For Immediate Release
Contact: Natalia Pérez Santos

AFSCME’s Saunders declares union ‘never stronger’ during convention keynote address

Saunders’ keynote address lauded the union’s strong momentum despite two years of immense challenges, including the Janus case, the coronavirus pandemic and deep-seated racial and economic inequalities. In honor of the late congressman John Lewis, Saunders appealed to AFSCME to cause ‘good trouble’ in the pursuit of structural change.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders delivered a virtual keynote address to thousands of AFSCME delegates during the union’s 44th International Convention today. During his address, Saunders declared the union of 1.4 million dedicated public service workers, ‘never stronger,’ despite immense challenges over the past two years.

The theme of the Convention, “Front-Line Heroes: Never Stronger,” celebrates the remarkable arc of AFSCME’s growth, activism, political engagement and resilience through some of the most trying times in the history of the union and of the nation.

“AFSCME’s story over the last two years is one of fearlessness under fire, resilience in the face of adversity,” said Saunders during his address. “Whether it was politically motivated attacks on our right to exist, or a global pandemic threatening the safety and stability of our communities, we have risen to the moment.”

Resilience in the face of a pandemic
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, AFSCME’s 1.4 million members rushed into action to keep their communities safe, healthy and strong. Often risking their lives, AFSCME EMS workers, hospital workers, custodians, sanitation workers, child care providers, home care workers, corrections officers, behavioral health professionals, unemployment claims providers and others worked around the clock to beat back the virus.

Saunders said, “If only the same could be said for the Trump White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his caucus. At a moment of distress and despair for the nation, these politicians have demonstrated only cowardice and incompetence.”

At this year’s convention, Saunders’ message was that AFSCME must channel that same passion displayed to battle the pandemic to win in 2020; to organize like never before; to fight for racial and economic justice; and to unrig the system so it benefits all working people.

“There’s an election 82 days from now, and we’ll make sure voters know exactly which politicians failed to lead at this do-or-die moment in the nation’s history, which ones were indifferent to public health, which ones ignored economic devastation and allowed working families to suffer,” said Saunders.

To heal the nation and address deep-seated inequalities exacerbated by the virus, Saunders said, “…we believe that Black Lives Matter. AFSCME family, we practice what we preach. We walk the walk. We will lead in this space. We are committed to examining our own policies and procedures – so we can identify, address and root out any bias that might exist, allowing us to become a better, stronger union. And we will engage with all our affiliates to ensure they are doing the same. It isn’t enough to pay lip service to these principles; we must live them every single day. Because that’s who we are, AFSCME family.”

Saunders appealed to AFSCME delegates to carry on the legacy of the late congressman John Lewis and cause “good trouble” to help the nation create real change for equality.

Said Saunders, “Let our legacy be that we were agitators and disruptors. That we caused ‘good trouble’, as John Lewis called it. That we picked up where he left off. That we, with our own rich civil rights history, helped repair America’s racial breach. Let our legacy be that we helped the nation rise from the ashes of this current crisis - that we helped turn this moment of anxiety and turbulence into a catalyst for profound structural change.”

Background on two years of growth, activism and legislative victories despite the odds
In the two years since AFSCME convened its 43rd International Convention in Boston, the union has experienced strong membership growth, despite the Supreme Court’s June 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31. AFSCME members have increased their level of political activism, delivering key legislative victories to working people during the 2018 elections and positioning unions at the forefront of the national political conversations during the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

After helping to turn the tide in favor of working people in the midterm elections, AFSCME spearheaded a legislative initiative in 2019 to win collective bargaining for 20,000 state workers in Nevada. A few months later in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a landmark bill granting 40,000 child care providers the freedom to collectively bargain. Last month, those providers voted overwhelmingly to form a union, the culmination of the largest union organizing campaign in the country. This April in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam signed a historic collective bargaining law giving tens of thousands public service workers the right to negotiate with their employers. This momentum comes as support for unions reaches a near 50-year high and nearly half of all Americans say they would join a union if given the choice.