What began as a student-run legal clinic at Columbia University Law School in 1969 has evolved into a powerful force fighting for the rights of workers. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) celebrated its 50th anniversary in fighting for the issues that improve the lives of workers.
As part of that celebration, NELP recognized AFSCME President Lee Saunders for his “leadership at a time of unprecedented attacks on public sector workers’ rights.”
In his remarks during Monday night’s gala, “NELP50: Advancing Dignity & Justice at Work,” Saunders acknowledged the huge challenges posed by the Janus Supreme Court decision, and how AFSCME marshaled its power to withstand that ruling, emerging even stronger.
“The last year has probably been the most challenging we’ve confronted in AFSCME’s long history,” he said. “And last summer, when the Supreme Court made the entire public sector right-to-work in their Janus decision … frankly, a lot of people started writing our obituary. The conventional wisdom was that we were finished.”
That conventional wisdom, Saunders said, was baseless, failing to account for the resilience of AFSCME members and their loyalty to their union.
“I share this award with the fearless men and women who I’m representing here tonight, and who have put our union in a position of strength: AFSCME members all across this country,” Saunders said. “They never shrink or surrender. They are at their best when the stakes are highest. They have stared down adversity and emerged with renewed vigor and vitality.”
NELP, which fights for a fairer minimum wage, pay equity for women, unemployment insurance, occupational health and safety, and many other issues that affect workers, has been a staunch AFSCME ally in the struggle to advance not only economic justice, but racial justice.
Other honorees recognized at the gala were Anna Shireen Wadia, a senior program officer in the Ford Foundation’s Future of Work(ers) program, the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, and Make the Road New Jersey.
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“A lot of folks thought that [Janus] was going to be the death of the labor movement,” said @afscme President Lee Saunders, referring to the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus vs. AFSCME Council 31, which marked the culmination of decades of attacks on public service workers’ union rights. But that’s not what happened “post-Janus.” Instead, thanks in large part to the leadership of labor leaders like Saunders, who was elected AFSCME’s first African American president in 2012, the labor movement is actually in the midst of a resurgence of sorts. Under Saunders’ leadership, the union launched a program called AFSCME Strong, which is credited with growing AFSCME’s membership in spite of the attacks on public service workers’ union rights in cases like Janus. NELP is proud to honor President Saunders for his vision and dedication to building worker power at our gala, NELP50: Advancing Dignity & Justice at Work, on Monday, May 6 in Washington, D.C. Learn more about Saunders and find out how to get tickets to #NELP50 at the link in our bio.