PAnorama: December 2003
Trust Fund announces new benefits: PA helps provide peace of mind
Editor’s Note: Fund Trustees have been attending NYSUT-sponsored
trainings to ensure compliance with HIPAA regulations. See related story.
Beginning January 1, 2004, PA members will have four new benefits: long-term
disability insurance, life and accidental death and dismemberment insurance,
and worldwide travel assistance. After considering various options for benefits
that could be added to the Davis Vision
Plan already in place, the Trustees of the MVCC
Professional Association Benefits Trust Fund selected these four plans.
Offered by UnumProvident, a NYSUT-endorsed company, they give PA members several
welcome protections at no cost to them.
In the event of a long-term disability, income protection insurance provides
a monthly payment equal to half of a member’s pre-disability income. In
the event of a truly catastrophic disability--one in which there is a cognitive
impairment or the loss of two or more Activities of Daily Living--coverage will
be as high as 80-100% through “Disability Plus,” an added feature
of the policy.
Group life insurance in the amount of $25,000 as well as accidental death and
dismemberment insurance will also now cover each member of our bargaining unit.
Features of these plans include survivor counseling and two AD&D benefits:
repatriation and a seat belt and airbag benefit.
The fourth benefit, “Assist America,” provides emergency travel
assistance to members when they are traveling 100 or more miles from home. It
includes 24-hour multilingual services, medical and legal referrals, and lost
luggage assistance, among other things.
Full details about each of these new benefits will be made available to members
soon. The Benefits Trust Fund page of the PA website will contain information
and links, brochures will be distributed, and presentations will be offered
to address members’ questions. Paul Halko chairs the PA Benefits Trust
Fund. Trustees include Julie Dewan, Sam Drogo, Ron Miller, and Ellis Gage Searles.
Marie Czarnecki is our Fund Secretary, and Mike Donaruma is the Fund Treasurer.
Norma Chrisman manages the Fund database.
makes good things happen
Ellis Gage Searles
Team. Committee. Board. Call it what you will. PA members work together on
our collective behalf, and the evidence is everywhere.
Let’s start with the first page of this PAnorama. Benefits Fund
trustees have announced more new benefits, the result of months of planning.
Databases have been developed, the budget balanced. Teamwork. In fact, the very
existence of the Fund is an outcome of the negotiating teamwork that brought
us our last contract.
Inside, see our smiling faces. Each semester begins and ends with some kind
of social get-together such as the new member coffee or the holiday party. PA
committees make them happen. Often, as at last week’s party, these events
also serve as outreach. We collect money or food for our less fortunate neighbors,
doing good and feeling good at the same time.
The back page has news, too. Just as there was last January, next month there’ll
be a PA luncheon. Member Services will set it up. We’ll present a scholarship
check to a very deserving student as a result of the work of the Internal Communications
Committee. The presentation will be captured on these pages and on our web site
by some of those same committee members. We’ll say farewell to departing
PA colleagues, whose well-earned retirement will be enhanced by a deposit into
an investment account.
All thanks to PA teamwork.
Paychecks just got bigger. Teamwork made it happen.
Throughout the year, LAP leaders work to connect us more closely to each other
and to our community--making more and better teams. Our Education and Training
Committee sponsors workshops, providing opportunities for the College community
to discuss campus issues and learn new skills.
Political outreach continues as well. Teamwork at election time became part
of our ongoing effort to maintain an open dialogue with legislative leaders.
Fellow teachers and unionists support one another’s political action.
And teamwork is not only local.
Our VOTE-COPE drive is part of a larger statewide endeavor.
On a regular basis, Association members travel to meetings and conferences
in Albany, New York City, and elsewhere to bring their expertise and ideas to
statewide committees on issues that impact our professional lives--civil and
human rights, distance education, health care, higher education.
Every team is made up of individual contributors, who are numerous. At any
given time, we'll see members who may join teams briefly--taking leadership
on a short-term project--and those who may be involved for the duration. We
may find ourselves more active in some years than in others. But whenever it
happens, it makes a difference.
As Robert Kennedy once remarked, each time we make a positive step, it sends
out a “tiny ripple of hope.” At this time of year, when we celebrate
hope, when we come together with our families, friends, and communities both
personal and professional, that certainly seems worth remembering.
Thank you for being part of the team. And happy holidays.
to PA Constitution and By-laws
Democracy. It’s at the heart of the definition of a union--an organization
of workers who elect members to represent their best interests to their employer,
their colleagues in the field, and the communities they serve. As with democracy
in a general sense, a union’s strength and power is retained by its members
and indirectly exercised through a system of representation. The guidelines
for a union’s representative democracy must be documented openly and freely
for the membership of each local bargaining unit--in our case, in the PA Constitution
I’m certain that our Constitution and By-laws, although made readily
available to members both on our website and in our New Members binders (if
you don't have one, contact Gene Militello), don’t receive the careful
scrutiny enjoyed by PAnorama and the PA contract. However, as the documents
outlining the fundamental political principles around which the PA is organized,
the PA Constitution and By-laws are perennially reviewed by the PA leadership
and revised in accordance with the votes of our membership.
Of course, in doing so, we strive to balance a philosophy of our Constitution
and By-laws as “living documents,” designed for revisions that reflect
the changing needs and goals of our membership, with a philosophy of our Constitution
and By-laws as historical documents containing sound principles of unionism
that must be preserved.
So it’s that time of year again. At the annual Spring Luncheon, we place
proposed amendments to the PA Constitution and By-laws before our membership
for their consideration. The Executive Board has identified three amendments
this year (below). They will be presented to the membership at the annual Spring
In the following proposals, deleted text is underlined, added text is
in bold, and rationales are in italics.
Proposed Amendment to PA Constitution Article V Section
ARTICLE V: Executive Board
Section 1. The Executive Board shall consist of the officers of the Association,
the Chair of the Grievance Committee, the Chair of the Negotiations Committee,
the Chair of the Political Action Outreach Committee,
the Chair of the Community Outreach Committee, the Chair of the Research
and Records Committee, and the Chair of the Education and Training Committee,
the Chair of the MVCC Professional Association Benefits Trust Fund,
and the Immediate Past President. The immediate Past President
shall be a non-voting member.
- These changes add the Chair of the Benefits Trust Fund to the Executive
Board and make the Immediate Past President a voting, rather than a
non-voting, member of the e-board. Both positions are critical to serving
the interests of our membership and thus carry a significance that merits
active representation on the e-board.
Proposed Amendment to PA Constitution and By-laws
We hereby propose to change the name of the Political Action Committee
to “Political Outreach Committee” and to revise all references
to same in both the Constitution and By-laws.
- The name Political Action Committee might be confused with a PAC,
a type of entity that has a specific legal definition not in keeping
with our organization. Also, the new name not only more accurately describes
the committee’s activities and purpose, it is also more aligned
with Community Outreach Committee.
Proposed Amendment to PA By-laws Article V Section
ARTICLE V: Standing Committees.
Section 10. The Audit Committee shall
A. Be composed of four (4) elected members of the Association and
one non-bargaining unit member appointed by the President and approved by
the Executive Board. The chair shall be an Association
member elected by and from the membership of the Committee.
- Having one non-PA member on the Audit Committee reflects current advice
from both NYSUT and AFT regarding oversight of local funds and audits,
but we also want the Chair of the Audit Committee to remain a PA member.
PA members should know about HIPAA
Since HIPAA was enacted on April 13, 2003, many people have asked me questions
about it. HIPAA is a complex legislative act with four primary aspects, but
I’d like to take this opportunity to simplify things a bit and to review
what general PA members should know about HIPAA.
HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that established
for the first time national standards protecting the privacy of health information.
The enactment of HIPAA has given consumers several rights:
- the right to access their own health information (including their own medical
- the right to make amendments to its content
- the right to an accounting of the disclosures made concerning their health
Before HIPAA, New York had already granted citizens 18 and over access to their
own medical records in 1987. As part of this law (PHL Section 18), individuals
were also given the right to inspect their own records and to receive copies.
So the greatest impact of HIPAA on New York residents is the accounting of disclosures;
this means that you can see a list of all people that your doctor has released
your records to.
If you haven’t done so already, you should periodically ask to review
your medical records. You have the right to inspect or request copies of your
records. At an individual doctor’s office, ask the administrative assistant
for copies; at a hospital or clinic, ask for copies at the Health Information
Department or Office (aka Medical Records).
Knowing this can help PA members in several ways. For example, a while ago,
I attempted to get life insurance but was turned down. I asked the insurance
company why, and it turns out that one physician had documented that I was a
smoker on two separate occasions. I am not a smoker and never have been! So
I contacted the physician asking that he make an amendment to his documentation.
He didn’t, so I took matters into my own hands and requested access to
my medical records. I placed an amendment in the medical record--as close as
possible to the incorrect information--and subsequently received my life insurance
Here’s another thing you should be aware of. Notices of Privacy Practices
are routinely provided to people entering hospitals, along with the Patient’s
Bill of Rights. A person signs both to acknowledge their receipt. However, most
people never read either document or, if they do, it’s after they have
gone home. Pharmacies also must provide their customers with the Notice of Privacy
Practice and must obtain the customer’s signature indicating receipt.
Most are pretty careful about following this policy. For example, shortly after
HIPAA was enacted, I was asked to sign for my dog’s prescription medication!
I had to sign my dog’s name, then mine, followed by the word “owner”
in parenthesis to receive her medicine. Needless to say, I had a good chuckle.
Other consequences of HIPAA are more serious. Ever wonder why you receive certain
mailings targeting the medications you are taking or a condition you might have?
Ever wonder why the department of health has contacted you, asking you to participate
in a specific diagnostic study? The answer is that state law requires all new
cases to be reported. While health care providers cannot sell lists of patients/enrollees
to third parties without authorization, they may disclose some public health
information without authorization, such as vital statistics, child abuse/ neglect,
and newly diagnosed cases of cancer, Alzheimer’s, HIV, etc.
Therefore, you should know that when being asked to sign an authorization form
to release your health information, you have the right to restrict what you
disclose. I always cross off the phrase that says “all and any health
information” and write in “minimum necessary.” If you have
questions relating to HIPAA, don’t hesitate to contact me in Health Services.
donation to improving the “good health” of MVCC
Over the past couple of years as the VOTE/COPE coordinator for the PA, I’ve
made it a point to engage different colleagues in conversations about contributing.
The responses have been as interesting as they are varied. At one end of the
spectrum are the instant positives:
“Sure, where do I sign?”
“Absolutely, it’s so important for NYSUT to do this.”
“How much should I give?”
“Can I write a check?”
“Can I contribute by payroll deduction?”
At the other end of the spectrum are the definite negative responses:
“No, NYSUT should stay out of the business of politics.”
“I don’t agree with the endorsements that NYSUT makes.”
“I’m sick of the union putting its hand in my pocket for one thing
and then the other.”
“No, this kind of thing makes NYSUT just another lobbyist with its hand
The range of responses to my solicitations has been an education to me. To
say the least, it has made me consider carefully what VOTE/COPE is, whether
it’s necessary, and whether I personally and other members of the PA should
support it by contributing.
COPE actually stands for
That’s right… education. That seems like something we can all get
VOTE/COPE is the effort by NYSUT to educate politicians (legislators and members
of the executive branch of government) as well as members of the public about
issues that impact public education, unionism, and the rights associated with
collective bargaining. It is funded entirely by voluntary contributions from
NYSUT members throughout the state, and it allows members of NYSUT’s staff
to talk directly to decision makers in Albany on a daily basis about the substance
and impact of relevant legislation being considered.
Much of the focus is necessarily on the funding needs of public education in
general--including community colleges. That alone is very important and significant
because it puts the weight of nearly 500,000 NYSUT members behind the effort
to maximize the state’s support for its public education system. For those
of us who work in the community college system, it is doubly important because
we are numerically a small part of the total NYSUT membership. We truly need
the influence that all of NYSUT can bring to dealing many of “our”
issues. Other issues, such as those which can impact the NYS retirement system,
teacher tenure, and the right to organize, among others, are out there as well,
and NYSUT stays on top of them all.
None of us individually or even together as a very active local can match the
efficiency and effectiveness of the NYSUT political education operation headed
by Executive Vice President Alan Lubin in Albany. And don’t assume even
for one second that without NYSUT’s influence things would work out just
the same for us. Other voices which are much less supportive of public education
at all levels--and unionism--are increasingly active in the same way right now
and would simply step into the void created by NYSUT’s absence…
much to our detriment.
But what do we really get out of our support of VOTE/COPE?
First, up to 40% of the money contributed by members of our local returns
to the local to fund our own local political involvement. These monies can
be and are used for a wide variety of local initiatives aimed at enhancing
our ability to participate in and influence the local political landscape
in ways that will benefit our members and, by extension, the college.
Over the past few years, VOTE/COPE has helped us to become solidly a member
of the regional public education network by helping to establish and maintain
very active and positive working relationships with the leaders of surrounding
K-12 NYSUT locals.
We have used VOTE/COPE funds to help underwrite some of our community outreach
efforts aimed at both meeting critical local needs and enhancing our image
in the community we serve.
We are a presence at local political fundraisers for officeholders and
candidates of all political parties. We have instituted for the first time
this year a formal candidate screening and endorsement process for county
offices, patterned after the very successful operation developed by the
Faculty Association of Suffolk County Community
College. This election cycle, with only one exception, all our endorsed
candidates for county office were elected.
In order to have access to local governmental decision makers so that we can
articulate our needs, we must first develop a face-to-face relationship with
these very individuals. Our local political outreach is aimed at allowing the
PA’s leadership to better represent and communicate the needs and interests
of the professionals at MVCC to those in county government who are empowered
to make decisions that directly impact us. In that sense, your contribution
to VOTE/COPE in an investment in an evolving and necessary local partnership
that has as its ultimate goal the improvement of the employment package at the
college and the continued “good health” of MVCC as an essential
As VOTE/COPE coordinator for the PA, I periodically receive reports about our
contributions as a local and can see how we stack up compared to other community
college locals in the state. Our contribution level is certainly respectable--behind
only Suffolk, Nassau, and Fashion Institute of Technology, large locals downstate
who have long been very successfully active in the political process.
While our local’s overall level of contribution is respectable, it reflects
the contributions of only a fraction of our membership who donate between $.50
and $7.00 per paycheck to the effort. Every single member of the union’s
leadership (officers and committee chairs) is a VOTE/COPE contributor, and most
have increased their contributions as part of this year’s drive. This
is a varied group: some have been at the college for over 30 years and others
for fewer than 5 years. Regardless, all recognize the value of supporting this
aspect of NYSUT’s operation.
PA members contribute to the organization in many ways. Some do so by holding
office or through committee work or leadership, others by support for outreach
activities. Some pitch in when there is special work to be done, and others
contribute to VOTE/COPE. And of course, some do all of the above. I think it
is a given that each of us has the financial resources to make at least some
small contribution to the VOTE/COPE effort. Even fifty cents or one dollar each
pay period is a help. Please give serious thought to contributing.
This semester, I have been approaching members individually, face-to-face,
asking them to consider a contribution in support of VOTE/COPE. Many of those
I’ve approached have responded positively to my request. A few have refused,
others are still considering. My plan is to continue with this member-by-member
approach until every member has been asked. If I haven’t approached you
yet, plan on seeing me, or some member of the PA leadership, before much time
has elapsed in the Spring.
As we prepare to enjoy the coming holidays, I hope all of you will keep in
mind that the PA has been very successful in representing its members in the
most recent bargaining cycles, and much of that is attributable to our increased
visibility and involvement in what happens in our sponsoring community.
Lastly, as I reflect on the many advantages of our support of VOTE/COPE, I
think the most significant may be the added stature our collective efforts give
to our president, Ellis Gage Searles, whenever she, or her designee, represents
our interests with other union leaders or with local or state officeholders.
She is put in the enviable position of representing an active, involved local
whose members support the broad spectrum of activities that are at the heart
Make no mistake about it: Any added weight we can give to our elected leader
can only work on our behalf. VOTE/ COPE helps to do that for us.
of tuition waivers: Policies update
Article 2.6 of the contract provides for tuition waivers for members and their
dependents. The College has revised its policy for waiver requests.
The College now requires that tuition waivers for dependents be submitted before
the end of the Late Registration period.
A statement to this effect has been added to the waiver form. If you have questions
about the use of tuition waivers, please contact Human Resources.
Ellis Gage Searles
Since he was recently appointed the College’s Director of Student Activities,
Dennis Rahn can no longer be an active member of the Professional Association.
But he’ll always have a special place in the organization that he has
helped to shape.
For years, Dennis served as Grievance Chair of the PA, a role that requires
careful judgment, patience, persistence, and inner strength. Possessing these
qualities in abundance, he has used them each day in service to us all.
Protecting and enforcing the language of a collective bargaining agreement
is a big responsibility. But, clearly, for Dennis, it’s also been a labor
of love. As president of the PA, I’ve had many opportunities to sit with
Dennis to consider members’ concerns or responses to questionable situations
that had come to Dennis’s attention. Inevitably he would say, “Let’s
look at the contract.”
Delineating our rights as it does, the contract is the ultimate authority.
But protecting those rights requires someone who understands its provisions,
respects them, and remembers their history. Dennis has done all that, and more.
He has worked long hours as a tireless negotiator and a savvy strategic planner.
He’s brought good humor and positivity to many PA discussions. He’s
always been there when we’ve needed his help.
So, as do many in the general membership, we in the leadership consider him
a trusted advisor and a very dear friend.
The Professional Association has lost a valued member, but our union will benefit
for years to come from the legacy he leaves behind.