As America’s biggest state and local government employees’ union gathered here this week, it faced obstacles like never before. After a big defeat in Wisconsin, and under pressure to accept cuts in jobs, pay, pensions and benefits, it needed to give convincing answers.
Lee Saunders, who became the union’s first African American president on Friday, said the fight was “just getting started.” He said the mission for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was to save nothing less than organized labor itself.
“Our success or failure will mark a turning point not only for our union but for the entire labor movement,” said Saunders, the former number two who succeeded Gerald McEntee as president of the union, the largest in the AFL-CIO federation.
The union had one of its darkest days on June 5 in Wisconsin, where voters rejected a union-led effort to recall the state’s governor, Republican Scott Walker, who had tried to curtail the bargaining rights of public sector employees.