To see photos from the press conference, you can go here.

“While we are encouraged by this development of the PMG stepping down, we are not celebrating,” said Jim Bertolone, President of the American Postal Workers Union, Local 215. Bertolone also doubles as the President of the Rochester & Genesee Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO and Rochester Labor Council. He added, “On January 5, the USPS is slated to lower service standards to virtually eliminate overnight delivery—including first class mail from one address to another in the same city, town or village. This would be devastating to our local economy and to our local communities.”

Bertolone went on to say that all mail throughout the entire country will be delayed—including necessary medicines, local newspapers, bill payments and more. And also beginning in January 2015, the USPS plans to close or consolidate 82 distribution centers.

Postal workers and the four national unions that represent the workers say these cuts will cause irreparable hardships for customers, slow economic growth and lead to massive schedule changes and reassignments for federal employees.

The four American postal unions are joining forces to protect service, fight for their livelihoods, and defend our great national treasure-- the U.S. Postal Service. Bertolone mentioned that the postal workers and their many allies in the fight against the proposed changes include more than fifty U.S. Senators and more than 160 lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Nov. 14 date was selected for the Day of Action because it coincides with the USPS Board of Governors’ last public meeting of 2014. Today, the board released the USPS financial reports for the fiscal year, and undoubtedly once again bemoaned “billions of dollars in losses.”

In fact, the USPS has earned more than $1 billion in profit from operations this year. The “losses” are the result of a bogus pre-funding requirement and have nothing to do with the cost of collecting, sorting and delivering mail.

The unions say the cuts are not inevitable. The American people must engage their federal lawmakers and advocate for strengthening our United States Postal System—and not dismantle it for the benefit of vulture capitalists who want to privatize public services.

To learn more on how you can help restore postal service in your region, please visit this website here

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Cuomo vetoes veterans buy-back bill; Pokes his bony finger in the eye of public employees

Governor One Percent fails us again.
photo provided.
On Friday, November 7, Governor One Percent Andrew Cuomo vetoed a measure that would have expanded a pension credit for veterans who are now public employees. The bill was to fix an oversight of not being inclusive enough to include veterans who have served in Somalia, The Balkans or Afghanistan.

The measure was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Bill Larkin, a retired Army colonel, and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D- Scarsdale) and was aggressively supported by CSEA and other public employee unions.

In 2012, Cuomo pushed for a new, less generous pension tier, Tier VI. Cuomo has also been at odds with the state’s public employee unions since before taking office in January of 2011. That year, Cuomo had New York’s workforce agree to cost-savings in labor contracts or risk widespread layoffs. This veto is yet another action in a long line of efforts to marginalize the well-being of middle class New Yorkers. If given the opportunity, Governor Cuomo will stick his bony finger in the eye of any rank and file public worker—especially if they belong to a union.

Leading up to the announcement on Friday, the governor’s office leaked several memos of opposition to the pension from conservative think tanks, lobbyists and the city of New York, which expressed concerns with expanding the pension credit. There is no doubt these documents were initiated by his office, but these claims can not be substantiated at this time. Nevertheless, perhaps cognizant of potential headlines and drama over the veto, Cuomo’s office released the veto announcement at the classic news-dump time of after 5 p.m. on Friday-- three days after the mid-term elections.

Bess Watts, a U.S. Army veteran and Monroe County CSEA Local 828 President says she and her family got a raw deal. “Of course he waited until after the elections to veto the Veterans Bill. This bill directly impacted me and many other veterans who have dedicated their lives to public service.” She added, “I could have bought back three years of service credit for my six years served in the U.S. Army. This veto is blatantly punitive and should be viewed for what it truly is—a slap in the face to public employees who honorably served their country. This action is shameful.”

Under the current law, veterans of the armed forces who served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam era or in specific combat zones such as Grenada, Panama or the Middle East in the 1980s can qualify for purchasing up to three years of pension service.
Veterans who served in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf, Red Sea and airspace above from 1990 to the present also qualify. Again, the current law does not allow veterans who served in Afghanistan, The Balkans or Somalia.

In the photo below, one month prior to vetoing a buy-back benefit for Afghanistan troops, Cuomo treks to that very combat zone in the Middle East to get a photo op. It must be noted he couldn't look this soldier in the eye.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Attention all CSEA Members! 

Monroe County Local 828 is sponsoring a PAC phone bank operation on Tuesday, October 28. We will be calling fellow members to urge them to get out and vote for labor endorsed candidates on Election Day, November 4. 

Members should arrive at the Satellite Office anytime after 4 pm. Yes, there will be food. For more information, you can call Ove at 585-423-9862. To see a list of Region 6 endorsed candidates, you can go here. To watch a video, you can go here.

Local 828 PAC Phone Banks 
Rochester Satellite Office
3495 Winton Place, Bldg E, Ste. 3
Rochester, N.Y. 14623


Below is a list of CSEA’s endorsed candidates for the 2014 General Election. Not sure what district you live in? Click here to find out.


DistrictCSEA Endorsed Candidate
CD 23Martha Robertson (D)
CD 24Dan Maffei (D)
CD 25Louise Slaughter (D)
CD 26Brian Higgins (D)
CD 27No endorsement


DistrictCSEA Endorsed Candidate
SD 54Michael Nozzolio (R)
SD 55Ted O'Brien (D)
SD 56Joe Robach (R)
SD 57Catherine Young (R)
SD 58Tom O'Mara (R)
SD 59Pat Gallivan (R)
SD 60Mark Grisanti (R)
SD 61No endorsement
SD 62Rob Ortt (R)
SD 63Tim Kennedy (D)


DistrictsCSEA Endorsed Candidate
AD 132Phil Palmesano (R)
AD 133No endorsement
AD 134Gary Pudup (D)
AD 135Mark Johns (R)
AD 136Joe Morelle (D)
AD 137No endorsement
AD 138Harry Bronson (D)
AD 139No endorsement
AD 140No endorsement
AD 141Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D)
AD 142No endorsement
AD 143No endorsement
AD 144No endorsement
AD 145No endorsement
AD 146No endorsement
AD 147No endorsement
AD 148No endorsement
AD 149Sean Ryan (D)
AD 150No endorsement