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President Saunders: Public Service Workers are Rising Up Against the Attacks

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Corporate special interests that want to destroy our union face a wall of opposition, as more and more public service workers are joining together through AFSCME and pushing back against efforts to take away their rights and freedoms, AFSCME President Lee Saunders said Monday. 

In a rousing keynote speech that brought delegates and alternates attending the AFSCME 43rd International Convention to their feet many times, Saunders spoke about the tough fight ahead for working people following the June 27 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31. He reminded the audience that the case was brought by “the wealthy and the well-connected, who want to burn our union to the ground.” 

“But if they think we’re going to roll over, if they think this is going to slow us down or shut us up, if they think we’re going to let five unelected men in robes steal our freedom, they’ve got a big surprise coming. Because when the stakes are high and the pressure is on, we don’t cower and retreat, we don’t run and hide, we rise up,” Saunders said. 

In the wake of the adverse 5-4 ruling, “AFSCME members are rising up to show resilience and loyalty in sticking with their union,” Saunders said. “And we’re getting reports from all across the country of former fee payers reaching out to our affiliates and saying: ‘I want to become a member. … Coast to coast, proud and passionate AFSCME members are ready to fight.”

As part of the 3-year-old AFSCME Strong program, the union has had more than 956,000 one-on-one conversations with members and nonmembers about the value of sticking with their union. As a result, at least 192,000 fee payers committed to full membership, Saunders said. 

Organizing – the lifeblood of our union – has convinced 6,500 new sisters and brothers from the Public Employees Union in Northern California to join together under AFSCME. Hundreds of emergency medical technicians and paramedics working for private service provider AMR in Washington, D.C., and Arizona have taken the same step. 

So have more than 1,300 workers at Danbury and Norwalk Hospitals in Connecticut, 185 workers from Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C., direct care workers in Illinois, behavioral health specialists in Oregon, physicians in Washington state. school bus drivers in upstate New York and Ohio, to name a few. 

“Many of them showing courage in the face of intimidation campaigns from management. All of them saying: I can support my family more reliably and serve my community more effectively by being a part of the Mean Green Machine,” Saunders said.

AFSCME members have begun a movement to fight anti-worker forces – one that will snowball, Saunders said. 

“The Janus decision is a roadblock, but we will maneuver around it or just run right over it,” he said. “AFSCME has been around for more than 80 years, and we will be here 80 years from now. We’re not going anywhere. Our enemies can't take our union away from us. They don't get to write our next chapter. We do.”