President Lee Saunders
gave the following acceptance speech at AFSCME’s 40th International
Convention upon being sworn in as the union’s first ever
July 9, 2012
Sisters and brothers,
I want to thank you for the tremendous honor you have bestowed upon me.
Together, we will be partners in moving this great union of ours
forward. Your faith in me means more than you will ever know.
I thank my wife Lynne and my sons Lee and Ryan for everything they’ve
done – and everything they’ve dealt with – over these long, long months.
I have to thank Gerald W. McEntee – a fearless and visionary leader. A
famous admiral once said: “There are no great men -- Just great
challenges which ordinary men are forced by circumstance to meet.” With
all due respect to the admiral, I must disagree. Gerald McEntee is a
To my AFSCME sisters and brothers who were part of this journey, your
belief that we were on the right road together lifted me up time and
time again and truly kept me going. We waged this campaign for the
future of our union and for the future of our members and working
families throughout this nation. This was not my campaign. This was our
And of course, I want to congratulate my partner, Laura Reyes, on
becoming the first female Secretary-Treasurer of AFSCME! Laura has
broken the green glass ceiling for all the sisters of our union!
I want to say something to Danny Donohue. During the course of this
campaign, we disagreed on a number of points, and at times, we disagreed
strongly. But you are my brother and I know that on one central point,
we are in full agreement: AFSCME is the greatest union in this nation,
with the greatest activists anywhere. We ran for office because we both
are deeply committed to the sisters and brothers of this union and I
look forward to working with Brother Donohue – and with all of you – to
move this union forward.
This was a campaign in which important issues were raised about the
future of our union. We elected new leadership following the 31-year
presidency of Brother McEntee. Such campaigns are never easy, and when
they are waged in the midst of severe budget pressures, assaults on
public services, and attacks on the character of public-service workers,
they are even more difficult and more vigorously fought.
Because the stakes are so high, competing ideas were put forward about
how to proceed. The campaigns painted very different versions of the
present, and offered very different visions of the future. But the
campaign is over. And today we start fresh. What unites us is our belief
in and love for AFSCME. We arefamily, and we always will be.
Sisters and brothers, it does not matter whose button or t-shirt you
wore. It does not matter whether you campaigned for Saunders and Reyes,
or Donohue and Goff. It does not matter whether your colors were yellow
and blue, or blue and green. As of right now, we are beginning again,
with the knowledge that what lies ahead of us is far, far more important
than the campaign we’ve just been through. We have an obligation to
fight for the future, not re-live the past.
I said earlier this week that this is a defining moment, not only for
our nation but also for our union. What we do will determine whether
collective bargaining survives, whether members’ lives get
better…whether retirement security is restored…whether public services
are strengthened…and whether the American dream is renewed.
And so we must begin a serious, far-reaching national conversation with
our members about the direction and priorities of our great union,
including how we will ensure that our political strategy aligns with the
severity and nature of our challenges.
We must continue the focus on organizing, even in hostile, Right-to-Work
states, because we cannot win the fights of tomorrow unless we are
We must propose long-term solutions to strengthen pensions, emphasizing
that most of our members pay into their pensions, and that those
pensions contribute to local economies. To that end, I am appointing a
special task force of IEB members who will study this issue, consult
with experts, and put forward sound strategies.
We must work our hearts out to re-elect President Obama.
And we must holdHollllold politicians of all political stripes
accountable for what they say and what they do. Because when it comes to
what affects our members and our rights, it’s not about left versus
right; it’s about right versus wrong.
let me be perfectly clear about this: Our union does not work for any
political party; we work for justice and fairness in the workplace. If
someone takes us on, it does not matter whether they are a Democrat or a
Republican, conservative or liberal. We are taking themon. And they are
These are only a few of the tasks that are before us. The path ahead is
difficult, but I have no doubt that if we put aside what divides us,
focus on what unites us, and set our hearts on solidarity, we can
achieve what seems impossible.
Let us go forth in solidarity…with one mission…with one goal: to build
AFSCME into the strongest force it can possibly be for our members and
for our nation.
Once again, thank you, God bless you, and for the sake of AFSCME, this
union we all love – for the sake of each and every one of our members –
let us all move forward together.