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Public Employees Federation staffers fired

ALBANY -- The Public Employees Federation isn't merely getting top new elected officers next month: The state workforce's second-largest union will also have a new cabinet.

Weeks after defeating a slate of incumbents, president-elect Susan Kent and the rest of the new leadership team announced that 14 members of PEF's central staff are being fired.

The list includes labor negotiators, legal experts and others who have been in place for years. Darcy Wells, the union's top spokeswoman for seven years, was among those dismissed.

In an odd fact of labor management, the departing staffers are "at-will" employees of PEF's central office. (Those beneath them at the union's headquarters are represented by the United Steelworkers.) Management employees who are fired can get up to 12 weeks of severance pay.

While changes are happening quickly, transitions are not unknown in the tightly knit and increasingly competitive world of labor politics.

Observers say union elections aren't that different from races for State Legislature or the governor's office. When a newly elected leader comes in, she wants her own staff.

"It's not uncommon to clear house," said Lee Adler, a lecturer at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. "You want to get your own people around you and build a team that you feel can avoid what you argued were the mistakes of the previous administration."

Kent ousted incumbent president Ken Brynien in a race that played out against the backdrop of last year's last-minute approval of a concessionary contract that failed the first time it was put to a vote of the rank and file.

Kent argued that the deal, which brings higher health care costs and three years without contractual raises, should have been resisted. Some of the changes, she said, will be hard to reverse.

Brynien pushed for approval of the contract amid the Cuomo administration's threats to lay off nearly 3,500 union members in order to achieve the governor's benchmark for workforce savings.

Shortly after the vote, Brynien told the Times Union he had no regrets about that stance.

About 51,000 PEF members were eligible to vote, but fewer than one-third actually returned their mailed ballots.

Kent couldn't be reached for comment, but PEF officials said all incoming officers would be working at their state jobs until they take office at the start of next month.

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