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Public Employee Press: PEP Talk

AFSCME holds virtual convention, endorses Biden, Harris


The 44th convention of the American Federal, State, City and Municipal Employees, DC 37’s national union, was Aug. 12 and 14 online due to social distancing restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This gave the rank-and-file membership the opportunity to witness union democracy in action, and to hear the powerful voices of President Lee Saunders and other union leaders, and testimonials from members of the largest public employee union in the United States. Although the convention was not in person, the value of direct access through multimedia gave viewers the sense of participating in the process.

The theme of the biannual convention was Front Line Heroes: Never Stronger. It was fitting because of the massive efforts AFSCME members across the nation performed during the peak of the pandemic, and continue to do even today. Heroes all, public workers were a major focus of attention during the convention.

The union has been at the forefront of advocating on behalf of the public service workers who gave their all during the COVID-19 pandemic, while fighting for proper PPE, testing, and campaigning for state and local aid to maintain public services and save jobs of frontline workers.

“Our nation owes public service workers a huge debt of gratitude for the strength and sacrifice they have shown, stopping at nothing to protect their communities under the most difficult and dangerous conditions,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders.

AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Elissa McBride, in her keynote address, cited three AFSCME volunteer member organizers who shared their experiences as union activists with inspiring video presentations.

“This pandemic has taught us once again that having a union is the best way to make sure we are safe at work, the best way to fight for funding for the services we provide, the best way to achieve racial, gender, and economic justice, and the best way to ensure that we are all treated with fairness and dignity,” McBride said.

Saunders and McBride were both re-elected to their current positions. Also, DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido and SSEU Local 371 President Anthony Wells were victorious in their bid for re-election as international vice presidents.

In his speech accepting his re-election to another term as the union’s leader, Saunders spoke of the members’ commitment.

“I’m proud of all we have achieved together, excited by what the future holds, and humbled by AFSCME members’ belief in me to lead the greatest and most storied union in America for another four years,” said Saunders before those watching during this unprecedented remote convention. “AFSCME will keep innovating and mobilizing, because it is the best way to unrig an economy that continues to favor the wealthy instead of creating opportunity for working people.”

“We’re going to have a chance to build back better than before, and shift the balance of power to working families.”

Joe Biden, the Democratic Party nominee, addressed the convention.

“We’re going to have a chance to build back better than before, and shift the balance of power to working families,” said Biden, who served two terms as Vice President to President Barack Obama, capping of a career that began as a Senator from Delaware, and a pivotal force on the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

“You’re the ones carrying this country forward. So, when we rebuild this economy, your dignity will form the foundation, your rights will be carved in stone,” Biden said.

Shortly before the convention, Biden picked California Sen. Kamala Harris to run as his Vice President. This makes Harris the first woman of color chosen for this role by a major political party.

“We know Senator Harris will continue her relentless advocacy to ensure that we win for working people in 2020, address deepening inequality, and work to unrig the rules of our economy so that everyone, not just the wealthy and privileged, can thrive,” Saunders said.