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The National President's Message

 

By Gerard A. Jones

National President

 

 

 

 

 

Good morning! It is my pleasure to greet you one final time before we hear the nominating committee reports, elect and install officers and close this wonderful Convention.

 

Before beginning this State of the Union address, I want to first thank all elected delegates, speakers and guests for your participation in this year’s Convention. Without your participation, this year’s Convention would not have been such a success, so thank you!

 

A lot has happened since the last Convention. To say that the last 4 years have been challenging is an understatement, especially as it relates to labor. Many of the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act took effect, but Republicans constantly attack and attempt to challenge or limit it. As recent as 3 weeks ago the president signed an executive order to defund ACA.

 

In addition, four more states became Right-to-Work states, bringing the total number of Right-to-Work states to 28, which is now a majority of the states supporting such legislation. For those who do not know, Right-to-Work legislation is a law that prevents membership in a labor union from being a condition of employment; it has become the leading tool to diminish the growth of labor unions in the United States. Furthermore, state and local governments continue to enact legislation that strips bargaining power from the public sector unions. For example, working conditions that unions have fought long and hard for are now being mandated by law. While on the surface that seems like a positive victory for labor unions, it is not good for their survival because perceptions of unions shift from those that are positive to a feeling that unions are no longer necessary, which could not be further from the truth. All of these challenges are further exacerbated by the fact that since our last Convention, the country has elected a controversial new President who is not a friend to labor unions and who has gone on record as preferring Right-to-Work legislation.

 

Despite these challenges, I am proud to stand before you and state that NOITU continues to thrive and prosper and remains committed to its goal no matter the challenges that it may be faced with going forward.

 

First and foremost, I want to recognize the dedicated work of our officers and representatives who are responsible for handling the Union’s official business by holding necessary meetings, handling grievances, negotiating contracts to improve wages, pension and health benefits for our membership, and safeguarding the rights of our members.

 

Our officers and representatives are also responsible for looking for new organizing opportunities to protect the rights of workers who may not be adequately represented in the workplace.

 

Since the last Convention, this Union has organized numerous new shops in various industries across the Tri-State area, thus showing the importance and value Unions still have in our society. There would be no new organizing opportunities if employees did not need the help of Unions to protect their rights as employees. Without the hard and diligent work of Gerald Hustick, Pete Pacheco, Brian Pepper, Carlos Rodriguez, Dominick Bentivegna, and Miguel Chalas, this Union would not be able to function in accordance with its goals and principles.

 

Since the theme of this year’s Convention is “Education and Technology Are Our Future,” it only makes sense that I begin with the technological advances NOITU has made since the last Convention. NOITU’s IT infrastructure has been totally overhauled to meet government regulations and improve functionality so that NOITU can provide better service to its membership. NOITU, through the direction of its IT Director, Farley Kamhi, has enhanced its infrastructure by upgrading its networks and replacing hardware. Furthermore, NOITU has improved its communications by replacing both our email platform and our phone systems. Finally, because of the recent prevalence of cyber-attacks, NOITU is constantly improving and refining its security protocols in order to safeguard our members’ data. All of these changes and updates are done with our members in mind so that serving their interests can be done efficiently and in a safe manner.

 

Not only has NOITU made technological improvements, but it has made improvements in all other areas of the organization as well. In conjunction with Arthur Orzano, Administrator and Director of the Claims Department, NOITU has been able to improve many of the benefits the membership receives. Since the last convention, it has increased its death benefit from $10,000 to $20,000. In addition, the dental and optical plans have been improved recently, with members receiving a new dental provider Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, which replaced Healthplex. This was done so that our members have access to a larger network of dentists. With respect to the optical plan, there have been increases to the reimbursement members receive and the optical plan has even been expanded to now include your eligible dependents. Finally, NOITU has changed prescription providers from Express Scripts to CVS, which provides a more comprehensive service to our members and their dependents. NOITU will continue to do its best to improve on its medical program because it understands its importance to our members.

 

Many of our Collective Bargaining Agreements include an extra added feature of NOITU’s medical program, the Louis Lasky Memorial Medical and Dental Center, which is now led by Dr. David Lieberman, a long term employee at the center. The Medical and Dental Center, located in Lindenhurst, Long Island, is a top-notch facility that provides various medical and dental services to NOITU’s members and their eligible dependents with little to no out-of-pocket costs to them. Among the services provided at the Center, members can receive general oral and periodontal services on the dental side as well as primary care including x-rays, lab work, physicals, and immunizations on the medical side. We are happy to report that we have able to remove most charges for dental lab work at the Center in an effort to further reduce costs to our members.

 

An often overlooked, but an extremely integral part of NOITU’s medical program is the Member Services Department. Members can depend on the Insurance Trust Fund Claims Department staff to carefully review their claims and to make every effort to process them in a timely manner.

 

Members can also contact the Member Services Department to:
- Verify if a particular service requires precertification, such as an MRI, CAT scan, In-patient hospital stay, certain outpatient surgeries, Injectables, drug/alcohol programs, and Durable Medical Equipment.
- Resolve any issues with your prescriptions, dental services or eye exams.
- Get assistance in finding an In-Network provider within your area, whichwill limit your out of pocket cost.

 

In addition to providing our members with a quality medical program, the NOITU Organization is also proud to provide its members with a pension provided through the NOITU Individual Account Plan (NIAP), led by Kevin O’Donnell, our Controller and Administrator of the NIAP. You should have learned a lot about the importance of saving for retirement at a previous session of this Convention. I cannot stress this enough! In order to ensure a prosperous future for you and your loved ones, you must start saving for retirement as early as possible, speak to your representative on how to get started, because if you haven’t started, you should absolutely start now!

 

Beginning in January 2009, participants were able to take control and decide on how to invest their NIAP account balances (including both elective deferrals and employer contributions). We began working with Chernoff Diamond & Co., LLC, a highly rated employee benefits firm, to make a daily valuation system available to all Plan participants and provide participants with up to date account values at the end of each business day.

 

Prior to 2009, the record keeping system was a balance forward process where retirement accounts were trustee directed and valued once a year. All participant accounts followed the same “balanced” investment approach. Since everyone’s circumstances are different, we recognized that a new daily valuation system was required in order to provide participants with the opportunity to control their retirement savings according to their own individual needs. Participants are able to make changes to their investments whenever they choose.

 

In 2008, we worked closely with our investment consultant, Dahab Associates to create a selection of mutual finds that would be simple and diversified while catering to an individual’s needs and tolerance for risk. The result was the formation of three portfolios (Conservative Moderate and Aggressive) along with three core funds and a “QDIA” known as Qualified Default Investment Alternative. The performance of these investments is monitored by our consultants and reported to the Board of Trustees on a quarterly basis. Effective January 1, 2012, the Trustees added two additional balanced mutual funds to the QDIA. This approach has provided participants with additional diversification superior performance and a lower expense ratio. Approximately 75% of plan participants are invested in this default option.

 

The total assets of the plan have increased from $20 million to over $68 million since the beginning of the self- directed daily valuation system beginning in 2009. The payroll deferral deductions for the same period have increased by 240 % exceeding 1.1 million during 2016.

 

During 2016 the benefit options were expanded to provide a partial withdrawal option whereby a participant, upon retirement, may elect up to four withdrawals a calendar year at a minimum of $1000 each. In addition an annuity option was added to the plan whereby the participant could choose an insurance company to provide a monthly benefit if desired. We are proud of these plan improvements and will continue to strive to negotiate increased contributions and participation in the NIAP by educating our members and prospective members of its benefits.

 

In addition to the improvements to both the medical program and the NIAP, I want to take the time to highlight two very important departments that work very closely with the Union. First, the Employer Services Department, which is led by Elizabeth Forte, Director, and is vital to the Union as it serves as support staff for the Union officials. It is the department that is responsible for enrollment and updating member information. In addition, it ensures that dues, welfare, and pension contributions are properly collected and remitted so that members have the eligibility they need in order to receive the benefits that we provide. Furthermore, the Employer Services Department makes sure that all Employers are reminded of certain events as it relates to wage increases, and improvements of additional benefits and meeting notices. The Employer Services Department is the main administrative arm of the Union and is crucial in making sure things run smoothly behind the scenes.

 

Also working closely with the Union behind the scenes is the Legal Department headed by Andre Williams, Esq., our In-House Counsel. This department was created since the last Convention to even the playing field between the Union and the Employers. The Legal Department is involved with all legal matters that concern the NOITU Organization. In addition, the department does research on behalf of all entities to ensure that the organization is in compliance with the numerous rules and regulations it is subject to. Finally, the Legal Department ensures that Employers are complying with the terms of the collective bargaining agreements they have entered into with the Union. The Legal Department will file charges with the NLRB and handle grievances, all the way to arbitration when necessary. The creation of the Legal Department was done to serve the interests of our members. Gone are the days where Employers and Unions resolved their disputes without getting attorneys involved; now Employers are increasingly using attorneys to serve their interests and to combat that and better serve the interests of our membership, the Union created the Legal Department.

 

Many of the improvements and changes since the last convention also required specialized skill and expertise even greater than that staffed by the NOITU Organization. As such, the NOITU Organization hires qualified professionals to advise us on certain issues. Whether its Neal Schelberg, Rick Iaccarino, Jeff Kreisberg or Steven Isaacs handling complex legal issues; Gary Koscielny, as the Organization’s actuary, making sure that the we are able to provide the best benefits in the most cost-effective manner; or Chernoff Diamond advising the plan on pension issues, the NOITU Organization has sound leadership both within and outside of the organization to ensure that it is able to serve the interests of its members prudently. In addition, the Organization has also retained Gould, Kobrick and Schlapp and Buchbinder Tunick and Company to audit our activities to ensure that the Organization meets its requirements by complying with certain rules and regulations of the Department of Labor and the IRS.

 

Before concluding my speech, I would like to thank all of our wonderful advertisers for their Scholarship donations. For this year’s Convention, the Scholarship Fund was able to raise over $47,000, which will be used directly towards my next announcement. It is my great pleasure to announce at this time, beginning in 2018, for the first time in its history, the NOITU Organization will be providing one 4-year scholarship to the most qualified applicant. In order to maintain the scholarship, the recipient will have to meet certain GPA requirements. Because NOITU recognizes the importance of education, it is committed to doing its part in helping the children of our members reach their academic goals. And it is only because of the generous donations of our advertisers were we able to make this possible. How about a round of applause for them!

 

As you have heard, we have worked diligently since the last Convention, improving our benefit programs for our members and their dependents. I must emphasize that I have advised your representatives to make a special effort to negotiate for implementation of our NIAP in every contract and negotiate for additional increases in your pension contribution.

 

We appreciate your trust and will continue to work on behalf of our members to improve upon the solid foundation of NOITU today and will continue to do so in the years to come while staying true to our motto: the “Good and Welfare of Our Membership is the Only Reason for Our Existence”. It is only through putting these words into action, can NOITU continue to aid its members in the manner that they consistently expect. If we continue to keep this motto at the forefront, NOITU will continue to prosper not only during good times, but during challenging times as well.


May God bless our country and all of our members and the entire NOITU Organization. Thank you!




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