Lee Saunders

Lee Saunders is President of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Recent Articles

A Union Response to the Supreme Court’s Janus Decision

And how policymakers can help—not hurt—workers in responding to it

(Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto/Sipa USA via AP Images)
In a long-anticipated yet troubling decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its own precedent and decreed that public workers who benefit from their unions’ collective-bargaining efforts owe no obligation to financially support those efforts. Justice Elena Kagan’s blistering dissent makes a powerful argument that this decision is wrong on legal and policy grounds, but it is obvious that nothing will deter Justice Samuel Alito from his zealous crusade to weaken, if not abolish, labor unions in America. The decision is a setback not just for public service workers, but for all workers and perhaps for democracy itself. The decision will take its place alongside other misguided and overtly political Roberts Court decisions to diminish workers’ rights and elevate corporate interests. The public policy of virtually every state affected by the decision has long declared collective bargaining to be in the public interest. Yet Alito’s decision makes little effort to...

Want to Get Back to Normal? Strong Unions Are Key

Organized labor can be a bulwark against the rising inequality and authoritarianism that threaten to dismantle democracy.

(Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
Daily flirtations with nuclear war. Suspending freedom of the press. Fifty-nine people executed during a country music concert. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching openly in the streets. American citizens begging for their government’s help after a storm wiped their hopes and dreams off the map, only to then be threatened with revocation of that aid because Wall Street wants its money. Foreign powers sabotage our elections; our leaders sabotage our health care because of an ill-conceived campaign promise. Saying “This isn’t normal” has become clichéd, but finding solutions to get us back to normal isn’t yet commonplace. We don’t have to look too far to find those solutions. They are right beneath our feet. For 240 years, these solutions have built a strong, stable foundation for our democracy. Equality is one brick. Justice is another. One person, one vote; freedom of speech, religion, and the press; free and fair elections; separation...

The New Labor Movement: Solidarity Without Conformity

A union president explains how labor should adjust to changing times.

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
This isn’t your father’s labor movement. Back when my dad was a Cleveland bus driver and member of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Americans had a more common lived experience. Everyone in your hometown read the same newspaper and watched the same television shows. The people on your block belonged to the same civic associations and bowling leagues. The chatter around the water cooler, the local diner, or the school lockers covered more or less the same, reliable topics. Often, our mothers and fathers worked for one of just a handful of major local employers (though if you were African American, your career options were limited and upward mobility was quite rare). Religious faith bonded people to one another; your church or other house of worship provided a unifying community space. Your neighbors knew you and your family (and, if you were a kid, you could be sure they’d tell your parents if they saw you making trouble). There was one local movie theater, and it had...