LOS ANGELES: California police, firefighters, and other public employees forced Gov. Schwarzenegger to abandon a plan to privatize their pensions this week with a fierce and sudden PR battle that left the governor with sagging approval ratings.
Critics of a pension reform program introduced by the governor earlier this year discovered this week that it could end benefits for families of those killed or disabled in the line of duty. Public employees made immediate use of the emotional peg in an attempt to rile public opposition to the plan, according to Steve Smith, principal consultant with Sacramento-based Dewey Square, which worked on the issue for firefighters.
Media efforts centered on widows of fallen police officers and firefighters, incorporating press outreach, ad buys, and presence at legislative events.
Saying that the plan would harm widows and children, unions and other public workers waged an aggressive battle that resonated across the state.
The public's emotional response forced the governor into a hasty retreat, publicly promising to protect benefits.
But despite backing away from his original proposal, Schwarzenegger has made it clear pension reform is still on the agenda. Those fighting it say they are ready for more, and will continue to focus on the death and disability angle.
"We don't view what he did as backing off, we view it as a tactical retreat," said Carroll Wills, spokesman for California Professional Firefighters.