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Member Spotlight: Patty Cerio

When Patty started working for county government in New York, she felt she did not have a choice when it came to union membership– either she would pay dues as a member or pay ‘agency fees’ as a non-member and still rely on the union to negotiate her contract and provide other protections.  

After about 18 months, Patty was the subject of discipline, based on new policies that were imposed without proper procedures in place. Patty’s local union representative with the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) helped her and protected her job. Having experienced the value of her union firsthand, Patty decided to join the unit union’s executive team, first as the secretary and later as a union steward. Patty even became involved with CSEA on the regional level, joining committees and attending statewide meetings and conferences. She stepped away from her union leadership roles as her family grew, but still supported the union’s “mission”. 

Then, about four years ago, things started to change. Patty and her colleagues had issues related to workloads and overtime, but when they asked the local union leadership for help, they didn’t respond to their concerns and allowed management to continue their unfair practices of not following their own policies and procedures. 

Two years after that, Patty went to the unit union representative with health concerns for approximately 17 members (out of 65 in the bargaining unit). While the unit presidnetsaid that he would take their health concerns to the local level, two months later Patty and her colleagues had still not received any answers and learned that the unit representative had never advised the local representatives of these concerns. After months of frustration and contacting different union leaders, including the regional president and statewide health committee chairman the issues were never addressed. Patty contacted county leaders and arranged for the Public Employee Safety & Health Bureau  to complete an inspection.  

Patty also had concerns about how the union was handling contract negotiations. The union refused to share any details of negotiations with their members. When it came time for members to vote on a new contract, the union never shared the proposed changes in writing, but instead, gave a high-level overview that turned out to be inaccurate.  

At this point, Patty began to explore her rights and options. A simple Google search about the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision informed Patty of her option to leave the union and helped her understand her Constitutional rights. After years of feeling ignored by her union, she decided that it was time to resign her union membership.  

Patty and several of her colleagues sent ‘opt out’ letters to the union, which refused to recognize their resignation. After over a month, the county comptroller finally demanded that the union provide him with paperwork to stop the dues deductions from the employee’s paychecks.  

But her troubles didn’t end there. After Patty had resigned her union membership, the unit union president and vice president filed charges against her and another colleague for ‘acts unbecoming of a member’, claiming that she encouraged others to leave the union by posting links to opt out websites on department bulletin boards, which were not ‘union business’ boards. Despite no longer being a union member, Patty had to fight these charges and plead her case to the state, where the charges were finally dismissed.  

Patty’s unit union representative, as well as her local and regional presidents, completely changed her view of unions. She used to think unions helped employees, but now she sees that her union is more concerned with keeping their own power.  

Patty joined AFFT because she felt alone in her battle with the union. She had no way to communicate with her colleagues who may have also resigned their union membership, but AFFT provides her with the sense of community she desires and reliable information about the rights of public employees.  

Americans for Fair Treatment

Americans for Fair Treatment is a free, membership, non-profit organization designed to help public sector workers exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of coercion from unions.