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President Saunders calls for breaking the 'hammerlock' in Senate

AFSCME President Lee Saunders speaks at the AFL-CIO. (Photo credit: Natalia Pérez Santos)
By AFSCME Staff ·

AFSCME President Lee Saunders joined other labor leaders at the AFL-CIO on Thursday in calling for a change to Senate filibuster rules that are preventing Congress from passing popular, pro-worker legislation.

Saunders offered a laundry list of pro-worker bills that enjoy broad support but are being threatened by a minority of extremist politicians. Currently, according to Senate filibuster rules, 60 senators are needed to end debate on a measure and move it to a vote. This means a minority of 40 senators can filibuster, effectively blocking legislation.

“On both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, they are ready to raise the minimum wage, for the first time in a dozen years, to $15 an hour,” said Saunders. “They are ready to address the pay gap that keeps working women down. They are ready to pass the PRO Act and make it easier for working people to build power in numbers by organizing in strong unions. They are ready to pass the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act–a bill that will be introduced soon–to give public employees a voice on the job through collective bargaining rights. They are ready to strengthen voting rights and restore accountability and transparency to the political system.”

Saunders added that a majority of Americans elected a president, a House of Representatives and a U.S. Senate that is prepared to act on a bold pro-worker agenda that will improve the lives of millions of people–raising their pay, restoring their democratic freedoms and revitalizing their communities. Yet, time and again, a slim minority of senators have stood in the way. Therefore, the Senate needs to change the rules.

The press conference, held in Black Lives Matter Plaza outside the AFL-CIO’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., took place nearly a year after the death of Rep. John Lewis. Saunders evoked his memory in making a broader call for “getting into some good and necessary trouble.”

“Our friend and brother John Lewis made his last public appearance here at Black Lives Matter Plaza last summer,” Saunders said. “His dying wish was that all of us would take up the struggle, that we would demonstrate the same fearlessness in pursuit of justice that defined his lifetime of activism. The values he lived for–and risked his life for–are under attack.”

Those values included protecting and expanding voting rights for all Americans, a core AFSCME principle and the subject of a speech by President Joe Biden earlier this week

Other event speakers included AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation president and CEO Melanie Campbell, and Interim President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Wade Henderson. Members of the Texas House Democratic Caucus–who are currently engaged in a fierce struggle to block anti-democratic legislation in their state–also participated, speaking about voting rights and the need for stronger pro-worker laws in Texas. 

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