July 2012, Week 1


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Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>
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Sun, 1 Jul 2012 22:08:54 -0400
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Moderators Note:  This letter was submitted by Andrea
Houtman, President, AFSCME Local 800?VP, AFSCME
District Council 36.  Although the election is over, we
feel that there are too few outlets for union members
to debate these issues in a substantive way, so we are
sharing this submission.  Ms. Houtman is incorrect in
stating that Markey submitted (or had published) an
article in Labor Notes, however, as the piece she is responding to was originally published by Portside.  For further reading on the politics behind the AFSCME election, we recommend revisiting Steve Early's piece in Labor
Notes, "Will Wisconsin Wake-Up Call Lead to Shake Up in
AFSCME?" from June 14, 2012, linked here:


I am responding to the June 26th article, Portside Special -
Reflections on AFSCME's 40th Convention, by Gregory N. Heires and Ray
Markey, in strong disagreement.

Portside, I believe, is supposed to be a source of progressive news
coverage. This article is nowhere near progressive. The article
describes the labor boss, McEntee, as "colorful" and pretty much
leaves it at that. It complains that the Donohue camp unsuccessfully
portrayed Saunders as a McEntee clone, while contradicting itself by
also stating Saunders was the top assistant to McEntee (while
forgetting to add this was for decades of McIntee's top-down
leadership). It compounds this contradiction by affirming McEntee was
a "pillar of the Democratic Party's progressive wing" putting AFSCME's
embedded relationship in the rosiest light possible, and confirms
Saunders will follow in those footsteps. Then astoundingly, while
asserting Saunders shared Donohue's stance and would be critical of
politicians of any stripe who went against labor, they then claim that
this position on Donohue's part is an appeal to the conservatives in
AFSCME! Good if Saunders does it, bad if Donohue does.

There is no criticism of the labor bureaucracy offered in this
article, McIntee is colorful, AFSCME uses administratorships only in
cases of "financial improprieties and decertification revolts, without
even having the integrity to add "alleged." This kids-glove approach
to AFSCME International's top-down control, is accompanied by the
failure to state that when Bill Lucy retired in 2010 he endorsed
Donohue for Secretary-Treasurer, and personally came to this
convention to add his weight to the contest, endorsing Donohue again,
this time for President.

Which brings me to the monkey. They assert there was a monkey
identified as Saunders. This is an outrageous claim, and must be a
conscious one, since the edited down Donohue's remarks. Donohue took
the floor for a point of personal privilege after this accusation was
raised. He clarified some delegates had an LA Angels rally monkey,
which sported a CSEA pin. He made it clear there was no intention to
identify it as representing Saunders. Donohue, a long time member of
the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, endorsed by Bill Lucy, was
clearly upset at the attempt to portray him and his campaign as
racist. For the authors of this article to skip these details, and to
refer to the delegate who wanted to drop his pants, is disgusting.

Markey also submitted a piece to Labor Notes. Here is my response:

The Fight for a Democratic AFSCME

It boggles the mind. How could anyone considering themselves
progressive union reformers have backed Lee Saunders? After decades
serving at the side of McIntee, a labor leader notorious for his heavy
handed methods, extravagant use of dues money to support his personal
lifestyle (commuting from Florida to work in private charter jets to
the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars of dues money), Saunders
did not come to this election unstained. These budgets lacked
transparency, even to the International Vice Presidents.

McIntee, and Saunders alongside him, developed a relationship with the
Democratic Party in which there was not only no sunshine between
AFSCME and the Dems, where campaigning (such as in Wisconsin) was
couched in the talking points imposed by the Democratic Party (so that
an International staffer complained to me they were unable to talk to
working people about labor's issues when walking door-to-door), but
incorporated us with a seat for himself in the Democratic National
Committee (now Saunders' seat). This man believed he was part of
running the Democratic Party (a dangerous delusion), and had a
lifestyle to match. Saunders pledged at the convention to continue the
political work McIntee established. The Donohue campaign said Saunders
was an inside-the-beltway man because that's how he was trained, and
that's a lot of what he did and will do. The prohibition to speak in
labor’s voice, a strategy the International and Saunders were
responsible for, contributed to labor's failure to kick the bum out.
As Mark Brenner said, "Twenty-five percent of union-member voters
chose Scott Walker, and 38 percent of all those from union households
did the same."

This is the labor bureaucracy.

Due to the pressure of the Donohue campaign, Saunders began adopting
some Donohue-esque positions. He came to agree with Donohue on
reducing the bloated salary for the International President by
$90,000, down to a mere $290,000. (Yes, McIntee did quite well for
himself.) Saunders came to agree with Donohue that we needed to
discuss a change in our priorities to deal with the severity of the
attacks. One thing is sure, however. No matter how often he echoed the
Donohue campaign and declared we will hold all politicians
accountable, regardless of party, Saunders is and will continue to be
up to his eye-balls in the Democratic Party, emptying the coffers of
AFSCME to support one after another "friend of labor."

It makes little sense to compare a contract negotiated by Saunders in
entirely different economic circumstances to the CSEA contract
negotiated during the worst global economic crisis since the Great
Depression, in circumstances where unions and workers are under a full
scale assault (which LN describes so well in Issue 400, Future Tense).
Saunders and his supporters spent the last two years whipping up blame
and resentment on Donohue for the take-backs (contract was actually
negotiated by a negotiating team without Donohue’s involvement) that
were more accurately due to the tremendously difficult times we all
are negotiating under now. The rank and file members of CSEA voted
overwhelmingly to re-elect Donohue as their president following these
negotiations where thousands of threatened layoffs were avoided.

As for rolling over to Cuomo on tiering pensions, that's just not
true. Donohue and CSEA, the state's largest public employees union,
were furious and made an unprecedented decision to halt all political
contributions and endorsements for the foreseeable future. (Even
during the 2010 campaign, some unions –including CSEA – withheld
support from Cuomo, in response to his talk about public employee pay
freezes, union givebacks and government spending reductions.)

Donohue said, "CSEA will also use this time to consult with our
brother and sister unions and other allied community organizations
about how we can collectively address the disrespect and
disenfranchisement of working people by our state’s elected
officials," and further, "New Yorkers should understand that
lawmakers' actions did not result from meaningful debate and good
judgment – it resulted from political expediency – and it will have
harmful consequences to people and communities now and for a long time
to come. CSEA will seek better ways to hold elected officials
accountable and ensure that the voices of working people will be heard
and addressed in New York state."

I don’t care how many dramatic speeches Saunders makes, which, in
fevered pitch, he declares himself to be a fighter who never backs
down and never gives up. It's theater. It does not change the
capitalist global forces arrayed against labor and all the bluster in
the world won’t produce one better contract clause.

Arguing that a purported "good-negotiator" leadership was better than
a leadership fighting for more independence, more transparency, and
for more funds on the ground, reminds me of Andy Stern's thinking:
members do not care about democracy so much as good contracts. It's
not the individual skills of a chief negotiator, but the membership,
like the Chicago teachers, mobilizing and organizing in their own
voice, who are the best negotiators for decent contracts. The best
leadership is one that knows that.

Donohue has been a leader and an organizer of CSEA, which grew to
become the largest single affiliate of AFSCME. When longtime
Secretary-Treasurer Bill Lucy retired in 2010, he encouraged Donohue
to run to continue the fight for political independence (read: more
separation, unfortunately not a labor party) from the Democratic
Party, more rank and file democracy, transparency, and for less abuse
of office both financially and organizationally.

So one of Donohue's key planks was to reduce the independent political
expenditures (such as the recent Florida $1.5 million ad against
Romney AFSCME paid for), and put it on the ground for the locals and
councils waging the fights that are critical to labor's existence.

Take the point made by Wisconsin delegates who explained that in 2011
Wisconsin Council 40 was forced to reduce its staffing level by 35%
during the height of the assault on workers' rights, saying:
"Undoubtedly, the International Union did much to help battle Scott
Walker in Wisconsin, but as is too often the case, the focus was on
media and politics, not on strengthening local affiliates so that we
would have the ability to carry the fight forward once the ballots
were tallied and the cameras stopped rolling."

Saunders held sway at the most undemocratic convention to date, where:

• a new low in campaign behavior: texts, emails, postcards, flyers
were distributed by Saunders supporters that smacked of PR tactics
more akin to Karl Rove than anything I've ever seen in the labor
movement. Opponents were accused of being like Papa Doc in Haiti;
called names like "Wall Street Alice," with misinformation cynically
and liberally used. This created an atmosphere of irrational hostility
that doesn't belong in the labor movement;

• the decision of the chair was unassailable (chair decided by his
hearing whether the ayes or nays won, and when a division of the house
was called for, decided by his vision, refusing multiple requests for
a count by the Sargeants of Arms (a long-standing previous practice in

• a duly elected president was removed from office and from the floor
of the convention, based on factionally-motivated Judicial Panel
rulings (that contradicted prior Judicial Panel rulings for the same
charges in the same local), and replaced by an officer loyal to

• factionally-run administratorships in several locals and significant
evidence of rigged elections further torqued the vote towards Saunders;

• a newly elected leadership holding tens of thousands of votes was
revealed to have won their campaign due in large measure because it
was run by full-time staff loyal to Saunders, in violation of the
International's rules and the constitution of the local involved, and
not surprisingly, became Saunders supporters, as staff interference
into the democratic process of the membership had its predictable

• the Saunders supporters voted enthusiastically against the motion of
Donohue supporters to halt the practice begun in 2010 in Boston of
having international staff carry proxy votes for non-attending locals
that they farmed nationally and cast in this election. (If Markey did
not distinguish himself from his fellow Saunders' supporters and voted
for this top-down undemocratic procedure, all I can say is, if there
was any question about his support to rank and file, bottom-up
democracy, this tells you everything you'd need to know, case closed.)
This was a vote for International control from the top down, if there
ever was one.

Saunders has been elected, by hook or by crook. While the alternative
leadership was not perfect (did not call for a Labor Party, for ex.),
it is sad that someone like Markey had a lesser vision of AFSCME (a
purported "good-negotiator" leadership that had decades enforcing a
top-down heavy-fisted International) than the hundreds of thousands of
workers in AFSCME who had a vision of a more democratic union that
prioritized building the base and sought political independence.

AFSCME will pull together (if that is what is meant by "healing," we
will all commit to fighting for our members, for workers rights, and
as well, the fight for union democracy will continue. That's a promise.


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