Op-Ed by Lee A. Saunders
Workers have lost much ground in our nation’s economic crisis. Although unemployment is falling and employers are beginning to hire, it will be a long time before families recover. Much of this hardship is the fault of corporate-backed politicians whose allegiance is to the wealthiest 1 percent instead of the rest of us.
Take Gov. Susana Martinez. She is threatening to veto a bill closing a tax loophole that lets out-of-state corporations get away with paying nothing – zilch – in taxes. That is clear evidence of an agenda that favors the wealthy over the workers.
Governor Martinez also wanted to double the caseloads of parole and probation officers. Meanwhile, some members of the New Mexico Legislature were pushing bills to weaken retirement security for public-service workers. Members of AFSCME Council 18 defeated these maneuvers, in partnership with our allies. But we know these fights will return next year.
What’s happening here reflects troubling attacks nationwide. Instead of asking for shared sacrifice, politicians are blaming fire fighters, teachers, road repair crews and other public-service workers for a recession caused by Wall Street.
In Wisconsin and Ohio last year, governors and legislators used a budget crisis to strip away the fundamental right to collective bargaining. Collective bargaining allows working people, represented by their union, to negotiate with employers on issues of pay, benefits, staffing levels and rules to protect health and safety. Bargaining doesn’t help only union members; it helps all workers by establishing a baseline for wages and benefits.
Indiana’s governor last month signed a “right-to-work” law, which means that workers no longer have to pay union dues, even though they get the benefits of union membership. This weakens union strength by trying to reduce unions’ resources.
A law in Michigan allows the governor to install “emergency managers” into cities, townships and school districts—unelected dictators who can break union contracts and sell public property, without the voters having their say.
But in the face of these challenges, AFSCME members across the country are fighting back. The governor of Wisconsin will face a recall election this summer, thanks to our activism. In Ohio, the law taking away our rights was defeated by a 2-to-1 vote of the people in November. And in Michigan, we’ve collected enough signatures to place the emergency manager law on the ballot this coming November.
Here in New Mexico, our members are forging coalitions with other groups that share our agenda. We call it the Main Street movement because people of all backgrounds and parties are coming together to fight for the American dream.
Our Main Street movement echoes New Mexico’s motto: “It grows as it goes.” With every challenge we face, our movement gets stronger and more resilient.
Lee A. Saunders is the Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, a labor union that represents 1.6 million workers across the United States, including 13,000 public employees and health care workers in New Mexico who provide the vital services that make America happen. Saunders is in New Mexico this week to stand with working people in the community, to advocate for fairness in the workplace, excellence in public services and prosperity and opportunity for all working families.