STATE OF THE UNION PEF President Roger Benson
tells delegates to the 25th Annual Convention the union
has come a long way since its founding convention in
1979. Flanking him are Ed Alfonsin and Marsha Curran
Photo by Bill Sachs
PEF ready for many challenges ahead
convention to 25th, PEF making its own mark on history
By SHERRY HALBROOK
Weve come a long way, baby! PEF
President Roger Benson told delegates to the unions
25th Annual Convention last month, as he reported on the
state of the union and took measure of the many
challenges it has overcome and those that loom ahead.
As you saw in the video on the 25-year history of
PEF, we have learned how to put thousands of members in
the street. We are players and the governor knows
it, Benson said.
The 480 delegates to PEFs founding convention at
the Concord Hotel and Conference Center in Kiamesha Lake
in 1979 were determined to build a constitutional
framework for the union that would set a new standard for
member-driven democracy in the national labor movement.
The tone of the union was struck with the very first
The first motion at the first convention, was to
overrule the chair, Benson noted.
Legendary labor leaders such as the late Al Shanker, who
was president of the American Federation of Teachers, and
John Sweeney, then secretary-treasurer of the Service
Employees International Union and now national president
of the AFL-CIO, were mid-wives to the delivery, Benson
Just as the organizing campaign had taken five
hard-fought years, the labor pains at the first
convention held delegates in a marathon session from 9
a.m. on the conventions second day until 3:45 a.m.
the next day as they struggled to deliver the PEF
constitution and choose interim officers to lead PEF
through its earliest battles.
(For your copy of the PEF history video, call
1-800-342-4306, ext. 277.)
Today, seven delegates are here who have been at
every one of our 25 conventions, Benson said,
recognizing Stanley Byer, Neila Cardus, Mike DeVoe, Tom
Grace, Paul Gregory, Mike Keenan and Herb Hennings.
PEF has learned a lot since that founding convention,
Weve learned that labor-management
cooperation can be co-opting, Benson said. We
are no longer agreeing just to be agreeable. We are
bulking up and lifting weights.
When we go to the negotiating table, we know
its not whether they like you that matters at the
end of the day. Its whether you made a difference
for your members.
This year, we won the largest budget restorations
in the history of New York, he said. We
achieved both our greatest success and our greatest
failure this year in the area of job security.
We fought back the closing of 11 state facilities
and saved the jobs of 5,000 members by getting the state
to close corporate tax loopholes. But the governor never
came on board, and we had to push it all the way to veto
I couldnt be more proud of what PEF did in
this last budget fight.
Just months later, that satisfaction was marred by deep
disappointment, Benson said, when he discovered that
budget deficits in Oswego County had led to sudden
layoffs on August 29, including six employees represented
I take responsibility, and it wont happen
again. We have learned from this, that when you have
repeated county tax cuts, state tax cuts and federal tax
cuts, you create an environment for layoffs.
Benson said PEF also has learned it must be on constant
guard against the encroachments of private contractors
into public service.
We havent seen layoffs yet, but we will see
them if we dont stop it, he told the
This battle is about having resources and having
information. I ask every one of you, if you ever even
think you smell the hint of a layoff, you must let me
know. E-mail me or call me at home if you have to.
When it comes to getting a better PS&T contract,
Benson said the union is halfway there. But the
second half will be much more difficult than the first
The president thanked PEF Secretary-Treasurer Jane Hallum
for making sure PEF has the financial reserves it needs
to wage another all-out contract campaign if necessary.
When you go home from here, tell your members we
will not send them a contract with zeroes. We have 149
fully mobilized divisions. So, keep your powder dry and
be ready to act. They know we will go all the way to
Detroit again if we need to.
Likewise, he said, the unions efforts to enforce
the contract and the state Civil Service Law may also
require member action.
Let me tell you the latest game the state is
playing, Benson said. When we win
out-of-title grievances, the state just changes the job
description to include those duties.
We went to court about this and we won our case.
But the state has appealed it, Benson reported.
This stinks. If ultimately we dont win in the
courts, were going to win in the streets. Be ready,
because when we go to talk to (state Civil Service
Commissioner) George Sinnott, we may need 5,000 PEF
members in the street to back us up.
Not all of the problems PEF and its members face in New
York, start here, Benson said.
The union has achieved pension and retirement reforms
beyond my wildest dreams, Benson said.
But Wall Street is letting the pension fund
Our biggest challenge is what happens in 2004; who
occupies the White house, Benson said.
George W. Bush is the most anti-labor president in
at least 75 years, maybe ever. Three million jobs have
disappeared during this Bush administration, and he wants
to privatize another 850,000 federal jobs.
The United States waged war with Iraq, but does not
know how to wage peace at home. Our civil rights and
affirmative action are under attack. The largest national
deficits in history have been created as an excuse for
cutting government services and federal assistance to
states, Benson told the delegates.
We have to uproot this Bush.
In for the long
How will PEF deal with all of these challenges? With
patience, determination and unity, Benson said.
We need to think in the longterm months and
years ahead on every issue. And we will, he said.
We are going to take as long as it takes at the
bargaining table. We are in no rush. And we need to be
prepared to work against another weak-contract pattern
set by another large state union, Benson said.
PEF is already way ahead of the other bargaining units in
moving its contract negotiations forward, he said. PEF
will work with the Fiscal Policy Institute to monitor the
states economy and fiscal condition, rather than
waiting for state officials to report. The union will
work with its friends in the state Legislature and other
state leaders, and will strengthen its ties with other
New York unions.
We will lead in New York state. Together we can
win. We have won and we will do it again, and again, and
Site Map What's New Search
Delegates set top PEF Priorities
Resolutions focus on benefits,
PEF ready for many challenges ahead
Union remains financially sound...
Delegates reject constitution
President's Message: Delegates
You Said It: Member's letters
PS&T Contract Update:
Members' take on contract talks
Member Mobilization: Workshop
Nurses' Station: Fight for public
Legislative Update: Gov. vetoes
Health Benefits: Enrollees
PEF Membership Benefits &
We will never forget...9-11-01
The Trustees Report '03 Convention
Financial Statements &
DOCS members Privatization Buster
Phipps wins 2003 DeBow scholarship
Nurses respond to blackout
Closings of VA hospitals spur
Taking the state workforce pulse
Nominees needed for Region 4
MVP to serve 3 more counties in
Convention Photo Gallery
Member Communicator Feedback
Do You Prefer The Online Edition?
How To Advertise Here
PEF Pride Store
The Communicator Staff
Questions on this site? Email the comwebmaster.
Register here on the
Click Here email notice when next issue is