COVID-19 and Rochester Labor
CSEA Western Region
Interview with Ove Overmyer (Communications Specialist, Civil Service Employees Association Western Region), 10 March 2021
The Civil Service Employees Association is New York State's largest labor union, representing almost three hundred thousand workers employed primarily by state, county, and municipal agencies. The Western New York Region, which stretches from Lake Erie to the Finger Lakes and south to the Pennsylvania border, includes eighty locals representing forty-six thousand members in over two hundred units.
Because there are over twelve hundred contracts governing the relations between regional workers and employers and because regulations have constantly changed, it is difficult to describe the impact of COVID-19 on CSEA locals and members beyond the following generalizations:
- CSEA has worked at every level of government to ensure that policies and practices take into account the particular realities of the various workplaces where they have members.
- fear and anxiety among members have increased, as, statewide, over sixty members (mostly downstate) have died and thousands have been infected. Additionally, members (including DMV license examiners) have been assaulted by angry clients.
- although PPE has been mainly provided by employers, the union has had to help some locals purchase masks and other protective gear, particularly in the early weeks of the pandemic.
- the union has not conducted testing and contact-tracing.
- members who are direct contact workers have begun to get vaccinated and their numbers are expected to increase to fifty percent in April.
- some workers (e.g., library staff) were furloughed in July-August 2020.
- some workers in government positions have been laid off.
- others have been working hybrid schedules (some hours on-site, some at home).
- still others work exclusively from home.
- an increasing number of members have considered or opted for early retirement.
The union has sustained operations primarily on virtual platforms, arbitrating grievances and negotiating or rolling over contracts (local village and town budgets were strangled by the state's budget shortcomings directly tied to the pandemic). Communication has been largely through Zoom and drop-boxes and a well-referenced resource section on the union website. During the pandemic, despite the Janus ruling against requiring members to pay dues, membership support has remained almost unchanged.