At a time when public employee unions are increasingly under fire, one of the nation’s largest public-sector unions will elect a new president this week. The 1.6 million member AFSCME will choose a new leader to represent them not only in labor negotiations, but also in handling the public-sector unions’ deteriorating image.
With many U.S. states, cities and counties struggling to balance their budgets and facing big pension and health care funding deficits, employee costs are the obvious target. Underlining its problems, the labor movement was defeated in a recall election in the state of Wisconsin earlier this month when voters sided with Republican Governor Scott Walker, who had taken bold moves to limit union collective bargaining powers.
The struggle is evident even a few blocks from the site where more than 3,500 delegates of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) delegates is due to meet in downtown Los Angeles this week. Last Friday, the Los Angeles Superior Court announced that it was laying off 157 workers and cutting the salaries of another 250. And earlier in June, voters in the second and third-largest California cities after LA, San Diego and San Jose, supported imposing curbs on the pensions of city government workers. …
Labor experts say the contest between Lee Saunders, who is currently secretary-treasury, and Danny Donohue, who is head of the union's New York branch, could be critical as the union decides on how it is going to adapt to an increasingly hostile environment. The current president, Gerald McEntee who backs Saunders and with whom he co-authored a book on how the American dream of equal opportunities is fading away for a middle class hit by the financial crisis, is stepping down after 30 years – 30 years in which union membership has become less popular in the United States, especially in the private sector.