06.21.2012 0

AFSCME’s Saunders Blames ‘Ultra Conservatives’ for Setbacks, Challenger Donohue Sees Problems from Within

NRD Editor’s Note: This is a special report from Kevin Mooney who is on the ground at the AFSCME International Convention in Los Angeles, CA.

AFSCME 40th International Convention

Photo by Hey Suk Chong found at AFSCME.org

By Kevin Mooney — Competing AFSCME presidential candidates who were asked what lessons they took from  recent political setbacks offered up dramatically different assessments during a debate yesterday in Los Angeles.

Lee Saunders who currently serves as secretary-treasurer under outgoing President Gerald McEntee is running against Danny Donohue, president of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA)/AFSCME Local 1000 in New York. The election results are expected later today.

Not only did AFSCME and other public employee unions fail to remove Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin from office in a recall election on June 5th, but they have also lost key budgetary battles in New York and New Jersey; states that typically favor the union position. On the same Walker day walker defeated his Democratic opponent, California citizens in San Diego and San Jose voted to cut pension benefits for city workers by a wide margin. If the cuts survive a court challenge, they will apply not just to future hires, but also to current workers.

Saunders fixed them on organized labor’s political opponents.

“We have faced vicious challenges from ultra conservatives who want to take us out of the ball game completely, Saunders said during the debate held as part of ASFCME’s 40th International Convention. “We have to bring our affiliates together, and develop a plan and a strategy.”

In response, Donohue challenged the current leadership, and suggested to AFSCME members in attendance that statehouse loses can be explained in part by the problems from within the union. AFSCME has concentrated too much in Washington D.C. and invested too much money into politicians with very little return on their investment, he said.

“AFSCME is a good union, but it is becoming something none of us want, a top-down union,” he said. “We have to get back to what made AFSCME strong that wasn’t the leadership in Washington D.C., that was the membership. The members are the bosses of the union.”

Donohue also said that the local councils needed to assume a larger role, and have a larger voice.

“Nobody joins the union just based on philosophy,” he added. “People want to have a strong voice, and know they are protected when something goes wrong, and that they have a future. There’s a division in the house, no question.”

Mike Sheldon, a staff member of CSEA/AFSCME in New York, said he was supporting Donohue because he would be able to retool the union after Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin was devastating to us,” Sheldon said. “But it’s not over yet, and we will work to get collective bargaining back. Donohue is for the membership, he wants the average person to have a voice, that’s what we need.”

Rob Wheaton, who is active with Oregon Local 328 concurs.

“We had too much political spending that Saunders approved as secretary-treasurer without any real results, a change is needed.”

But Nina Calabria, a member of Local 4 in Ohio, said the criticism of Saunders is unfair.

“We are in a challenging environment that would be difficult for anyone in leadership,” she observed. “Saunders fought very hard for us in Ohio and I see him as up to the challenge.”

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

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