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Public Employees Federation (PEF) vs. New York State: 2000

Revealing Untold Story of PEF Win
Could Point to Future Victories

On April 5, 2000, Ray Rogers met with Roger Benson, president of the New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF). PEF, an affiliate of both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), then represented 54,000 licensed professionals and scientific and technical employees: nurses, doctors, teachers, health and safety inspectors, transportation engineers, parole officers and many others.

Cover of the Union Magazine "The Communicator"

Benson was determined to involve the union's entire membership in an aggressive fight to secure a fair contract. Union leaders had been waging an extensive lobbying effort against Gov. George Pataki's administration, including turning out thousands of members in peaceful but vocal protests at the statehouse and the headquarters of the governor's Office of Employee Relations. The union ran radio ads statewide, slammed the administration in the union's monthly magazine, The Communicator, and conducted an in-your-face campaign whenever and wherever they could. But the Pataki Administration remained unresponsive to PEF's concerns.

The meeting with Benson came after PEF Region 10 Coordinator Jennifer Faucher had invited Ray to be the keynote speaker for a PEF Leadership Conference on March 18. The theme was "Mobilizing for Power and Success in the New Millennium." Based on the response to Ray's presentation, Benson contacted him and they discussed the serious problems and hostility PEF was facing from the Pataki Administration.

Benson, elected president of PEF in 1997, frankly acknowledged that if he couldn't show the membership by October that he was waging a strong, winning campaign, his "ass would be grass" since he was coming up for re-election later in the year. "I'm history," he said, "if I can't deliver a contract or something by October when other state workers will be getting raises." This included the 77,000 members of the Civil Service Employees Association who worked alongside PEF members. They would be getting raises while PEF members got nothing.

PEF's representatives believed that because their union, for more than a year, had been aggressively challenging the governor in support of fair contracts for all state workers that the Pataki Administration was bent on punishing them and dragging out contract negotiations indefinitely. The May 2000 cover of The Communicator was an illustration of a stop sign which read: "NY State — STOP STALLING — FAIR CONTRACT NOW!" Below the slogan was an odometer reading "468 Days of Negotiating."

Ray Rogers Gives a Lesson in Campaign Tactics at the PEF Regional 10 Leadership Conference

Inside was a message from Benson: "To break the governor's stall, we must exert as much political and public pressure as we can. Some members have questioned the value of being militant and mobilizing for a fair contract, saying: 'Be nice to the governor and he will treat you well.' But if our experience over the last few months, as well as the last few years, has taught us anything, it's that you must work to get what you deserve. The governor is now counting on us to lose our resolve and accept an onerous concession..."

A story in the same magazine covered the Leadership Conference that was held in March. Quoting Jennifer Faucher, it said, "We had a fabulous keynote speaker... (Ray Rogers) He worked on the recent contract campaign for the Transport Workers Union. He developed a five-phase plan for the campaign, but the negotiations were settled after just the first phase." The magazine article foreshadowed what was to come for the governor, his economic development czar, Charles Gargano; the head of the New York Republican State Committee, William Powers, and leaders of the most powerful business lobbies in the state.

From the Leadership Conference
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A series of excellent fliers produced by PEF put a face on the union by running photos of members on their jobs. One such flier had six photos with captions that read: "Teaching the Blind to See," "Researching Cures for Cancer," "Caring for Fragile Newborns," "Keeping Crime in Check," Keeping Highways Safe" and "Caring for the Disabled." The headline read, "Governor, treat all State employees as you have the MTA." The leaflet in part read, "33,000 state workers at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have a new three-year contract with the state that gives them raises of 5 percent, 3 percent and 4 percent annually, with no givebacks and with better health and pension benefits... It's time to treat all the state's public employees with the same fairness and respect shown to MTA workers..."

Although at first the protests and appeals to the governor seemed to reach deaf ears, the union leadership had shown it would not give up and had a large staff and membership base still ready to fight. They just needed some heavier weapons of persuasion and a strategy that would add real muscle.

On April 19, Ray made a presentation to PEF officers and key staff at the Wingate Motel in Latham, N.Y. The presentation described in detail the kind of innovative campaign CCI would help PEF develop in order to secure a fair collective bargaining contract.

PEF's leaders had lost any hope of reaching a contract settlement before the Legislature's summer recess in mid-June. PEF Treasurer Jane Hallum emphasized the union needed to be ready to go into high gear with CCI's campaign by late July. Ray assured the group that CCI could meet that timetable, but would have to work day and night and get started right away. PEF decided to move forward with CCI.

Ray was convinced that given CCI's creative approach, there was a strong chance of securing a good contract without publicly kicking off a full-blown campaign. With the right preparation and strategic moves by the campaign, Pataki and his most important political and financial allies would soon realize that they had better appease PEF, settle fast and amicably.

Benson, PEF Professional, Scientific & Technical Contract Chair Eric Miller, and CCI staff met on April 28 at CCI's office. After Benson left, Miller stayed to further prep CCI on PEF's situation and answered many questions CCI staff posed in order to better understand the complexities of the situation and the roles of key PEF staff and representatives with whom CCI would be interacting. As weekly meetings with Benson and PEF staff progressed, they began to more fully comprehend the depth of CCI's research and unique strategic approach. They also realized that once the governor's office became aware of CCI's involvement and the nature of PEF's corporate campaign, that knowledge alone would send a powerful message: the state had to settle in order to prevent a costly public relations disaster and subsequent fallout for the governor, his key appointees, the New York Republican State Committee, major business allies and campaign contributors.

After a few weeks of research and strategic conceptualization, Ray told PEF leadership he felt the union could achieve a fair contract and major victory before the Legislature's summer recess. CCI would have to work around the clock to be ready to do the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that could lead to an earlier settlement. Ray was confident that CCI had uncovered the solution for PEF to win big.

Benson said he wanted CCI to be prepared to lay out the strategy in detail with handouts to dozens of PEF's top leadership at a meeting in Albany sometime between June 5 and June 9. This provided a strategic setting and time to initiate Phase 1 of the psychological element of a multifaceted strategy where each major move would serve as a springboard for the next. CCI needed all the time it could get so Ray asked Benson to schedule the meeting as close to the 9th as possible. CCI staff worked 18 to 20 hours a day over the Memorial Day weekend and the next ten days to be prepared for the June 9 meeting, knowing that if everything went according to plan, the battle could be over quickly.

Early on the morning on June 9, Ray and CCI organizer Tim Lally left the office to board a 7 am train to Albany for a meeting with PEF's top officers and some 40 members of its executive board. The adrenaline was flowing! Ray was confident that within days, the governor would capitulate.

At the meeting, CCI laid out a multi-phased campaign strategy. As part of the presentation, we displayed charts, maps and reports targeting leading businesses behind the governor's labor policies. We also handed out copies of an explosive, hard-hitting four-page brochure by CCI writer/editor Joe Pilati described as a special report to New Yorkers from the New York State Public Employees Federation. It contained information that could cause serious political and economic harm to the governor and his business allies. The cover illustration caricatured Gov. Pataki standing on an outline of New York State with moneybags around his feet. He is hammering away at a big "For Sale" sign featuring the phone number for the New York Republican State Committee. The text under the caricature follows the headline, "Just how tacky is Governor Pataki?"

Brochure by CCI writer/editor Joe Pilati
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The back page of the brochure placed GOP Chairman William Powers next to a headline reading: "Tell GOP Chairman Bill Powers: CLEAN UP YOUR ACT OR RESIGN NOW!" There followed a form letter concerned New Yorkers could sign, addressed to Powers demanding an explanation. The letter said in part:

"Dear Mr. Powers:

"I was shocked to learn about Governor Pataki's and your committee's questionable fund-raising activities and mockery of campaign finance laws. The activities described in PEF's report look a lot like outright influence peddling.

"Several top-level Pataki appointees got their jobs based on how much money was raised and/or contributed to political action committees, rather than their qualifications.

"Large contributions came from corporate executives, their relatives and businesses shortly before and after certain companies got lucrative contracts. Corporate welfare payoffs spatter the State House with scandal, undermine public services and betray the trust of voters and taxpayers.

"The Manhattan DA's investigation is raising serious ethical and legal questions about the Governor and others..."

Inside the brochure was a well-documented story of corruption and scandalous behavior on the part of the governor and many of those close to him.

Benson described the brochure as "incendiary" but also made it clear that the union was preparing to send copies to all members, release it to the media and start distributing millions to New Yorkers throughout the state. And this was just the beginning of implementing the CCI/PEF strategy. If the governor chose to continue to punish PEF and its leadership for fighting for justice for its members, PEF was ready to raise the stakes much higher for Pataki, the Republican Party and the big money contributors backing them.

PEF representatives told Ray that within an hour after the meeting, the governor and his top fundraiser, who chaired the Empire State Development Corporation, were apprised of the meeting and had a copy of the brochure.

Ray and Tim returned to New York City to continue working over the weekend on the campaign's next psychological warfare moves. If the governor and his cronies did not act quickly and appropriately, they would pay a much higher price once the campaign went public.

PEF reached a tentative settlement rather quickly the next day. Ray went to jury duty on Monday the 15th. When he returned home, there was a message on his answering machine from Roger Benson informing him of the victory and saying, "Ray, congratulations. You're off the hook." Union members overwhelmingly approved the contract, 33,899 to 2,876.