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Standing Up from State to State

Our solidarity has encouraged working people across the country to demand their rights.

By Lee A. Saunders
Lee Saunders
Sec.-Treas. Lee Saunders (Photo by Luis Gomez)

We’ve seen attacks against public services and union members intensify during the past year. Corporate-backed politicians continue to make us pay for state and local budget crises we didn’t create. They claim our members’ pay and pensions are the causes of the problems. But the real problems are the governors, mayors, state legislators and all the others who stubbornly refuse to make the richest Americans pay their fair share.

Looking for politicians like Rick Snyder in Michigan or Jan Brewer in Arizona to see the light is like waiting on a cat to bark. So we’re fighting hard and finding partners across the country. We haven’t won all the battles — but we’ve beaten the odds. (See “Bracing for Battle”) Through it all, our solidarity has encouraged working people to demand their rights. Our successes — and even our short-term losses — are inspiring us to keep standing up and fighting back.

Showing Our Strength

We defeated Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to privatize 27 prison facilities. Had we failed, he would have come after every other public service. We did it by working with both Republican and Democratic legislators. Our members persuaded lawmakers that Scott’s plan wouldn’t save money and might cost lives.

In New York, even though Gov. Andrew Cuomo won a partial victory on pension reform, we mitigated some of the worst aspects of his proposal. Cuomo won legislative approval to force workers to contribute even more to their pensions, but we defeated his effort to create a defined contribution plan, similar to a risky 401(k), for new union employees. That would have placed workers’ future in the hands of the same Wall Street firms that crashed our economy. We came together, in solidarity, like never before. We showed our strength.

Writing Our Story

As President McEntee and I emphasize in our book, The Main Street Moment, we’ve got to move the fight beyond our union by building coalitions.

In the November elections, we must work to defeat the anti-worker politicians de-funding and privatizing public services, destroying retirement security and weakening workers’ rights, whether they’re in the statehouse or have their sights set on the White House.

Most of all we must remember — especially as we celebrate our 75th Anniversary — that we’ve faced challenges in every era. And each time, we’ve risen to those challenges. That’s not just the AFSCME story of yesterday. That’s the AFSCME story of today, and it will be our next chapter.