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Summer 2013

'Labor must fight back'

by County & City Employee staff on August 1, 2013

The American labor movement is at a critical juncture, AFSCME President Lee Saunders told the Council 2 convention in June. As a result, union members must defend their rights as never before.

“I have never seen this level of viciousness in the attacks on public service,” he said. “The authorities are doing all they can to dismantle public service.“Five years ago would anyone consider that in Wisconsin the governor and his legislature would strip away our bargaining rights in 2011? Who would have thought that that would happen? Who would have thought that in the state of Michigan, where the labor movement was born, the governor would impose right-to-work legislation?”
Union membership is at its lowest levels since 1916, Saunders said.
“For the first time ever last year union membership in the public sector declined. We know why: we are under attack.

“The stronger the labor movement, the stronger the middle class is in this country. Now the middle class is shrinking, just as the labor class is shrinking.

“Now more than ever we need to be strong, nimble and think outside the box. We have to be persistent: we must defend public service in every county and every city across this country. We must be the leaders in rebuilding our movement, the middle class, and the American dream.”

"ASFCME is having some victories,” Saunders continued. “In Philadelphia, the mayor was going to ignore the bargaining process and force a settlement down our throats.

“The State Supreme Court told him to go back to the negotiating table. That was a victory because we stood together and made our voices heard.

“In Puerto Rico corrections officers had not been getting the overtime they deserved. Our political machinery went to work. We won an award for $35 million for back pay.”

Council 2 is doing the right thing, Saunders said.

“You have organized 500 new members in Council 2 since 2010. All of us are stronger for that.”

“When they knock us down we have to get up and stick up for our families and our country. We do it because we must. Our services hold our nation together.

“If we walk together in solidarity we will lift up working families in and outside the unions.”

To rousing applause and a standing ovation from delegates, Saunders declared: “When AFSCME fights, AFSCME wins.”