August 19, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – With only a few weeks left before he’s set to sit down with state negotiators to begin hammering out a contract affecting more than 50,000 workers, Wayne Spence, incoming head of the New York State Public Employees Federation [PEF] is asking members to “Cut him some slack.”
Less than 200 votes separated the 49-year-old Long Island resident from fiery incumbent president Susan Kent when the two candidates battled for PEF’s leadership earlier this summer — and the acrimony that contested election generated is still simmering is some quarters.
“I would ask my own people to dial back the rhetoric,” Spence told LaborPress. “And when some of Susan’s folks give me a dirty look or the cold shoulder, I just put a smile on my face and do the best I can. I can only lead by example.”
PEF’s new president conceded that there are times when he has thought, ‘Good god, you gave me what I prayed for — I wish I knew.”
That said, the slings and arrows Spence is now enduring in the executive role hardly measure up to the kind of stuff he faced as a probation officer going toe-to-toe with some very unhappy gang members.
“Is it tougher than that? Heck no,” Spence said.
So far, Spence says that efforts to smooth ruffled feathers and foster unity has been “hit and miss” — especially when assembling PEF’s all important contract team.
“It’s a no win situation,” the Jamaican emigre and Bronx H.S. of Science grad said. “Supporters will say, ‘Throw out the bums.’ And those against will say, ‘Oh, look…he’s doing the same thing Susan did.'”
Earlier this week, Capital Confidential reported the exits of both Jim Hair, director of labor relations and a co-leader of the PEF contract team, and Scott Morlock, assistant director of public relations.
Spence told LaborPress that he is presently in the process of “adding some people, and taking some people off [the contract team],” but that the line-up will be solidified by the end of the month.
“I’m following my gut,” he said. “My instincts are telling me these people haven’t done anything to make me distrust them.”
PEF’s new president has tapped independent Region 11 Coordinator Jemma Marie-Hanson to chair the contract team.
The union’s last contract in 2011 was negotiated in another noxious atmosphere of pay freezes and threatened layoffs. It expired in March. This is now the new president’s opportunity to secure a much better contract for PEF members.
“They don’t give you what you deserve — they give you what you negotiate,” Spence said.
In contrast to Kent’s more combative style, Spence is expected to bring a much more “empathetic” approach to the bargaining table.
“There are ways that we can get to where we both want to go,” the father of three said.
At the same time, Spence said that Governor Andrew Cuomo must understand that he has a state workforce that has sacrificed much over the last four years, including stepping up in the face of disaster without ever being fairly compensated.
“I’m confident that the members are going to recognize that if they fracture, the state is going to take advantage of that,” Spence said. “I’m trying to unite my union with other unions, too. If New York State sinks, we’re all going down with it.”