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Union man represents true picture of working life

By DEBORAH A. MILES During the last few years, state workers

have received a bad rap in the media, which has portrayed union members as overpaid, with too many benefits, and greedy. The Kent/Garcia administration is

dedicated to changing that image, by spotlighting PEF members who belie the media claims. Craig Walek is one of those individuals.

He works at the state Department of Transportation in Buffalo as a senior engineering technician. Every day, he works with three other PEF members who oversee the traffic operations center. They monitor the peak rush-hour traffic in the morning and evening to help drivers get to their destinations without long delays. “We try to make sure the average

commute is 25 minutes, so we monitor traffic,” Walek said. “We respond whether there is an accident, a stalled vehicle, or if someone needs a tire changed or a gallon of gasoline. We move the vehicle off the road to keep traffic flowing and do whatever we can to get the vehicle moving again or to a service station for repair.” When Walek isn’t monitoring traffic, he

may be following a lead from a DOT design worker or a complaint from a resident or local legislator about speed limits. In October, he investigated a street in a highly-concentrated residential area in Lillydale, where the speed limit was 45 mph. “As people follow the wave to go ‘green,’

more pedestrians and bicyclists are on the road. That was the case in Lillydale, so we lowered the speed limit to 30,” he said. Another part of the job is investigating

intersections to see if a three-color traffic signal is needed, or a left green arrow at the signal, which helps traffic flow. He also

2004, when Zach was 4 years old. “It was a struggle emotionally and

financially, but we have managed to carry on. My son is a very bright child, and a future soccer star. “I had to get a second job when the PEF

contract was ratified in October 2011. I’m working as a line cook. That’s what I did when I worked my way through college. “I am not overly paid in my state job,

AWINNINGTEAM – Zachery and CraigWalek are all smiles after winning a championship basketball game in March.

works with the state Attorney General’s Office to testify in certain cases as an expert witness concerning disputes such as speed limits or a properly placed guiderail. “My message to motorists is to be

patient with each other and we will all get along much better,” he said.

The family side “This PEF member is diligent about his

job,” said PEF President Susan Kent. “His efforts and expertise make the roads safer for everyone. “He is a single dad, raising a son, Zach,

and working another job to keep quality in his home life. He is the opposite of how the press portrays state workers, and is the real deal. Craig is just one example among the thousands of PEF members who are responsible and hardworking. “Craig also gives back to the

community. He is president of St. John’s Buffalo Federal Credit Union and is on the board of directors of the Matthew Foster Foundation, an organization that assists families who have children with cancer,” Kent said. Walek has been a

single father since

HELPINGTHE PUBLIC — Craig Walek responds to requests from motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. —Photo by Larry Meyer

and raising a son on your own is financially difficult,” Walek said. “The PS&T contract allowed for more money to be withdrawn for the increase in health insurance, and for the furlough days. I needed a way to make up for that difference, to maintain a home, put food on the table and make certain Zach has everything he needs.”

— Photo by Karen Davidson

The union side Walek was the Division 219 council

leader, but took a three-year hiatus from 2009 to 2012 to spend more time with his son. Prompted to return as a local union leader, he was recently re-elected by his co-workers. The division includes more than 350 members from DOT and the Niagara and Allegany regions of the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “Zach is fine with this. He is in middle

school and doing very well,” Walek said. His goal now is to get his members

involved and support future calls-to-action by “Big PEF.” “Our membership was active for a long

time, but then it went by the wayside. I think people got comfortable with the way things were going. But the last contract was a real wake-up call for a lot of people. “We had a meeting in September and 70

people attended, which was good. Susan Kent was our main speaker, and people wanted to hear what she had to say. “The wisdom of our division members is

outstanding. They brought back members who are experienced and some with fresh ideas. We have started our web page,, with contact information, our constitution, by-laws and pertinent links to the PEF website.” The new Division 219 Council members

are PEF Executive Board member John Duengfelder, Assistant Council Leader Cameron Schulz, Secretary-Treasurer Paul Uebelhoer, chief steward Jeff Odrobina, and stewards Tim Haynes, Justin Przepasniak and Lynne Terrana. “Our goal is to get the fist and muscle

back into the union,” Walek said. “And, to gain respect for the state employee, the working man and woman.”

The Communicator November 2012—Page 17

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