Pres. Lee Saunders and Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes (Photo by Jim West)
In his first address as president of AFSCME, Lee Saunders told delegates to the union’s 40th International Convention on Friday that members “must work our hearts out to re-elect President Obama” to meet the tough challenges facing labor and working families, and that the union will hold all politicians accountable for their treatment of public workers.
“Our union does not work for any political party,” Saunders said.
“We work for justice and fairness in the workplace. If someone takes us on, it does not matter whether they are a Democrat or a Republican, conservative or liberal. We are taking you on and we will take you out.”
The stakes are too high to do anything but, Saunders said.
“This is a defining moment, not only for our nation but also for our union. What we do will determine whether collective bargaining survives, whether members’ lives get better, whether retirement security is restored, whether public services are strengthened and whether the American dream is renewed.”
In her remarks, Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes, former president of UDW Homecare Providers Union/AFSCME Local 3930, focused on the critical importance of building a stronger union.
“We will dig deep into every state, every city to organize new workers from every sector,” Reyes said. “Our reason for organizing is not just to collect more dues, or boast higher numbers. Our reason for organizing is our reason for being: to give every worker a fair shot in a world where the decks are stacked against us.”
Saunders, who was elected by delegates Thursday to succeed retiring AFSCME Pres. Gerald W. McEntee, began his remarks by thanking his family, and also McEntee, calling him “a fearless and visionary leader” who led the union for 31 years.
Saunders acknowledged Danny Donohue, president of CSEA/Local 1000, and said that though they “disagreed on a number of points,” now that the campaign is over, “We start fresh. What unites us is our belief in, and love for, AFSCME. We are family, and we always will be.”
The union will continue to organize, he said, “even in hostile, right-to-work states, because we cannot win the fights of tomorrow unless we are growing today.” He also called for developing “long-term solutions to strengthen pensions, emphasizing that most of our members pay into their pensions, and that those pensions contribute to local economies.”
Reyes becomes AFSCME’s first woman secretary-treasurer.
“AFSCME is on a single path toward fairness for all,” Reyes said. “We must bring as many as possible along for the journey. That won’t always be easy. But I know, with Pres. Lee Saunders as our brother and our leader, we will keep moving forward together.”
Besides increasing efforts to organize new members, she said, AFSCME will fight hard for fair contracts. “Pay, pensions, non-discrimination measures, health care, workplace safety, leave – it’s all on the table. And we will give up nothing for working families.”