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Saunders: We must not rest until all public service workers have a seat at the table

AFSCME President Lee Saunders delivers an inspiring keynote address on Monday. Photo credit: Terrell Halsey
By AFSCME Staff ·

AFSCME President Lee Saunders on Monday highlighted the sacrifices public service workers nationwide have made since the pandemic began, the challenges we have overcome and the victories we have achieved. He said we must not give up until all public service workers have a seat at the table.

In his keynote address to delegates, alternates and guests attending AFSCME’s 45th International Convention in Philadelphia, Saunders said our union “will not rest until everyone who works in public service has collective bargaining. Because we deserve to be at the table and not on the menu!”

He added that “we have no greater obligation – and there is no greater illustration of our strength – than to grow our union by asking more public service workers to hop on board the Green Machine. Organizing – it is the lifeblood of our union.”

AFSCME has been busy organizing since our last in-person convention, Saunders said. Nearly 42,000 new members have organized with AFSCME since the beginning of the pandemic.

Among those who are joining our union are hospital and health care workers such as the registered nurses, mental health specialists and community residence counselors at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts who have, as Saunders put it, “prevailed over a ruthless union-busting campaign” to join AFSCME Council 93.

They also include cultural workers like employees of the Philadelphia Museum of Art who are now members of AFSCME Local 397 (District Council 47). They voted to form their own union two years ago and are fighting to get their first contract. Management, Saunders said, is “paying a high-priced union buster instead of paying their workers a living wage.” He encouraged delegates to join him at a rally on Wednesday to support the Philadelphia Museum of Art Museum Union in this struggle.

In California, 40,000 child care providers voted to form Child Care Providers United. They negotiated and ratified their first contract, winning raises of 15% or more, among other things.

In Nevada, members of AFSCME Local 4041 exercised their newly won collective bargaining rights to achieve what Saunders called “a deal that stacks up favorably next to some of our best state contracts.”

The list of victories in the field runs parallel to ones at the federal level. With our political strength, including a robust PEOPLE program, we helped elect the most pro-worker, pro-union White House of our lifetimes.

In addition, we helped push through transformational new laws such as the American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

But the strength of AFSCME members is most evident in their daily work, the public services they provide their communities 24/7 despite the health risks to themselves and their loved ones.

“Every one of you here – and every one of our 1.4 million members – has a pandemic story to tell,” Saunders said. “The guts and grit you have shown are nothing short of astonishing. You have never made me prouder or inspired me more.”

The strength of our union, Saunders concluded, comes from the support we offer each other, our union and our communities even in the toughest of times.

“AFSCME family, above all, our strength comes from our unity and solidarity, the confidence of knowing I have your back and you have mine,” he said. “That there is always a convoy behind you. That you’re never alone in the fight. That we’re always all together.”

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