May 11, 2017
By WNYLaborToday.com Editor-Publisher Tom Campbell
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Buffalo, NY – “We are in a moment of ‘unique’ attack,” American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Lee Saunders told the more than 500 area Labor Leaders, Unionists, Elected Leaders and Friends of Labor who attended the 2017 Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation (WNYALF) Appreciation Awards Dinner in Downtown Buffalo, adding: “But when the Labor Movement ‘fights,’ the Labor Movement ‘wins.’
‘So, are you ready to engage in battle?’ ‘Are you ready to kick some ass?’” Saunders didn’t have long to wait for an answer as the crowd immediately stood to give him a thunderous ovation – a fitting climax for an evening that honored Western New York Labor and its Membership, celebrated the many Union victories that have occurred over the past 12 months, recognized both what went right and what has gone wrong with the Labor Movement, and finally, a pledge to do what now must be done to reconnect with individual Union Members, harness the anger that has come from those who do not agree with the new president, and chart a path to more victories for Working People – both Union and Non-Union.
“We must have an ‘honest’ discussion ‘where we are as a movement’ as Working Families are ‘under attack across the country.’ This is a ‘moment’ of ‘unique challenges’ to ‘all’ Working Families,” said Saunders, whose Nationwide Union represents 1.6 million Public Employees. “Our ‘values are under such attack and assault by those who want to demonize and scapegoat us’ – ‘under the belt attacks so they can take more power and wealth for themselves.’ They want to ‘take us out of the ballgame, put a bullseye on our backs, across the country.’”
“We’ve got to be ‘vigilant.’ We’ve got a new president ‘who made a lot of promises to support Working Families across the country.’ We ‘can’t take the position to oppose him on everything, but if he cannot walk the walk and talk the talk – then we need to raise hell.’ ‘It’s up to all of us.’ ‘Are we bold enough to make the necessary changes?’ ‘We have been reluctant (in the past) to make changes.’ Trump is in the White House ‘because we lost our connection with many of our Members.’ We ‘stopped listening’ and ‘as a result, they stopped listening (to Union Leadership) too.’ ‘We stopped communicating too.’ ‘Now, we need some tough love.’ ‘We need to evaluate our Unions – what we did right and what we did wrong.’ ‘We need to ask ourselves some tough questions – from soup to nuts,’” Saunders told those at the dinner.Saunders
then began to tell a story of how great a car the 1957 Chevy was. “It was ‘cutting edge for its time, but now – it’s an antique,’” he said. “Our Members have ‘changed.’ ‘This is not rocket science.’ (AFSCME) started ‘grassroots organizing, talking to our Members’ – ‘one on one, seeking their ideas and advice.’ We ‘set a goal’ of talking to one million of our Members and almost two years later, we’ve spoken to (620,000) – ‘and after we reach one million, we’ll raise the bar and do more.’ ‘We want to know what they want out of their Union, their lives.’ This is ‘absolutely essential because we want them to join us in our struggles.’ ‘And this is not a one size fits all conversation.’ ‘We want to thank them for the work they do for what they’ve achieved.’”