Labor leaders call on Democrats to lead fight for working people
Union presidents (left to right): Randi Weingarten, AFT; Mary Kay Henry, SEIU; David Cox, AFGE; Lee Saunders, AFSCME.

ATLANTA — Although they had backed Keith Ellison for chair of the Democratic Party’s National Committee (DNC), the presidents of four of the nation’s largest unions have issued statements congratulating former U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez on his winning the vote.

All four stated that they believe Perez and Ellison, who will serve as the DNC’s deputy chair, can bring leadership and unity to the movement for workers’ rights and the fight against the Trump regime.

And they all stressed a commitment to party-building from the grass roots up.

The four presidents are: Lee Saunders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), J. David Cox of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

AFSCME’s Saunders, who chairs the AFL-CIO’s Political Action Committee, said Democrats must seize the moment, and the momentum, produced by the resistance movement against Donald Trump and his policies.

“The heart and soul of our democracy are on the line — from voting rights to civil rights to workers’ rights,” Saunders said. “Meanwhile, you can look outside your window on any given weekend and see that grassroots energy and engagement are at an all-time high. As a party, we do not have a moment to lose. The Democratic Party must present a bold vision that lifts up working people from all walks of life and pursue strategies that turn that vision into reality.

“Tom Perez is a tenacious champion for all working families,” Saunders continued. “As DNC Chair, I know he will bring the same passion for economic and social justice that made him such a remarkably effective Labor Secretary and I am confident that the entire Democratic Party will move forward together in unity.”

AFGE President David Cox wrote that Perez and Ellison will “build a party focused on the struggles of working and middle class Americans whose security and economic well-being must be at the center of all we do.”

He said, “The Democratic Party cannot succeed if it minimizes its historic commitment to economic justice and shared prosperity. The vast majority of Americans want political leaders to focus on their bread and butter issues: Higher wages, affordable health care, retirement income security, good public schools, good roads and public transportation, clean air and water, and safe communities.

“We cannot cater to every desire of Wall Street and our corporate donors and simultaneously meet the needs of the majority of American workers. It doesn’t work like that,” Cox concluded. “Unity cannot occur if leaders ignore the pain that working and middle class Americans are experiencing with the assumption the other guy will always be worse.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, said Perez and Ellison will “heal, unify, and activate Democrats and Americans across the country.

“We must pierce the division and polarization that engulfs America today and harness the incredible energy in the streets to fight for the aspirations Americans have for themselves, their families and our nation. The Democratic Party is the party to do that. We are the party that fights to give people a fair shot, and for economic and educational opportunity and inclusion,” said Weingarten. “That requires rebuilding our party county by county, state by state, and winning elections.”

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry’s statement said in part, “With Perez, who is a Latino-American, and Ellison, who is a Muslim-American, the Democratic leadership represents the diversity of the country.

“For working families demanding a say in America’s economic and political systems at this pivotal time in our democracy, Perez and Ellison will unite the Democratic National Party and get to the important work of rebuilding a party in which the needs of America’s working families lead,” she added.

Along with Perez, DNC members elected three vice chairs, including Maria Elena Durazo, UNITE HERE’s vice president for civil rights and the former executive secretary of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.