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Public Service Forum: Recap

Public Service Forum: Recap
By AFSCME Staff ·

The 19 presidential candidates who participated in the AFSCME Public Service Forum on Saturday disagreed on a range of topics, but they all agreed on one issue – our country needs a federal law that expands and protects collective bargaining rights for all public service workers.

At the one-of-a-kind forum, held at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the candidates answered questions from AFSCME members and the two moderators, Amanda Terkel of HuffPost and Jon Ralston of The Nevada Independent. The topics ranged from health care to gun control, climate change to infrastructure, student debt to immigration reform.

While they presented divergent and sometimes conflicting perspectives on more than one issue, all of them pledged to support federal legislation expanding collective bargaining for public service workers throughout our country.

Thanks to a surge of activism from AFSCME members, Nevada recently passed a law granting collective bargaining rights to 20,000 state employees, the largest expansion of such rights anywhere in the U.S. in 16 years. The question of whether there should be a federal law that guarantees such rights to all public service workers arose in the context of this victory.

Collective bargaining was the first question asked of each presidential candidate and the only question posed to them all.

Every candidate answered it strongly in the affirmative. Some mentioned their support of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which would safeguard public service workers’ right to a seat at the table by setting a minimum nationwide standard of collective bargaining rights. Many elaborated on the important role of unions in strengthening the economy and on the need to increase union membership by making it easier, not harder, for workers to join together in strong unions.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said unions “built America’s middle class and will rebuild America’s middle class,” adding, “I will stand up for public service and for the best of what we see in government workers. Government makes for the strongest possible America.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, in his opening remarks, paid tribute to public service workers. “Without AFSCME, without public employees, nothing functions,” he said. “We can get rid of every hedge fund manager in America and nothing would change. We get rid of public employees and we’re in trouble. Everything that happens in our communities depends on you.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said that if he’s elected president his government would be one “of workers, by workers and for workers.” In addition to issuing a strong statement condemning private prisons, he promised to appoint a secretary of labor who is either a union leader or a strong defender of working people and trade unions.

California Sen. Kamala Harris, in answer to an AFSCME member’s question, said she supports child care workers organizing to receive the benefits and pay they deserve. She also said that if elected president, she would put in place “a secretary of labor who actually understands the dignity of work,” adding, “I’m in solidarity and in support of the work you do every day.”

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he was inspired by the passage of Nevada’s collective bargaining law, and that he believed the same could be achieved at the federal level if there is new leadership in the White House and Congress after the next election. He also pledged to rebuild American infrastructure, saying, “If we want to be a world-class country and compete with China, we need world-class infrastructure. People will be better able to live meaningful (lives) if they can get clean, safe drinking water, the trash gets picked up, and the roads are safe.”

All others spoke similarly in favor of empowering workers and their unions: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, business leader and philanthropist Tom Steyer and author Marianne Williamson.

Buttigieg Talked White Nationalism, Gun Violence, Medicare For All, Infrastructure

Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg began his remarks by expressing sorrow for today’s mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, the news of which broke during the AFSCME Public Service Forum.

In describing how he would stem incidents of gun violence by imposing universal background checks and limiting “weapons that have no place in society,” Buttigieg said, “No problem is solved completely, but we can wrangle it down to size. This doesn’t go against gun owners … most of whom support universal background checks.”

Buttigieg condemned the hateful remarks that have come out of the White House, which he said are fomenting domestic terrorism.

“The federal government should be pushing for hate crime laws and a counter-terrorist strategy that’s willing to look at extremism at home,” he said. “It needs to be looked at as a virulent issue that’s killing this country.”

When asked about cost sharing under his “Medicare for All” plan, Buttigieg clarified that he supports capping out-of-pocket costs.

“I want to get to ‘Medicare for All,’ but you need a glide path. You can’t kick people out of health care plans they like. You need to start with ‘Medicare for All’ (for those) who want it. It ends with getting us to universal health care,” he said.

Victor Avena, an AFSCME member who works at the Nevada Department of Transportation, asked about the mayor’s infrastructure plans.

“If we want to be a world-class country and compete with China, we need world-class infrastructure,” Buttigieg said. “People will be better able to live meaningful (lives) if they can get clean, safe drinking water, the trash gets picked up and the roads are safe. We can’t call ourselves the greatest country in the world” unless we do that.

Buttigieg acknowledged that we would need to raise taxes to meet those goals, though he added, “When you have corporations paying zero taxes, and massive tax cuts blowing holes in our budget, it’s clear where to look to raise revenue.”

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Harris: Unions Have a Role in Solving Child Care Crisis

In response to a question from an AFSCME member at the AFSCME Public Service Forum, California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris said unions have a role to play in raising wages for child care workers who are struggling in California and other states.

“I’m in full support of child care workers organizing to receive the benefits and pay they deserve,” she said, responding to a question from Robin Timoszyk, an AFSCME member who works with families who have young children.

Harris also said that if elected president, she would put in place “a secretary of labor who actually understands the dignity of work,” adding that, “I’m in solidarity and in support of the work you do every day.”

Most of Harris’s time on stage focused on her health care plan, a “Medicare for All” plan that takes a more gradual and incremental approach than proposals by other presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

One of the reasons for the difference in approach, she said, is because she has talked with union workers who have said that they don’t want to give up the health insurance coverage they negotiated with their employers, sometimes giving up wages in exchange for better coverage. She said people should be able to keep their coverage if they like it, and only gradually – over a period of 10 years – join the Medicare plan.

“I don’t want to be in the business of taking that choice away from folks,” she said, referring to private insurance plans.

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Bennet Pledges Universal Coverage of Mental Health Issues

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet today pledged to provide universal health insurance – including mental health coverage – if elected president.

Bennet has rejected a government-run “Medicare for All” plan and pushed for providing a public option as part of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

In response to a question from AFSCME member Alonzo Thornton, a Nevada psychiatric nurse, about how he would ensure vulnerable people are able to live with dignity, Bennet said, “We stand alone in the industrialized world as not providing universal health insurance, not providing universal mental health insurance, and we need to make that commitment. I will make that commitment.”

Like other candidates attending the AFSCME Public Service Forum, Bennet underscored his support for a national law giving public service workers everywhere in the country the right to collectively bargain.

“The assault on collective bargaining rights we’ve seen in the Midwest … (underscores) the need for federal legislation,” he said.

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Ryan: Universal Health Care is a Right

Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan began his introduction by recognizing his mother and grandmother’s membership in AFSCME and his union origins.

Ryan said he is running for president because of the divide between the left and right, which has created our polarized political landscape.

Ryan supports a public option for Medicare to foster competition with private sector plans. Universal health care is a right and to achieve that goal, Ryan said unions need to be front and center in that conversation. As president, Ryan said he would aim to double union membership and make organizing easier for workers.

“When working class people – white, black, and brown – come together, we can make big changes in this country,” he said.  

Retired AFSCME member and chair of AFSCME’s Retiree Council Jeff Birttnen asked Ryan about his plan to protect Social Security and make sure future generations have access to benefits.

Ryan pointed to a plan he supports that would extend the life of the program until 2100. Included in that plan, he explained, is a tax cut for about 12 million people and the option to work and earn up to $50,000 of untaxed income.

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Gabbard: ‘We Are Stronger When We Stand Together’

Hawaii U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard shared a history lesson with AFSCME members.

Her home state has one of the largest labor presences in the country today, but in its early years, Hawaii had a history of worker suppression. Long-overdue improvements to working conditions in the state came at the hands of labor unions, who were branded as “communist” and “unpatriotic.”

“It is our working men and women who put their lives on the line to serve our country, who are the backbone of our economy and the backbone of our community,” said Gabbard.

The new round of attacks on workers today “is as offensive to me now as it was then,” she said. “What could be more patriotic than standing up and fighting for our brothers and sisters?”

Charles Muller, a retired Nevada corrections lieutenant, asked Gabbard to explain how she would protect Medicare and asked if she planned to expand benefits.

Gabbard responded that “Medicare for All” “is the best way for Americans to get the best health care they need. I think our focus has to be on how to bring down health care costs and stop big pharma … from padding their pockets and exploiting people to meet their bottom line.”

Gabbard concluded by returning to the theme of protecting worker rights.

“The rights of working men and women are under attack every day. We find the path forward by being reminded of who we are as Americans,” she said. “When we stand together … there is no obstacle we cannot overcome.”

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Inslee: Transition to a Green Economy Will Create Union Jobs

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said today at the AFSCME Public Service Forum that his plan to combat climate change will create well-paid, union jobs. It is part of a strategy for environmental justice in which “everyone profits in this transition to clean energy,” he added.

“One of the greatest opportunities for good, clean-energy union jobs is in the development of a green energy economy,” he said. “We want union members making clean energy products and selling them around the world.”

Inslee has been running a campaign almost exclusively focused on combating climate change.

“It’s time to have a clean energy revolution that focuses on helping the people of the United States,” he said.

Regarding the right of workers to organize, Inslee said, “There is no working person in this country that ought to feel any anxiety or fear about having this right to be organized. And if I’m president of the United States, people are not going to be in fear, they’re going to be standing up on both legs with AFSCME, making sure they have organizing rights.”

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Delaney Discusses Health Care, Infrastructure, Immigration Reform

Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney has two excellent reasons for being a labor supporter.

He told AFSCME Public Service Forum today that his father’s membership in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) was why he had good health care growing up. And he attended college on an IBEW scholarship.

Delaney said his universal health care plan – which includes public and private options – is the right way to expand health care and criticized the single payer model that some of his competitors have advocated.

He also called for a large public investment in our nation’s infrastructure.

AFSCME member Tracy Szalay, a mental health counselor in Nevada, asked how he plans to protect undocumented immigrants and migrants who are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. 

Delaney said he will create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, protect DACA migrants through a stand-alone law, and pass comprehensive immigration reform. 

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Klobuchar: ‘When Unions Are Strong, America is Strong.’

Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a granddaughter and daughter of union members, affirmed her support for collective bargaining.

She noted that she’s a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which would expand collective bargaining rights for public service workers throughout this country.

After congratulating AFSCME for winning collective bargaining rights for up to 20,000 Nevada state workers, Klobuchar said, “We live in a country of shared dreams. When unions are strong, America is strong.”

Unions help spark economic growth in states, she said, pointing out that union-friendly Minnesota is in far better shape than anti-union Wisconsin.

“If you don’t believe … we can win on union issues and (with) strong unions, look at my neighbor over in Wisconsin. I have four words for you – former governor Scott Walker,” Klobuchar said to applause.

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

De Blasio Wants to Outlaw State Right-to-Work Laws

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio thanked AFSCME for getting tougher in the wake of the Janus ruling and praised President Lee Saunders for his leadership. De Blasio added that in running the nation’s largest city, he knows the challenges of changing a divided country.

Paid sick days, universal pre-K, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, gaining half-a-million jobs while respecting working people were all initiatives de Blasio listed as his accomplishments.

“We’ve proven it can be done. We have to put working people first. I’ve made change … and I know it can happen with you. In New York, we added 30,000 public sector jobs,” he said.

“Working people’s rights are not protected today,” added de Blasio, saying he wants to outlaw state right-to-work laws. “How about a law that says you can be fired without just cause? There’s so many things we can do at the federal level to balance the scales. The labor agenda can’t be at the end of the line. It has to be the first thing we do.”

De Blasio pointed to recent raises for child care workers as evidence of his support for labor, adding that he supports in-sourcing, which has resulted in his city’s growing strength.

Stephanie Dube, a custodian at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, asked how de Blasio would protect LGBTQIA individuals like her.

“One of the most essential things to do is protect the employment rights of everyone,” said de Blasio. “If we recognize working people of every background … are dealing with the same struggles, if we’re the party of working people who stand up to employers, we change the dynamic. It begins with making sure no one is ever fired wrongly.”

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Sanders: ‘My Government Will Be of Workers, by Workers and for Workers’

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said that if elected president, his government would be one “of workers, by workers and for workers.”

At the AFSCME Public Service Forum, Saunders promised that he would appoint a secretary of labor who is either a labor union leader or a strong defender of working people and trade unions.

“No labor secretary would be stronger in the defense of the working class and trade unions than the one I will appoint,” he said.

Saunders touched on several issues important to AFSCME members and working families, from increasing the minimum wage to providing affordable health care for all, from fixing an economy that works mostly for the rich to offering free public education at colleges and universities throughout the country.

To solve all these problems, we need “an unprecedented grassroots movement” in which labor unions play a key role, Sanders said.

“The trade union movement has got to be in the middle of that movement,” he said.

In answer to a question from AFSCME member Kelvin Chung, a correctional officer in Nevada, Saunders said he would ban federal private prisons and encourage states to do the same.

“At a time when we have a major crisis in criminal justice in this country, a broken system, corporations shouldn’t be making money from locking up Americans,” he said. “We want fewer people in jail, not more people in jail.”

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Steyer Touts Longtime Partnership with Organized Labor

Tom Steyer, a business leader and philanthropist from California, said that throughout his philanthropic efforts after leading a hedge fund, his “first and best partner has always been organized labor and that will never change.”

Asked whether all workers should have the right to collectively bargain, Steyer said, “Unequivocally, yes.”

Steyer pointed to what he called a “hostile takeover” by corporations that’s put a stranglehold on our government. He said that until that stranglehold is broken, we’re not going to get “any of the policies we want.” He made the case for a political outsider like himself, coupled with grassroots energy of the “people in this room,” to make change in Washington.

Shari Kasselbaum, a Nevada correctional sergeant who was part of the fight to win collective bargaining in Nevada, asked what Steyer would say to a state employee who’s on the fence about joining a union.

“You need to have the ability to negotiate from strength. Working people need to be joined together so their voices can be taken together and they’re strong,” Steyer said. “We need unions to organize the power, and the voice of working people so they can get a fair break. You’ve got to join a union.”

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

O’Rourke: Unions Benefit Not Just Workers but Entire Communities

Former Texas U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke made the case today that labor unions empower not just their members but everyone in America.

While answering questions from AFSCME members at our union’s Public Service Forum, O’Rourke said the benefits of labor unions also accrue to nonunion workers and, in the case of public sector unions, to entire communities in the form better public services. He also said labor unions are good for the economy.

“How did we pull the United States out of the greatest depression this country has ever seen?” he asked. “Unions were crucial to that.”

His remarks on the economic and social benefits of labor unions came in response to a question from AFSCME member Gordon Milden, a parole and probation specialist. The question was about whether O’Rourke agreed with people who claim that unions are quaint and old-fashioned.

Much of O’Rourke’s presentation was focused on gun rights and gun control. He began his introduction by discussing a shooting at a mall in his hometown of El Paso, Texas.

In addition to getting weapons of war off our streets and better regulating gun sales and usage, the way to curb gun violence is to increase mental health services and make them more easily available to people who need them, O’Rourke said.

“We have to make sure that mental health services are available to everyone … as a human right,” he said.

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Williamson: ‘We Have to Understand Why Labor is Under Attack’

Author Marianne Williamson reminded the audience of an era when she said corporations used to care about their workers.

“When people cannot collectively bargain, they are disempowered,” she said. “We have to understand why labor is under attack. … A doctor cannot adequately prescribe the medicine, unless and until the doctor adequately understands the disease.”

Williamson went on to say that the love taken out of labor and replaced with a “virulent” form of capitalism is the reason the labor movement is under attack.

Quoting Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, who called states “laboratories of democracy,” Williamson advocated for a nuanced balance between the federal government and the states.

“That balance, that yin and yang, is extremely important, and I respect it,” she said. 

She added that one of the president’s most important functions is to provide moral leadership. To compensate for her lack of government experience, Williamson said she’d choose someone with government experience as vice president.

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Biden: Student Debt ‘Holding Back’ Younger Workers

Former Vice President Joe Biden said student debt is preventing younger workers from buying homes and becoming financially stable. If elected president, Biden said, he would increase access to free post-secondary education such as free college and make it easier for students to get their educational debts forgiven.

“Right now, 12 years of education is not enough to compete in the United States,” he said. “First you have to get people to a place where they are qualified to compete and make sure everybody is able to have a shot.”

AFSCME members and their families are eligible for our union’s Free College Benefit and for services that include help with managing student debt.

Biden’s comments came in answer to a question from Lydia Lujan Sasaki, a business manager at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The question was: “What’s your plan to make sure students can get a college education without piling up giant debts?”

The former vice president also said he would find ways to specifically help public service workers with managing their student debt. He began his remarks at AFSCME’s Public Service Forum by casting himself as a friend of labor and public service workers.

“Without AFSCME and without public employees, nothing functions in our country,” he said. “You can get rid of hedge fund managers and nothing would change. But turning on the street lights, taking someone to the hospital … it all depends on you.”

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Booker: ‘The Power of the People is Greater Than the People in Power’

Sen. Cory Booker greeted AFSCME members by saying, “The power of the people is greater than the people in power. This is the time the organizers need to put ‘indivisible’ back into ‘One nation under God.’”

Booker is a co-sponsor of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act. He said the legislation is important because the right to organize is a core, foundational right that lets people, including members of his own family, break into the middle class.

“Corporate power is growing in this country,” added Booker. “The collective right to organize [is under attack]. I will make sure workers are empowered … and we will fight to overcome the Janus decision.”

Ken Edmonds, a Las Vegas member who helps people with developmental disabilities but feels he doesn’t always have a voice with management to advocate for his patients, asked Booker, “How will you make sure people like me working on the front lines are able to organize so we can advocate for our patients?”

“We don’t do enough to fund the operations you’re doing,” said Booker. “We need to have a nation that empowers people with special needs their entire life. People taking care of people with special needs … we need to value those people. You should qualify for earned income tax credit. You will have the power to organize and collectively, and the folks closest to the problems … will be empowered.”

CSEA member and laboratory operator Susan Sheehan from Fort Edward, New York, is nearing retirement but is just getting by. “What’s your plan for making retirement happen for me?” she asked.

Booker pointed to four steps to solve Sheehan’s dilemma: Reverse President Donald Trump’s tax cuts for the rich, implement loan forgiveness, expand Social Security and broaden retirement security, and reform Medicare.

Booker also said he supports fully funding special education in this country, an area in which many AFSCME members work.

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Bullock Promises to Push for ‘Public Option’

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said that as president he will fight to expand collective bargaining rights for working people and prevent the privatization of public services.

Asked by HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel for his stance on private prisons, Bullock said, “I would love to save a world where there were no private prisons.”

On health care, he said he’d push for a public option within the Affordable Care Act, not seek to overhaul a system that needs fixing, not replacing.

“I don’t think the best way to go forward … is to disrupt” employer-provided health insurance for 150 million people in this country. “We can build off of where we are with competition through a public option.”

In his closing statement, Bullock said, “I believe in an America where everyone has a fair shot."

"As AFSCME members, your vote is your voice and it's stronger than any corporation in the country," he said.

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Moulton Touches on Collective Bargaining, Health Care

Iraq veteran and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton started his opening statement with a plea to fight for American values. He said collective bargaining rights are fundamental, adding that health care is also a fundamental right.

While he said he’s not opposed to “Medicare for All,” Moulton said he hasn’t seen a proposal that can justify getting rid of private health care. Moulton noted that the Affordable Care Act provided an opportunity for people to keep their private health insurance.

In addition, he claimed that the Veterans Administration’s long wait times are unacceptable and dangerous. He said increased competition would force health insurance companies to better serve patients. With regard to mental health care, Moulton referenced his own struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and said he will expand mental health services.

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Warren: Unions Will ‘Rebuild’ America’s Middle Class

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren began by describing her upbringing in Oklahoma and being pushed by her brothers, who served in the military, to honor public service, protect Social Security and protect unions, which “built America’s middle class, and will rebuild America’s middle class.”

Asked whether there should be a federal law to protect collective bargaining, Warren said since she supports bargaining for all workers, it ought to become a federal law, not left in the hands of the states.

Warren said she felt it was time for America to put in place a wealth tax on the top 1-2% of Americans, something she said was supported by not only Democrats but by the majority of Republicans.

“When you make it to the tippy top, you would put in two cents so everyone else gets a chance in this country,” Warren said.

She said her plan would pay for universal pre-K, raise wages for public school teachers, provide universal tuition-free college, support historically black colleges and universities and cancel student loan debt.

Timothy Provost, a Nevada member who helps place kids with adoptive families, asked Warren about finding good people to get involved in public service and earning respect for what they do.

“For decades now, we’ve had an America that works better for billionaires and corporations, and worse and worse for everyone else,” said Warren. “Unions have been undercut. And government has been attacked and it has been wrong, and it has to stop now.”

“I will stand up for public service and for the best of what we see in government workers. Government makes for the strongest possible America,” Warren said.

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

Castro: Collective Bargaining for Workers ‘Absolutely Vital’

Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro said all workers, and in particular public service workers at all levels of government, deserve the ability to collectively bargain for fair wages, benefits, safe working conditions and more.

Castro was the first presidential candidate to speak and answer AFSCME members’ questions at the AFSCME Public Service Forum, which is being held today at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“There is legislation that has been introduced in Congress,” said Castro, referring to collective bargaining legislation. “I support that legislation. As mayor, I had the opportunity to work with many public sector workers and it’s absolutely vital that they have the opportunity to collectively bargain for wages and benefits … that they’re compensated well for their work.”

Collective bargaining legislation in Congress includes the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which would safeguard public service workers’ right to a seat at the table by setting a minimum nationwide standard of collective bargaining rights that states must provide. AFSCME supports this and other bills that seek collective bargaining rights for all working people.

In answer to a question from AFSCME member Sonja Whitten, an investigator with the Nevada Division of Insurance, Castro reemphasized that if elected president, he would “make it easier for public sector workers to organize so they can collectively bargain.” The question was: “What will you do to stop billionaires and big corporations from attacking our right to organize?”

Castro also said we need a tax code that “rewards people who have to work,” rather than one that rewards the very wealthiest people and companies in the nation.

“I would just turn that on its head,” he said, referring to the current tax code.

In addition, he said he would push to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour “so people can provide for their families” and create a “21st-century safety net.”

To watch the AFSCME Public Service Forum, go here.

President Saunders: ‘Unions Are Now Front and Center in the Political Conversation’

AFSCME President Lee Saunders kicked off the AFSCME Public Service Forum this morning by stressing that the plans and policies shared by presidential candidates will affect far more than public service workers.

“While this forum is hosted by a public service union, the conversation today will cover issues that matter to all working families and communities across the country. Because our work affects everyone. Because our issues are America’s issues – from health care to tax fairness to climate change to fixing the rigged economy,” he said.

Saunders also thanked Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and Nevada state legislators for making it a top priority this year to enact an historic law giving 20,000 state employees collective bargaining rights.

Saunders went on to describe the momentum that AFSCME and the labor movement are experiencing despite recent attacks. And he spotlighted the role that public service workers will play in the 2020 election.

“In recent years, wealthy corporate interests have done everything in their power to silence our voice, even enlisting the Supreme Court in their schemes,” said Saunders. “But AFSCME members have been defiant and determined, showing courage and resilience. Unions are now front and center in the political conversation … And now, we’re prepared to assert our role in the 2020 election.”

Saunders said that the forum isn’t just an opportunity for public service workers to learn about the presidential candidates, but also a chance for the candidates to show that they will make strengthening public services a top priority.

“We want to make sure they know who we are and what we care about,” he said. “They need to understand the importance of our work and the importance of strong unions in keeping public services strong – in keeping America strong.”


Presidential candidates are gathering at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where they’ll face questions about their commitment to protecting public services and to the working men and women who dedicate their lives to their communities. The forum is an AFSCME member event and will be moderated by HuffPost Washington Bureau Chief Amanda Terkel and Nevada Independent Editor Jon Ralston.

America’s public service workers will make their voices heard in this election. Whether they’re responding to emergency calls, driving our children to school, caring for our most vulnerable, or doing any of the hundreds of jobs AFSCME members perform every day, people in public service deserve respect for their work and to have a voice on the job.

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