Leave accrual questioned after catastrophe
Flood takes toll on members; others respond to
By DEBORAH A. MILES
The wrath of Mother Nature struck Broome County at the end of June when
record-breaking rain caused the Susquehanna River to overflow.
The river rose within a couple of hours, and its mighty force severely damaged
more than 2,000 homes in Apalachin, Binghamton, Conklin, Deposit and Johnson
The raging Susquehanna hit Johnson City hard. Houses and vehicles appeared as if
they were sinking in a tidal wave. Streets became canals, and the only way to
travel after the June 28 nightmare was by boat.
Dan Majeski, an Executive Board member who represents the state Department of
Transportation (DOT) members in PEF Region 5, was one of the Johnson City
residents whose home was ravaged by the flood.
Majeski said around 5:30 a.m., he checked the sump pump in his basement that was
installed last year — a system designed to handle 50 gallons of water per
The system was working, but could not keep up with the river — five miles south
of his home — as it surged into town. The river’s power smashed a stockade
fence, pushed the frames out of two of his three basement windows, and began
flooding his basement like a broken dam.
“It happened so fast,” Majeski said. “My basement is 8 feet high, and the water
filled up to the ceiling. Everything was destroyed. Our files, wedding album,
photographs of our children, the furnace, water softener, water heater, sink.
The sewer backed-up and forced up human waste. It was a complete mess.”
Majeski and a neighbor were able to salvage a washer and dryer, by moving them
to the back porch. That’s a small savings, compared to an early damage report
prepared by an assessor from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Like thousands of other residents in Broome County, Majeski and his family were
unable to stay in their home.
“We really understood what the people of New Orleans went through with Katrina,”
Flood victims received support from various community groups and DOT employees
worked overtime doing damage assessment of roadways and bridges.
Mike Zwick, a civil engineer 1 in PEF Division 227, also made time to help
Majeski with the initial clean up of his basement.
“Everyone has been helping. You just do your part,” Zwick said.
“There was great support from the community,” Majeski said. “Electricians waived
labor costs, and people volunteered to help with cleaning, mopping, spraying and
That was a disgusting task, according to Majeski, as the debris left behind
included not only sewage waste, but dead rodents and “unfortunately, the
neighbor’s dead cat.”
Another flood relief effort called Helping Hands was organized by the region’s
EAP coordinator for the state Division of Disability Determinations (DDD), Mary
State of confusion
The clean up and restoration of homes wasn’t the only problem people
encountered. The catastrophic flooding forced many businesses and agencies to
close, such as the Norwich state Department of Labor (DOL) office. It was
literally surrounded by standing water several feet deep and only accessible by
Gov. George Pataki declared a state of emergency on June 28 and appeared on
television to tell people “do not go to work.” The DOL employees were given no
alternate work location and subsequently were directed to use personal leave
accruals for Wednesday, June 28 through Friday, June 30.
The employees at the Glendale DDD were told to charge their accruals for the
three days, even though flooding conditions also prevented them from going to
These agencies and others such as the Glendale DOL call center, the Binghamton
DOT office and the State Insurance Fund, have been “inconsistent and erratic” in
their time and attendance rules, according to Mary Twitchell, PEF Region 5
“Managers couldn’t make up their minds about what to do with people,” Twitchell
said. “There was a lot of miscommunication.”
To resolve this issue, PEF President Roger Benson and President-elect Ken
Brynien met in early July with Region 5 leaders.
“One of our main concerns was the state’s response to this disaster,” said PEF
Division 399 Council Leader Kathy D’Arminio. “PEF members were traveling to work
on the roads in a state of emergency with threat to their lives. Local and state
law enforcement instructed them to return home or be ticketed. Despite this,
PEF-represented non-essential state employees were ordered to report to work or
charge their own vacation time.”
To address this situation, Benson sent a letter to William Howard, first deputy
secretary to the governor, requesting a comprehensive review of the Time and
“PEF hopes with a review, the governor’s office will petition the state Civil
Service Commission to waive the attendance rules so employees will not be forced
to use personal accruals for following directives from the governor and local
law enforcement officers,” Benson said.
Brynien said if the union’s request is granted and the state seeks a waiver,
time charged for absences on those days would be restored.
Members who feel they should file a grievance should contact their PEF field
representative for assistance.
The positive side
The flooding caused by relentless rains has left an indelible imprint in many
This act of nature made people pull together.
It made them realize how quickly life can be turned around by uncontrollable
And while it may take months for some to get back to a normal routine, they are
building new memories with friends whose kindness and concern also overflowed.
As D’Arminio reflected, “members may have lost their homes, but we are grateful
no one lost their life.”