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  Main >  Member Communications > PAnorama > December 2003

PAnorama: December 2003

Benefits 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.

Teamwork makes good things happen
by 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.

Proposed amendments to PA Constitution and By-laws
by Cynthia Villanti

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 and By-laws.

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 Luncheon.

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 1

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 10

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.

What PA members should know about HIPAA
by Sue Bice

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 records)
  • the right to make amendments to its content
  • the right to an accounting of the disclosures made concerning their health information.

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 policy.

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.

Your donation to improving the “good health” of MVCC
by Bill Perrotti

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 out.”

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 behind.

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 county resource.

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 of unionism.

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.

Submissions 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.

Thank you, Dennis
by 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.

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