WASHINGTON -- When Lee Saunders was sworn-in as International Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO, he became one of the highest-ranking African-Americans in the American labor movement. Representing 1.6 million public service workers, AFSCME is one of the largest unions in the country.
The Cleveland, OH native says that he intends to use his new position to "stand up for the dignity of all work and all working people."
Pledging his commitment to AFSCME members and workers across the country, he noted: "Throughout our history, this has been what we do. We come together in support of those whose names may never be known, but whose work safeguards neighborhoods and strengthens communities."
Prior to his election as Secretary-Treasurer, Saunders served as the Executive Assistant to President Gerald W. McEntee. AsPres. McEntee's top aide, Saunders oversaw the union's legislative, political, retiree and public affairs activities. In addition, he created the AFSCME/UNCF Union Scholars Program, a unique partnership with the United Negro College Fund to embrace young people of color who want to join the labor movement.
Saunders has managed what is acknowledged to be one of the most effective political and legislative operations in the American labor movement. In 2009-10, he supervised the largest grassroots mobilization effort in the union's history to help pass President Obama's health care reform initiative.
When he started his first full-time job as a contract specialist at the Ohio Department of Employment Services, Saunders immediately joined OCSEA, the Ohio Civil Service Employee Association. He subsequently joined the AFSCME staff in 1978.
Saunders says the union's top priority is to protect public services at a time when state and local governments face daunting budget gaps. Other goals include fighting against the privatization of vital public services and promoting the recruitment and training of young union leaders. He pledged to help local unions across the country mount a full-scale campaign to protect the benefits and retirement security that AFSCME members fought for and won at the bargaining table.
Saunders grew up in a union household in Cleveland, Ohio. His father was a bus driver and a member of The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU). After raising two sons, his mother went back to college and became a community college professor and a member of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).
Lee and his wife Lynne live in Washington, DC and have two sons, Lee, Jr. and Ryan.
A detailed biography of Lee Saunders is available at: http://www.afscme.org/saunders