After more than 30 years as president of AFSCME, Gerald McEntee is retiring, sparking an unusually heated campaign for a union presidency. Lee Saunders, secretary-treasurer of the public workers union, and Danny Donohue, president of AFSCME's largest local, the New York Civil Service Employees Association, are believed to be in a tight race. The two previously faced off in the 2010 election that made Saunders secretary-treasurer by a narrow margin.
Saunders is stressing his work on AFSCME's major campaigns of recent years, from the successful effort to defeat Ohio's anti-union Senate Bill 5 to the unsuccessful effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and his efforts to deepen AFSCME's relationships throughout the progressive movement. Donohue, meanwhile, argues that Saunders has spent most of his career as a union staffer rather than a union leader, and that Saunders is a Washington, D.C. insider at a time when AFSCME needs to focus more on state and local organizing and elections. As the New York Times' Steven Greenhouse reported:
[Donohue] has repeatedly attacked Mr. Saunders and Mr. McEntee for “checkbook unionism,” saying they have spent too much on national races, including the $90 million that Mr. McEntee said the union spent in the 2010 campaign. Mr. Donohue has suggested he would cut back Afscme’s national political ambitions to make the union more effective in state and local elections.Whoever is the next president of AFSCME faces a major challenge, taking over leadership from as longstanding a president as McEntee and doing so when public workers are under such a widespread and sustained attack, battered both by budget cuts and by Republicans determined to weaken unions. The new president will be determined this week; the course he sets will take longer to become clear, and its success still longer.
Mr. Saunders accused Mr. Donohue of spreading misinformation. “Sixty-five percent of our political budget goes into state and local battlegrounds,” he said. He also noted that Mr. Donohue sat on the union’s executive board for two decades without objecting to Afscme’s political spending.