06.20.2012 0

AFSCME Members Know They are Playing Defense

AFSCME 40th International Convention

Photo by Hey Suk Chong found at AFSCME.org

By Kevin Mooney — AFSCME delegates attending the union’s 40th International Convention in Los Angeles know they are losing the argument. But they are also convinced they can make significant inroads with the American public by retooling their message. Both of the candidates running to succeed outgoing President Gerald McEntee acknowledged that public employee unions have been playing defense in the political arena, and that more needed to done to improve their image across the country.

Lee Saunders, who is currently the secretary-treasurer under McEntee is opposed by Danny Donohue, president of the civil service employees association (CSEA)/AFSCME Local 1000 in New York. Both candidates were asked what they would do to improve the public’s image of organized labor during a debate earlier today in the Los Angeles Convention Center.

“First we need to educate our own members,” Saunders said. “We need to blow our own horn, we can’t be silent when public workers are under attack.”

Donohue agreed, but also said it was important to be sure politicians do not take credit for public services that AFSCME members deliver on a routine basis.

Donohue said the current AFSCME leadership, which includes Saunders, had concentrated too much power and authority in Washington D.C. at the expense of local chapters.

In the aftermath of the recall election on June 5 that failed to remove Republican Gov. Scott Walker from office in Wisconsin, local members in attendance said they were eager to have leaders willing to get AFSCME back on the offensive. They also expressed disappointment that President Barack Obama did not campaign in Wisconsin.

Rachel Parlin and Kristen Kirchoff, who are with Minnesota AFSCME Local 2829, are ready for new leadership. “We need people who have been on the front lines to fight for our rights and fire us up.”

Although the membership would have preferred to see more of an all out effort from the White House in Wisconsin, Kirchoff expects the union to campaign actively for Obama in November.

“I thought he should have campaigned, that would have been helpful but it may not have changed the result,” she said. “This really comes down to our own leadership and how we can best involve the locals.”

Other members who were asked why they thought Walker prevailed by a  significant margin identified the Koch Brothers as the primary culprit. They results may have been different, they suggested, if they were not so heavily outspent by the Koch Brothers and other free market groups from outside of Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, pension reform initiatives are taking root in California at the local level in San Jose and San Diego where voters approved plans to cut back on public employee benefits.

California and Wisconsin are not exactly red states.

Kevin Mooney is a contributing editor for NetRightDaily.com. You can follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinMooneyDC.

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