Union members have a lot at stake in the 2016 elections, public employee workers top among them. To fight back against Republicans’ efforts to roll back workers’ rights, many of the nation’s largest unions have endorsed Hillary Clinton to lead the ticket this fall. One of the biggest efforts has been spearheaded by AFSCME, the public employees union.
Organizing for the caucus with paid staff and local volunteers in multiple offices across the state, the AFSCME green shows up often at Clinton events, but even more on members’ doorsteps. AFSCME President Lee Saunders has been traveling across the state this week to meet with members and encourage them to caucus for Clinton. Yesterday he stopped by the Iowa Veterans home, where they spoke to members and delivered some gifts to veterans, did a press conference at a church with Tom Harkin on child care, and stopped by a Polk County building.
Starting Line interviewed Saunders as he was on the road about AFSCME’s efforts. The following has been edited slightly for clarity and brevity.
I’ve heard AFSCME has tried a different type of organizing model this election. Explain that some and what you focused on.
We have an organizing program called AFSCME Strong. It’s a program that we’re utilizing in every affiliate across the country. It’s a program where we build relationships with our members internally, and non-members who receive the same level of benefits. Asking them what their issues are and to get involved with their union. It’s basic grassroots 101 organizing with our members and communicating with them in a way that is member-to-member, peer-to-peer. Our goal is to talk to more than a million members one-on-one before our convention in July.
It’s proven to have its dividends already. In Iowa alone, we’ve signed up 2,000 members already. Across the country we’ve signed up over 200,000 members internally. We think that’s the first step in communications to get them activated and involved in their union. After we take that step, we start talking about the issues and the importance of the 2016 elections. Not only at the national level, but at the state and local level.
What type of issues do you discuss with your members and how do you tie into the Clinton endorsement?
If you follow the public sector, you’ll know we’re being attacked by governors across the country, Scott Walker and Terry Branstad. We’re having to deal with very aggressive state legislatures attacking collective bargaining rights, privatizing work, and we have to be aggressive in dealing with them.
And now we have the Supreme Court in the act. There is a case that was heard a couple Mondays ago, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the California Teachers Association in which ultra-conservatives are trying to attack our very right to exist. They are attacking collective bargaining. If the Supreme Court rules the wrong way, Right To Work will become the law of the land in the public sector in every state across the country.
That’s what we’re educating and mobilizing our members about. After those discussions we talk about the important of politics in state after state and local governments and national level.
So how did you come to the Clinton endorsement?
We’ve known the Secretary for a very long time. We’ve known all three for a very long time. We went through a very extensive process within our union where we polled our members, conducted town hall meetings. We had some town halls here in Iowa where all three Democrats spoke to our members, and we live-streamed those town halls. We had numerous conventions at the national and affiliate level and we polled our members there to see where their heads were. Overwhelmingly our members decided that Hillary Clinton would be the strongest candidate, that she supports working families, she supports unions, she believes everybody should have a fair shot at the America dream. We made a decision, based upon all that data, to support Hillary Clinton.
Now that’s not to say, we’re a big union. Some folks are not going to be happy with that, and we urge our members, whatever you think – you can disagree with what we’ve done as far as the endorsement – but the important thing is to get out and participate in the process.
Any of those three Democratic candidates will be much better than any of those folks running on the Republican side. The Democrats want to move our country forward. All you hear coming out of the Republicans’ mouths is poison. They want to take us back many, many years. That’s why we’re mobilizing here in Iowa. Folks are excited about participating in the caucuses.
But the national election is not the only election that is important to us. Our members provide essential public services in state and local governments across the country. We’re having to take on governors and state legislatures, and our major priority and emphasis is to take those governors’ houses back and take those statehouses back.
What are some of the labor issues Clinton has fought for over the years that people may not be as familiar with?
She’s historically stood up for childcare. She’s historically stood up for Social Security, for a healthcare plan that covers Americans. She supports working families, she supports unions. She supports the right to collective bargaining across this country. And she believes that people deserve a chance. And she also understands that this is not a healthy situation when you have less than 1% of the country controlling all of the wealth. It needs to be spread out. There needs to be economic justice and economic fairness across this country. One of the ways in which you do that is lift wages, to have collective bargaining, to provide opportunity and choice for workers to belong or not to belong to unions. She gets that. That’s why we’re supporting her 100%.
by Pat Rynard